Community Volunteers and Natural Disasters: How to Prepare for a Hurricane

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Disaster Response and Recovery


For many, knowing the relationship between natural disasters and volunteers is limited to response and recovery. It conjures up images of volunteers pulling survivors from rubble, sorting through debris, delivering supplies, consoling victims, and rebuilding communities. But service and volunteerism has a place in disasters long before one actually hits; much can be done in terms of preparation and readiness.

Right now, along the Eastern seaboard, neighbors are pitching in to help board up homes and communities are banding together to stockpile necessary supplies as Hurricane Irene heads towards the Outer Banks, N.C. for a possible U.S. landfall.

We've compiled a few tips for preparing for a hurricane (and other disasters). Already a hurricane pro? Reach out to a new neighbor, those with young children, or the elderly in your community to be sure that they are prepared too.


Educate Yourself about Hurricanes

  • A Hurricane Watch means a hurricane is possible in your area. Be prepared to evacuate. Monitor local radio and television news outlets or listen to NOAA Weather Radio for the latest developments.
  • A Hurricane Warning is when a hurricane is expected in your area. If local authorities advise you to evacuate, leave immediately.
  • Hurricanes are classified into five categories, from One to Five. These categories are based on wind speed and damage potential, with a Category Five having the most damage potential. Category Three and higher hurricanes are considered major hurricanes, though Categories One and Two are still extremely dangerous and warrant your full attention.

Build an Emergency Kit

  • Relief workers and local officials will be on the scene after a disaster, but it's possible you could need to survive on your own for up to three days. This means having enough food, water, and emergency supplies to last for at least three days.
  • A Basic Kit should include: water (one gallon/per person/per day), food, battery-powered or hand-crank radio, flashlight, first aid kit, extra batteries, whistle, dust mask, plastic sheeting, moist towelettes, garbage bags, duct tape, wrench and/or pliers, local maps, cell phone with chargers and/or extra batteries.
  • Additional items could include: pet food and extra water for your pet, prescription medication, important family documents, sleeping bags, household bleach, matches. A complete list can be found on Ready.Gov.

Make a Plan and Prepare

  • Identify one out-of-town contact person to help communicate with separated family members. It is often easier to call out of town than within the same area. Be sure everyone in the family has this phone number.
  • Use Ready.Gov's Family Emergency Planning Tool to create a personalized plan for your family.
  • Consider in advance what your family's plans are for evacuation, communication, utilities, and safety and first aid.
  • Ensure a supply of water for sanity purposes such as cleaning and flushing toilets. Fill the bathtub and other large containers with water.
  • Natural disasters can lead to power outages which can cause food spoilage. Learn about food safety during an emergency.
  • Reinforce your garage doors; if wind enters a garage, it can cause dangerous and expensive structural damage.
  • Cover all of your home's windows with pre-cut ply wood or hurricane shutters to protect your windows from high winds.


Learn What to Do During a Hurricane

  • Listen to the radio or TV for information and avoid using the phone, except for serious emergencies.
  • Secure your home. Close storm shutters, secure outdoor objects or bring them indoors.
  • Turn off utilities if instructed to do so. Otherwise turn the refrigerator and freezer thermostat to its coldest setting and keep its doors closed. Turn off propane tanks.
  • Learn about which conditions you should evacuate under.
  • If you are unable to evacuate, stay indoors and go to your safe room. If you don't have one, stay away from windows and glass doors. Close all interior doors; secure and brace external doors. Keep curtains and blinds closed.
  • 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.

Traditional means of communication are often compromised during a national disaster. In addition to the radio, keep an eye on emergency management agency websites and social media pages, which are often the most easily updated.

Nationally, look to Ready.Gov, FEMA, and NOAA and on twitter at @FEMA @CraigatFEMA @USNOAAgov and @RedCross for updates on Hurricane Irene.

Or  find your local Emergency Management Agency on twitter: @GeorgiaEMA @EMDSC @NCcrimecontrol @mema_feeds @DelawareEMA @MassEMA @VDEM @NYSEMO @RhodeIslandEMA @MaineEMA @vemvt @NHgov.

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