Eileen McEleney Woods | The Boston Globe | October 1, 2015
X marks the spot where the homeowners aren’t savvy about how to protect their property during a hurricane. When Hurricane Sandy charged into the Northeast on October 29, 2012, that home was mine.
We didn’t suffer Jersey Shore-like damage, but we were without power for days. My family and I had to bathe by drawing cold water from the hot tub with a saucepan and dumping it over our heads.
Joaquin could be the first hurricane of 2015 to hit the Northeast. We won’t be caught flip-flop-footed on our deck, shampoo in hand, this time. And we will no longer be “protecting” our windows with masking tape X’s like my father did when hurricanes Belle and Gloria battered the New England of my youth.
The Weather Channel says there have been 15 storms of Category 4 or 5 strength in the Northern Hemisphere in 2015 so far. This could break the record set in 2004.
And it takes only one to do major damage.
Other storms in so-called modest seasons? Hurricane Andrew, which killed 26 people in the United States and caused more than $25 billion in damage in 1992, and Hurricane Betsy, which killed 75 people in the United States and caused more than $1 billion in damage (that’s in 1965 dollars).
Pay heed. Historically, New England is at the highest risk from mid-August to mid-October, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The National Hurricane Survival Initiative has released the top 10 mistakes homeowners make that increase risk to life and property and impede recovery:
MISTAKE 1 Failing to know the threat
“I don’t live within a mile of the coast, so I’m not worried about rising water. The biggest threat to me is wind damage.”
What Experts Say: History proves that storm surge is the deadliest part of a hurricane. People have the misconception that if they can’t see the ocean from their home, they’re safe. Storm surge can go miles inland. The National Hurricane Center reports that more than half of the deaths in three recent landfalling hurricanes in the United States were caused by storm surge. Remember what Hurricane Irene’s floodwaters did to New England in 2011?
MISTAKE 2 Failing to evacuate
“My house is a fortress, and I’m here to protect my property. I’m staying and riding out the storm, no matter what.”
What Experts Say: When officials issue an order to evacuate, you should respond immediately, remain calm, and take your disaster supply kit. Remember to let others know when you leave and where you are going. Stay and you endanger first-responders.
MISTAKE 3 Failing to leave in time
“I can outrun the storm. I’ll just head in the opposite direction.”
What Experts Say: If your area has been asked to evacuate, and if a hurricane is imminent, you’re better off leaving your home for an official hurricane shelter or staying with friends out of the evacuation zone.
MISTAKE 4 Failing to protect the home
“I knew that tree branch was hanging low over the roof, but I didn’t get around to trimming it. Or fixing my roof. Or updating my old garage door. . . ”
What Experts Say: If you’re a homeowner and you haven’t done anything yet to protect your home, start with your largest opening first. And for many homes that have a garage, that usually means the garage door. Homes in the Northeast have the same susceptibility to these storms as properties in the South, perhaps more, because in places like Florida, the infrastructure is designed to withstand hurricanes. And don’t use masking tape on windows. It creates larger, more dangerous shards of glass.
MISTAKE 5 Failing to organize important papers
“Important papers? They’re all over the place. Let’s see, passports, the insurance policies, the Social Security cards, our will . . . ”
What Experts Say: Keep these records in a waterproof container and a second copy at the home of a trusted relative or friend in a different city.
MISTAKE 6 Failing to take inventory
“I don’t need to make an inventory of our valuables. I’ll remember what we have.”
What Experts Say: You won’t remember. In addition to making lists, take photos or film each room, showing the valuables you have.
MISTAKE 7 Failing to ensure you have adequate insurance
“I don’t have any idea if I have flood insurance or not. I last met with my insurance agent in 1993, or was it ’83?”
What Experts Say: Make sure your possessions are covered, and if you live in or near a flood zone, make certain you have flood insurance. That is never included in standard homeowner policies. Renters need it, too.
MISTAKE 8 Failing to make provisions
“A gallon of water per day for each member of my family? Who has room for that? And, anyway, it’s the government’s job to provide food and water in a disaster . . . ”
What Experts Say: By starting early, you’ll avoid the rush at home supply and grocery stores and other venues typically crowded and often chaotic when hurricane watches and warnings are issued. You don’t want to find shelves bare when you need the basics. Some states have tax holidays for hurricane supplies. People should have enough supplies — water, canned food, flashlights, batteries, a manually operated can opener, and medication — to last 72 hours or more.
MISTAKE 9 Failing to know the safety protocols
“If I lose power, I’ll run my generator from the garage, so it stays dry.”
What Experts Say: Portable generators use an engine and will give off carbon monoxide. You don’t want that deadly gas in the house. Tragedy can be avoided with the proper placement of the generator outside the home, away from any vents that lead into the house, and not in the garage. Also: Never leave a lighted candle in an unoccupied room.
MISTAKE 10 Failing to provide for Fido and Fluffy
“All shelters take pets, don’t they?”
What Experts Say: Know where the nearest shelter that accepts pets is. A lot of people leave their pets behind because they simply don’t know. The key to protecting yourself and your pets, experts emphasize, is being prepared.
“We do provide shelter, food, counseling and other services during times of disaster,” said Kevin Smith, emergency disaster services director for The Salvation Army. “But in order for us to do the most good, we need people to take responsibility and to be prepared so we can respond to those who need us the most.”