The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season begins June 30 and continues until Nov. 30. Weather experts and emergency responders say the time to prepare is now.
The National Weather Service has declared the week of May 5-11 as Hurricane Preparedness Week. Each day has a different theme. For example the theme for Sunday, May 5, is determine your risk.
Here in Pinellas, that begins with finding out your evacuation zone. Visit kyz.pinellascounty.org. Evacuation zones are set according to potential storm surge, which is the biggest threat from any hurricane or tropical storm.
Also, check your flood zone, which is not the same as an evacuation zone. Residents who live in low-lying areas may want to plan to move to higher ground when tropical weather threatens. Visit www.pinellascounty.org/flooding/.
Wind is another potential threat and residents should do all they can to harden their homes to prevent or reduce damage. Be aware that power outages are likely, and plan accordingly. Other dangers include rip currents and tornadoes.
Monday, May 6, is the time to develop your evacuation plan. If you live in an evacuation zone, decide where you will go and how you will get there. Don’t forget to include your pets. Experts advise residents to stay in a safe place as close to home as possible. If you’re ordered to evacuate, plan to do so immediately. If you’re not ordered to evacuate, make plans to shelter in place.
Pinellas County has shelters available, but they should be used as a last resort. Try to find someone in a non-evacuation zone to stay with if you can. For a list of shelters including special needs and pet-friendly shelters, visit www.pinellascounty.org/emergency/PDF/EvacMap-Shelters.pdf. Note: not all shelters are open for all evacuations.
Special needs residents, persons without transportation and others who might need help during a tropical storm or hurricane should register for assistance now. Visit http://www.pinellascounty.org/emergency/specialneeds.htm.
Barrier island residents and businesses should make sure to get an emergency access permit, which will be needed after an emergency evacuation order is lifted. Visit https://www.pcsoweb.com/emergency-access-permit.
Tuesday, May 7, is a good day to think about assembling your disaster supplies or at least make a list. It’s important to have everything you need well in advance. Waiting until a hurricane is close could mean you can’t get what you need.
Make sure you have food and water to last each person for at least three days. In Pinellas, it is a good idea to plan for up to 10 days. If the worst were to happen, the county could be cut off from the mainland for some time. Again, don’t forget the pets.
Whether you evacuate or shelter in place, you should fill your prescriptions and have all your needed medicines on hand. Radios, batteries, phone chargers, flashlights and first-aid kits are on the must-have list. When a storm threatens, gas up your vehicle and make sure to have extra cash on hand.
The legislature is considering a sales tax holiday for hurricane supplies from May 31-June 6. But it had not been approved as of May 2. In past years, tax exempt items have included flashlights and other portable light sources; portable self-powered radios, two-way radios and weather radios; tarpaulins; ground anchor systems; tie-down kits; gas or diesel fuel tanks; batteries (not automobile or boat batteries); nonelectric food storage coolers; portable generators; and reusable ice.
Wednesday, May 8, is the day to consider your insurance. Check in with your insurance agent to make sure you have the coverage you need. Don’t forget to ask about flood insurance. Visit floodsmart.gov for more information. Put your insurance documents in a waterproof pouch and keep in a safe place. If you evacuate, take them with you.
The theme for Thursday, May 9, is strengthen your home. Work should be done well ahead of any approaching storm. Preparations could include trimming trees or purchasing plywood, shutters or hurricane-resistant windows. Make sure your doors are secure. Plan for your vehicle’s safety. Will you need to move it? If so, where. Set aside space to move outdoor items that could blow away in the wind, such as patio chairs and tables, inside if necessary.
Friday, May 10, is a time to think about your neighbors. If you live in an evacuation zone, which includes all mobile homes, find out if your neighbor has a plan or needs help to make a plan. If they have special needs, encourage them to register with the county to get assistance. Help them collect the supplies they need. If a storm does affect Pinellas, check on your neighbors after it passes to make sure they’re OK.
The theme for the last day, Saturday, May 11, is complete a written plan. Visit https://www.ready.gov/make-a-plan for more information.
Pinellas County has a page of resources to help with hurricane preparations, including the All Hazards Guide available in English and Spanish. Visit http://www.pinellascounty.org/resident/disasters.htm.