(NEW YORK) — As Hurricane Matthew barrels toward Florida, hundreds of thousands of residents are packing up their bags and fleeing the coast lines.
While many Americans who live in Florida and its neighboring states may be familiar with hurricane season, safety guidelines are regularly updated with regard to evacuation procedures.
Take a look at the following list on the best ways to protect yourself — and your belongings — before Hurricane Matthew finally rolls in:
Make a Plan A, a Plan B and a Plan C
Sometimes evacuations can happen very quickly, leaving families little time to coordinate schedules, so it’s a good idea to gather your kids and pick a place for everyone to meet should family members get separated. This could be a local restaurant in town, or a hotel 200 miles away from your home.
You should also consider different destinations in different directions, in case one route is too congested from evacuation traffic. Many municipalities also recommend specific evacuation routes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) suggests taking these routes, as shortcuts may be blocked due to fallen trees or hanging power lines.
Call Mom and Dad
Make sure to update friends and relatives on your family’s whereabouts — let them know which direction you’re heading and who’s traveling with you.
Be Ready to Roll
When a storm hits, gas stations can shut down due to power outages or a lack of employees available to work. FEMA suggests always keeping a half tank of gas in your car at all times and a full tank when an evacuation seems likely. If at all possible, try to only take one car per family — it can reduce traffic on the road when everyone is fighting to get out of town.
You should also discuss other transportation options in case roads are closed due to flooding — consider trains, buses, planes or anything else that’s still operating in the storm. And always keep an emergency supply kit in your car — this includes first aid, a flashlight, water and food.
Don’t Forget Buddy
In the rush to escape the storm, many people forget their pets in their home, so make a plan with your family about who’s responsible for the dog, cat, bird or frog. Then make sure you have their essentials including traveling cages, food and medicine. Keep in mind that some emergency shelters may not allow animals inside, so consider alternative options like pet-friendly hotels.
Batten Down the Hatches
While some precautions like closing and locking doors and windows are obvious, consider some of the not-as-well-known evacuation tips from organizations like the the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, which encourages rolling up rugs and storing them on higher floors. This can reduces the chance of rugs getting soaked and possibly growing mold.
You should also remove any debris from your home’s gutters and downspouts, and if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, remove anything from the storm drains near your home that could cause a street flood. Additionally, FEMA suggests that home owners should shut off electricity if there’s a chance outlets or the electrical system may be exposed to water. You should also move anything of significant value — electronics, jewelry, papers — to safe areas on higher floors.
Document, Document, Document
Storms are unpredictable, which means the damage they cause may be minimal or extensive, costing you thousands of dollars and potentially long nights of arguing with insurance companies. So while you may not think your belongings are in danger, it’s always a good idea to keep a list of all the major items in your home.
Consider taking pictures of anything of value or importance, from major appliances down and your grandmother’s wedding ring, to that old, busted-up refrigerator in your basement. FEMA encourages having your jewelry or artwork appraised, and keeping receipts for major appliances like washing machines or HVAC systems.
Hold Your Horses
While you may be eager to get home to your belongings, your home may not be ready for you.
“We see life-threatening issues even after a storm has passed,” like downed power lines or flooded roads, FEMA Director of Public Affairs Rafael Lemaitre told ABC News.
“Don’t return until local officials say its safe to do so,” Lemaitre stressed.
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