This post has been updated.
As the Washington region braces for Hurricane Irene, a Category 2 storm that is expected to wreak havoc on the East Coast, NOAA’s National Hurricane Center and local agencies offer tips on preparing for this weekend’s high winds, heavy rains and potentially devastating flooding.
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1. Develop a family plan
— The NHC suggests locating a safe room or area for each hurricane hazard, including storm surge, flooding and wind, and planning an escape route and meeting place in case you must evacuate. (Remember to include pets in this plan.)
— Post emergency telephone numbers by your phones and make sure your children know how and when to call 911.
2. Create a disaster supply kit
Your supply kit should include:
— Water (at least one gallon daily per person for three to seven days, according to the NHC);
— Non-perishable packaged or canned foods
— Non-electric can opener and disposable plates and utensils
— Blankets and pillows
— Clothing, including rain gear and sturdy shoes
— First aid kit and prescription medications
— Flashlight, radio and batteries
— Fully charged cell phone with an extra battery
— Cash and credit cards
— Important documents such as Social Security cards, insurance, and medical records in a watertight plastic bag
— Special items for infants, the elderly and pets.
3. Secure your home
Also note that flood damage is often not covered by homeowners insurance.
4. Determine your vulnerability
Here are the FCC’s tips for communications during an emergency:
— Limit non-emergency phone calls. This will minimize network congestion, free up “space” on the network for emergency communications and conserve battery power if you are using a wireless phone.
— Keep all phone calls brief. If you need to use a phone, try to use it only to convey vital information to emergency personnel and/or family.
— Try text messaging, also known as short messaging service (SMS) when using your wireless phone. In many cases text messages will go through when your call may not. It will also help free up more “space” for emergency communications on the telephone network.
— If possible, try a variety of communications services if you are unsuccessful in getting through with one. For example, if you are unsuccessful in getting through on your wireless phone, try a messaging capability like text messaging or email. Alternatively, try a landline phone if one is available. This will help spread the communications demand over multiple networks and should reduce overall congestion.
— Wait 10 seconds before redialing a call. On many wireless handsets, to re-dial a number, you simply push “send” after you’ve ended a call to redial the previous number. If you do this too quickly, the data from the handset to the cell sites do not have enough time to clear before you’ve resent the same data. This contributes to a clogged network.
— Have charged batteries and car-charger adapters available for backup power for your wireless phone.
— Maintain a list of emergency phone numbers in your phone.
— If in your vehicle, try to place calls while your vehicle is stationary.
— Have a family communications plan in place. Designate someone out of the area as a central contact and make certain all family members know who to contact if they become separated.
— If you have Call Forwarding on your home number, forward your home number to your wireless number in the event of an evacuation. That way you will get incoming calls from your landline phone.
— After the storm has passed, if you lose power in your home, try using your car to charge cell phones or listen to news alerts on the car radio. But be careful – don’t try to reach your car if it is not safe to do so, and remain vigilant about carbon monoxide emissions from your car if it is a closed space, such as a garage.
— Tune-in to broadcast and radio news for important news alerts.
For preserving your cell phone/smartphone battery:
— Reduce screen brightness.
— Turn off Bluetooth.
— Turn off 3G.
— Turn off WiFi.
— Turn off location services like built-in GPS.
— Check e-mail accounts less often.
— Limit video, games, Web browsing and other apps.
— Keep your phone dry.
— Be prepared to charge your phone in your car in case the power goes out.
— Have a spare, charged battery on hand.
— June Wu, Apple, AT&T, Verizon
For the elderly:
— Decide what your senior family member, friend or neighbor can and can’t do during an emergency event. For example, consider evacuation strategies for those who are wheelchair-bound. Also, older adults, especially those who require special assistance, should evacuate sooner rather than later.
— Put together an emergency contact list that includes doctors and other health-care professionals.
— If you don’t live near your elderly loved one, enlist help of family members or friends, or contact a professional caregiving company.
— Home Instead Senior Care
To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning:
— Never use portable generators indoors, in garages or near open windows.
— Do not siphon gasoline by mouth to fill a generator with fuel.
— Use battery-operated (or battery-backup) carbon monoxide alarms. Be sure to test the batteries.
— If you experience sleepiness, dizziness, headaches, confusion, weakness or your carbon monoxide alarm sounds, immediately seek fresh air and call your poison center at 1-800-222-1222.
— American Association of Poison Control Centers
For expecting moms:
Women who are due to give birth in the next week or so may want to have their hospital bags packed a little early. The drop in barometric pressure associated with the hurricane could cause a woman’s water to break early, and some obstetricians have warned patients that they may end up going to the hospital sooner.
Hospital officials say they are aware that lowering of atmospheric pressure tends to result in a spike in births.
— Lena H. Sun
For stocking up on water and supplies:
— Go to grocery stores Saturday morning instead of late Friday night since shelves are more likely to be stocked then.
— June Wu
For dealing with traumatic events:
To help deal with a traumatic event or life disruption:
— Follow a normal routine, if possible.
— Eat healthy meals and stay active.
— Keep busy by volunteering and helping others in your community.
— Talk about your feelings and be willing to accept assistance.
Ask for help in handling the stress if you:
— Are unable to care for yourself (or your children)
— Are unable to work.
— Use drugs or alcohol to deal with the stress.
— Deal with sadness or depression for more than two weeks after the event.
— Contemplate suicide.
— Click here for more advice.
— Maryland Department of Health
More on Hurricane Irene: