What the Delaware Valley Can Learn from Hurricane Isaac: Disaster Preparedness

As Hurricane Isaac continues its swath through New Orleans, Louisiana, Alabama and other hard-hit areas, the massive storm is dumping rain by the foot and bringing powerful and destructive flooding as well as high winds.

Here in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, we often see the remnants of such storms as they travel here from the Gulf of Mexico, just like we did in late August of 2011 as Hurricane Irene slammed the east coast with a vengeance. Residents saw massive flooding from Irene in Vermont and New Hampshire, where flooding like that had not happened in decades, as well as here in the Tri-State area where floods and high winds caused havoc across the area.

As Isaac continues to move northward from the Gulf, sparing New Orleans from the massive destruction from Hurricane Katrina back in August of 2005, it’s a good time to recall what to do when an Atlantic hurricane hits our area. Isaac’s remnants could still affect our weather, according to the National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center, days after it has pummeled the south.

Trees lay toppled after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005. Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/Elhenyo

These kinds of storms and other natural disasters always remind us and teach us to be prepared for their approach and to be ready for clean-up and rebuilding after they are gone.

With that in mind, whether it is an approaching hurricane or a tornado, blizzard, ice storm, flooding, wildfires, severe thunderstorms, high winds or any other types of natural disasters, we here at MyPhillyLawyer want to remind you of important steps to take to prepare for and recover from such incidents.

The best time to prepare for disasters is long before they happen, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

  • As with most all disasters, FEMA recommends that residents start by preparing with the basics – by building an emergency kit and making a family communications plan.  A disaster supplies kit is a collection of basic items your household may need in the event of an emergency. Try to assemble your kit well in advance of an emergency. You may have to evacuate at a moment’s notice and take essentials with you. You will probably not have time to search for the supplies you need or shop for them. Be sure to have on hand enough food, water and other supplies in sufficient quantity to last for at least 72 hours. Local officials and relief workers will be on the scene after a disaster but they cannot reach everyone immediately. You could get help in hours or it might take days, according to FEMA.

To prepare for a hurricane, you should take the following measures:

  • Know the elevation of your land and whether your property is flood-prone to help you know how your property will be affected when storm surge or tidal flooding are forecast.
  • Learn community hurricane evacuation routes and how to find higher ground. Determine where you would go and how you would get there if you needed to evacuate.
  • Cover your home’s windows with 5/8” marine plywood, cut to fit and ready to install. Tape does not prevent windows from breaking.
  • Be sure trees and shrubs around your home are well trimmed so they are more wind resistant.
  • Reinforce your garage doors; if wind enters a garage it can cause dangerous and expensive structural damage.
  • Plan to bring in all outdoor furniture, decorations, garbage cans and anything else that is not tied down.
  • Install a generator for emergencies.

Because hurricanes cause heavy rains that can cause extensive flood damage in coastal and inland areas, you should consider buying flood insurance protection.

During a hurricane, FEMA recommends that residents:

  • Listen to the radio or TV for information.
  • Secure your home, 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.
  • Turn off propane tanks
  • Avoid using the phone, except for serious emergencies.
  • Ensure a supply of water for sanitary purpose such as cleaning and flushing toilets. Fill the bathtub and other larger containers with water.
  • Find out how to keep food safe during and after and emergency.
  • Evacuate if instructed to do so by local emergency management authorities.
  • Stay indoors during the hurricane and away from windows and glass doors.
  • Close all interior doors – secure and brace external doors.
  • Keep curtains and blinds closed. Do not be fooled if there is a lull; it could be the eye of the storm – winds will 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.

After a hurricane dissipates, FEMA recommends that residents:

  • Continue listening to a NOAA Weather Radio or the local news for the latest updates.
  • Stay alert for extended rainfall and subsequent flooding even after the hurricane or tropical storm has ended.
  • If you have become separated from your family, use your family communications plan or contact FEMA or the American Red Cross.
    • FEMA has established the National Emergency Family Registry and Locator System (NEFRLS), which has been developed to help reunite families who are separated during a disaster. The NEFRLS system will enable displaced individuals the ability to enter personal information into a website database so that they can be located by others during a disaster.
    • The American Red Cross also maintains a database to help you find family. Contact the local American Red Cross chapter where you are staying for information. Do not contact the chapter in the disaster area.
  • If you evacuated, return home only when officials say it is safe.
  • Drive only if necessary and avoid flooded roads and washed¬ out bridges. Stay off the streets. If you must go out watch for fallen objects; downed electrical wires; and weakened walls, bridges, roads, and sidewalks.
  • Keep away from loose or dangling power lines and report them immediately to the power company.
  • Walk carefully around the outside your home and check for loose power lines, gas leaks and structural damage before entering.
  • Stay out of any building if you smell gas, if floodwaters remain around the building or your home was damaged by fire and the authorities have not declared it safe.
  • Inspect your home for damage. Take pictures of damage, both of the building and its contents, for insurance purposes. If you have any doubts about safety, have your residence inspected by a qualified building inspector or structural engineer before entering.
  • Use battery-powered flashlights in the dark. Do NOT use candles. Note: The flashlight should be turned on outside before entering – the battery may produce a spark that could ignite leaking gas, if present.
  • Watch your pets closely and keep them under your direct control. Watch out for wild animals, especially poisonous snakes. Use a stick to poke through debris.
  • Avoid drinking or preparing food with tap water until you are sure it’s not contaminated.
  • Check refrigerated food for spoilage. If in doubt, throw it out.
  • Wear protective clothing and be cautious when cleaning up to avoid injury.
  • Use the telephone only for emergency calls.
  • NEVER use a generator inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, sheds, or similar areas, even when using fans or opening doors and windows for ventilation. Deadly levels of carbon monoxide can quickly build up in these areas and can linger for hours, even after the generator has shut off.

You can also get valuable tips on disaster recovery for a variety of scenarios from the American Red Cross.

Storms like Hurricane Isaac don’t just happen in tropical locations. Their destructive effects can be felt elsewhere, as we saw again last year when our area was hard-hit by Hurricane Irene with severe flooding, high winds and massive destruction across the northeast coast.

Protect your family, your property and give yourself some peace of mind by preparing for such disasters ahead of time and having a plan for how you will respond.

This message has been a public service announcement from MyPhillyLawyer.