Hurricanes

These resources provide tips around hurricane preparation, response, and recovery. Programs, partners, and families may use this guide to make decisions in the event their community is impacted by a hurricane.

Preparedness

A hurricane is a type of tropical cyclone, the generic term for a low pressure system that generally forms in the tropics. A typical cyclone is accompanied by thunderstorms. Hurricanes are most frequent in the Gulf Coast, the Caribbean, Mexico, and the Atlantic Coast. Hurricane season typically runs June 1 – November 30. Occasionally, there are hurricanes or tropical storms that occur before or after this season; but because hurricanes are tied to specific climates, the likelihood of the occurrence is highest during this period.

Learn more about hurricanes, cyclones, typhoons, and other tropical storms from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Hurricane storm tracking mapPreparing for a hurricane:

  • Integrate your community's emergency plans, warning signals, evacuation routes, and locations of emergency shelters with your local program's emergency plans.
  • Identify potential program hazards and know how to secure or protect them before the hurricane strikes. Be prepared to turn off electrical power when there is standing water, fallen power lines, or before you evacuate. Turn off gas and water supplies before you evacuate.
  • Make plans to secure your property. Permanent storm shutters offer the best protection for windows. A second option is to board up windows with 5/8-inch marine plywood, cut to fit and ready to install. Tape does not prevent windows from breaking.
  • Install straps or additional clips to securely fasten your roof to the frame structure. This will reduce roof damage.
  • Buy fire extinguishers and make sure staff knows where they are and how to use them.
  • Locate and secure your important papers, such as insurance policies, child records, etc.
  • Communicate emergency phone numbers to staff, families, and to all members of the community.
  • Inform local authorities about any special needs, (i.e., young children, elderly or bedridden people, or anyone with a disability).
  • Be sure trees and shrubs around your facility are well trimmed.
  • Clear loose and clogged rain gutters and downspouts.
  • Consider building a safe room.

For more information on preparing for a hurricane, read the CDC's Key Facts about Hurricane Readiness.

Hurricanes are categorized by level according to wind speed. Warnings and watches given before impact will note the storm level to help you make decisions during the preparation and response phases. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale provides information about the five levels of hurricane.

Roof collapse damage to houses after a hurricane.Response

If a hurricane is in your area, you should:

  • Listen to the radio or TV for information.
  • Secure your building, close storm shutters, and secure outdoor objects or bring them indoors.
  • Turn off utilities if instructed to do so. Otherwise, turn the refrigerator thermostat to its coldest setting and keep its doors closed to keep food safe in the event of power outage. See the "Relief" section below.
  • Turn off propane tanks. Avoid using the phone, except for serious emergencies.
  • Ensure a supply of water for sanitary purposes, such as cleaning and flushing toilets. Fill the tubs and other large containers with water.
  • Stay indoors during the hurricane and away from windows and glass doors.
  • Close all interior doors and secure and brace external doors.
  • Keep windows, curtains, and blinds closed. Do not be fooled if there is a lull. It could be the eye of the storm and winds could pick up again.
  • Take refuge in a small interior room, closet, or hallway on the lowest level.
  • Lie on the floor under a table or another sturdy object.

You should evacuate if you are:

  • Directed by local authorities to do so. Be sure to follow their instructions.
  • Located in a temporary structure. Such shelters are particularly hazardous during hurricanes no matter how well fastened to the ground.
  • Located in a high-rise building. Hurricane winds are stronger at higher elevations.
  • Located on the coast, on a floodplain, near a river, or on an inland waterway.
  • Feel you are in danger.

If you are unable to evacuate, go to your wind-safe room. If you do not have one, follow these guidelines from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA): Be Informed: Hurricanes.

Recovery

Prevent Illness from Food

Identify and throw away food that may not be safe to eat, such as:

  • Food that may have come in contact with flood or storm water
  • Canned foods that are bulging, opened, or damaged
  • Food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture
  • Perishable foods (including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers) that have been above 40°F for two hours or more.

Thawed food that contains ice crystals or is 40°F or below can be refrozen or cooked. If cans have come in contact with floodwater or storm water, remove the labels, wash the cans, and dip them in a solution of one cup of bleach in five gallons of water. Re-label the cans with a permanent marker.

Store food safely. While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Add block ice or dry ice to your refrigerator if the electricity is expected to be off longer than four hours. Wear heavy gloves when handling ice.

Read Keep Food and Water Safe After a Disaster and Prevent Illness After a Natural Disaster from the CDC to learn more.

Prevent Illness from Water

Listen to and follow public announcements. Local authorities will tell you if tap water is safe to drink or to use for cooking or bathing. If the water is not safe to use, follow local instructions to use bottled water or to boil or disinfect water for cooking, cleaning, or bathing.

Correctly boil or disinfect water. Hold water at a rolling boil for one minute to kill bacteria. If you cannot boil water, add 1/8 teaspoon of newly purchased, unscented liquid household bleach per gallon of water. Stir the water well, and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it. You can use water-purifying tablets instead of boiling water or using bleach. For infants, use only pre-prepared canned baby formula. Do not use powdered formulas prepared with treated water. Disinfect children's toys that have come in contact with water. Use a solution of one cup of bleach in five gallons of water to disinfect the toys. Let them air dry after cleaning. Some toys, such as stuffed animals and baby toys, cannot be disinfected; they should be discarded.

Hurricane damage to interior of homePrevent and Treat Other Illnesses and Injuries

Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is produced by many types of equipment and is poisonous to breathe. Do not use a generator, pressure washer, or other gasoline- or charcoal-burning device inside your building, basement, or garage, or near a window, door, or vent. If your carbon monoxide detector sounds, leave the building immediately and call 911. Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseated.

Avoid floodwater and mosquitoes. Follow all warnings about water on roadways. Do not drive vehicles or heavy equipment through water. If you have to work in or near floodwater, wear a life jacket. If you are caught in an area where floodwater is rising, wear a life jacket or use some other type of flotation device. Prevent mosquito bites by wearing long pants, socks, and long-sleeved shirts. Use insect repellents that contain DEET or Picaridin.

Avoid unstable buildings and structures. Stay away from damaged buildings until they have been examined and certified as safe by a building inspector or other government authority. Leave immediately if you hear shifting or unusual noises that signal that the structure is about to fall.

Beware of and avoid wild or stray animals. Call local authorities to handle animals. Get rid of dead animals according to local guidelines.

Beware of electrical and fire hazards. Never touch a fallen power line. Call the power company to report fallen lines. Avoid contact with overhead power lines during clean-up and other activities. If electrical circuits and equipment have gotten wet or are in or near water, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel. Do not turn the power back on until the electrical equipment has been inspected by a qualified electrician. Do not burn candles near flammable items or leave the candle unattended. If possible, use flashlights or other battery-operated lights instead of candles.

Beware of hazardous materials. Wear protective clothing and gear when handling hazardous materials, including a respirator when needed. Wash skin that may have come in contact with hazardous chemicals. Contact local authorities if you are not sure about how to handle or get rid of hazardous materials.

Clean up and prevent mold growth. Clean and dry out the building as quickly as possible. Best results are within 24 to 48 hours. Open doors and windows. Use fans to dry out the building. Throw away porous items such as carpet and upholstered furniture that cannot be dried quickly. Fix any leaks in roofs, walls, or plumbing.

  • To prevent mold growth, clean wet items and surfaces with detergent and water.
  • To remove mold growth, wear rubber gloves, open windows and doors, and clean with a bleach solution of one cup of bleach in one gallon of water.

For more information, see CDC's Mold After a Disaster.

Pace yourself and get support. Be alert to physical and emotional exhaustion or strain. Set priorities for clean-up tasks and pace the work. Try not to work alone. Do not get exhausted. Ask your family members, friends, or professionals for support.

Workers cleaning up debris after a hurricanePrevent musculoskeletal injuries. Use teams of two or more people to move bulky objects. Avoid lifting any material that weighs more than 50 pounds per person.

Stay cool. When it is hot:

  • Stay in air-conditioned buildings
  • Take breaks in shaded areas or in cool rooms
  • Drink water and nonalcoholic fluids often
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing
  • Do outdoor activities during cooler hours

Treat wounds. Clean out all open wounds and cuts with soap and clean water. Apply an antibiotic ointment. Contact a doctor to find out whether more treatment is needed, such as a tetanus shot. If a wound gets red, swells, or drains, seek immediate medical attention.

Wash your hands. Use soap and warm water to wash your hands. If water is not available, you can use alcohol-based products made for washing hands.

Wear protective gear for clean-up work. Wear hard hats, goggles, heavy work gloves, and watertight boots with steel toes and insoles (not just steel shank). Wear earplugs or protective headphones to reduce risk from equipment noise.

Find more resources from the CDC:

Additional information is available from FEMA:

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Hurricanes. HHS/ACF/OHS. 2014. English.

Last Reviewed: November 2009

Last Updated: August 27, 2014