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Business tips

If the storm worsens, head to ‘safe room’

Stay inside, away from windows and doors

Tips for coping with the stress

How will you cope? Authorities and mental health professionals offer these tips.

There is the rush to prepare, the nervous anticipation, the unsettling period during the storm, the loss of property, scavenging gas, or just living without power for a few days.

A hurricane experience can be incredibly stressful. In the weeks after Hurricane Wilma in 2005, nearly 1,000 people called a state mental-health hot line looking for help with problems such as depression and anxiety.

BEFORE THE STORM

Prepare early to avoid the stress of panic buying.

Storms are unpredictable, and their twists and turns can be maddening. Just prepare as if the storm will hit, and hope it doesn’t. Stay up on media reports and follow the instructions of local authorities so you’re not blindsided by developments.

Don’t go into denial. Don’t have a wild party. Storms are serious business.

If you live alone, plan to ride out the storm with friends or relatives, or consider volunteering at a shelter.

Try to exercise to burn off the nerves.

Now is the time to have a plan for how you will survive and recover after the storm so you aren’t overwhelmed by the task ahead.

YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD

Take the time now to get to know your neighbors. Share ideas about how you as a neighborhood will work together after the storm. Find out who has special physical or medical needs, who might need help preparing their house, and who might need assistance following the storm.

If you have a homeowners’ group, consider developing a plan or even holding neighborhood meetings in advance of the season. Consider following “Crimewatch” models.

Find out who might be out of town so you that can keep an eye on their place.

Evacuating pets: Plan ahead

Prepare ahead for safety and comfort of your pet

Do not leave pets at home, especially if you live in an evacuation area. Even if they survive the storm, they might flee a damaged home and be lost in the chaos.

Where to take your pet

It might be difficult, if not impossible, to find shelter for your animals in the midst of a disaster, so plan ahead.

Hotels: In advance, contact hotels and motels outside your area to check policies on accepting pets and restrictions on number, size and species. Ask whether “no pet” policies could be waived. Keep a list of “pet-friendly” places, including phone numbers, with other disaster information. For an impending storm, call ahead for reservations. The Web site petswelcome.com maintains a list of hotels that accept pets.

Friends, relatives: Ask friends, relatives or others outside the area whether they could shelter your animals. Make arrangements with neighbors to help evacuate pets in the event you can’t get home.

Pet-friendly shelters: Find out if pets will be permitted at an evacuation shelter.

Other tips

Vaccinate your pet. If you haven’t already done so, get those shots now. Infectious diseases can become a big threat after a disaster.

Get your pet an ID tag. If a pet becomes lost or escapes during the confusion of an evacuation, proper identification will increase the chances of a safe return home. Tag should include your cell number and, if space allows, the number of an out-of-town contact. Consider having your pet tattooed or ‘microchipped.’

Get a pet carrier. You will need a pet carrier or cage for each dog, cat, bird or small animal. Make sure it is large enough for each pet to stand up and turn around comfortably.

Take clear, color photos (frontal, left and right sides) of you with your pet, and store these with your pet’s license, medical records and ownership papers in a waterproof carrier to take with you. Include pictures of the pet with you to help with any challenge to your ownership. Take photos with your cellphone so they’re stored there as well.

PET DISASTER KIT

  • Medications and medical records (in a waterproof container)
  • A leash
  • A collar or harness for each pet
  • Non-spill food and water dishes
  • 14-day supply of food, water in nonbreakable containers
  • A manual can opener
  • Grooming supplies
  • Your pet’s blanket and a favorite toy
  • Cleanser and disinfectant to handle wastes
  • Newspapers or litter, paper towels and plastic bags 
  • Consider health needs

    Before a hurricane strikes, don’t forget to consider your health and medical needs.

    Talk to your doctor before a storm to help you develop a hurricane plan. Some medical conditions, such as those on dialysis or people needing refrigerated medication, require special provisions to avoid complications brought on by the storm.

    Make sure you have at least a two-week supply of your medications when the storm hits so you will have enough should pharmacies be closed. Health insurers typically lift their restrictions on refills when a hurricane warning is posted 48 hours before a storm.

    You also might want to consider buying a 90-day supply of drugs to coincide with the peak of hurricane season, which is usually August to September. Hospitals are generally not able to dispense medication to the public following a storm.

    General health information

    An oxygen-dependent patient will need backup electrical power for his or her concentrator, otherwise backup oxygen cylinders will be needed. Be sure to ask your oxygen vendor what its plan is to replenish your oxygen following a storm.

    Insulin-dependent patients will need backup electrical power to keep insulin refrigerated.

    Pregnant women — those at high risk or at 36 weeks or beyond — should talk to their doctor about whether they should seek shelter at a hospital.

    Dialysis patients will need to receive dialysis just prior to the storm and pre-schedule an appointment for post-storm dialysis.

    Check whether your dialysis center has a generator to operate after a storm.

    Hospitals are not an option for those seeking general shelter during a hurricane, with the exception of pregnant women with a doctor’s referral.

    If constant electrical power is a requirement for your medical needs, you might want to consider staying somewhere that has backup electrical power from a generator. This may mean leaving the area in the path of the storm.

    One possibility is staying in a special needs shelter. All patients need to be pre-registered and must meet certain eligibility requirements.

    Tips for parents of young children

    Activities help kids stay busy

    Children can be the most vulnerable individuals in a hurricane. Here are some ways to help your kids cope during and after a storm.

    SUPPLIES

     

    • Stock up on any special medication or food that your children will need.
    • Let children gather cherished keepsakes for reassurance.
    • Make sure you have plenty of DVDs, video and board games, books and coloring and activity books available for during and after the storm.
    • Keep flashlights and batteries on hand.
    • For infants, get powdered formula to prepare using bottled water. Also lots of baby wipes for sponge bathing and Purell for washing hands.

     

    STAYING BUSY

     

    • If you have a DVD player, the kids can stay busy watching movies while you use your portable TV and radio to keep track of the storm.
    • Make a game of gathering supplies. It can become a scavenger hunt.
    • Let children help with cleanup, so they feel like they belong and are contributing to recovery.
    • Even after the power’s back on, schools might still be closed for weeks and travel discouraged during cleanup. Have activities in mind.
    • Have fun! Pitch a tent in the living room.

     

    SIGNS OF STRESS

     

    • Children of different ages will handle the situation differently. Younger children might cling more, and teenagers more combative or sullen.
    • Signs of post-storm stress in children may include a decreased appetite or trouble sleeping. Urge them to eat well and drink lots of water. Try to stick to their regular bedtime.
    • Other signs of stress can include headaches or stomach aches; reluctance or refusal to go to bed; nightmares; insomnia; a return to behaviors such as clinging, bed wetting or thumb-sucking; temper tantrums; reduced attention span; fighting; trouble in school; withdrawal; loss of appetite; and in older children, drug or alcohol use.

     

    REASSURANCE

     

    • Emphasize to kids that they are safe. Tell them before the storm, as gently as possible, that disasters can happen. Answer their questions honestly and accurately, using words and terms they can understand.
    • Help kids get through feelings of resentment that their routine has been upended. Give them lots of hugs and attention. Let them express their feelings in conversations, drawings or activities.
    • After the storm, if you have been hit hard, admit you are also scared, frustrated and depressed but that you are confident things will eventually return to normal and that it’s critical to have a good attitude.
    • Decide how many television images of the disaster you want your children to see.

     

    More information

    FEMA Kids page: http://www.ready.gov/kids. It includes preparation tips and Scavenger Hunt forms.

    FEMA publishes storm preparation books for kids, in age-appropriate versions.  Click here to download before a storm.

    Tips for the elderly

    Storms can be especially distressing for seniors. In addition to the preparation described elsewhere on this Web site, here are some important tips for seniors.

    If you are a senior

     

    • You cannot count on help immediately following a storm. Make preparations now. If you have no one to assist you, local agencies such as the Red Cross can help. Call them now, not when a storm is threatening.
    • Make sure loved ones, especially if they’re long distance, know where you plan to be and how to reach you.
    • If possible, find relatives or friends who can take you in an emergency.
    • If you need to wait out the storm in a special needs shelter, make arrangements now.
    • If you’re single, find another single or singles and make plans to “buddy up.” Identify someone now who you will check on and who will check on you before and after the storm. If you live on a low floor of a high rise, suggest a neighbor who lives above the second floor, or anyone who has difficulty walking, to stay with you during the storm.
    • If you live in a senior center, attend, or even organize, meetings to coordinate emergency plans.
    • If you have special dietary requirements (low sodium, diabetic, kosher), stock up now. Mass meals delivered after storms probably won’t meet your needs.
    • Make sure you have enough of your medications before storms threaten. Have ice for those medicines that need refrigeration.
    • Seniors are tempting targets for post-storm gougers and scammers. Be wary.
    • After the storm, don’t be afraid to apply for aid. You will NOT be forced from your residence, unless it’s unsafe.
    • After the storm, with power out and debris everywhere, your health and safety must be a top priority. Don’t push yourself or act carelessly. When in doubt, seek help.

     

    If you have a relative or friend who’s a senior

     

    • Make sure he or she has a storm plan.
    • Many seniors don’t have transportation or are disabled and will have difficulty stocking up before a storm and getting critical items afterward. Make sure they have everything they need, or get it for them.
    • If your loved one is disabled or in an assisted living facility, make arrangements for where he or she will go in an emergency.

     

    CARING FOR ALZHEIMER’S PATIENTS

    • Dealing with an approaching storm is a special challenge for people with Alzheimer’s disease, or for those who care for them.
    • If you care for such a person, now is the time to create an action plan.
    • Besides all the other preparations all residents need to make, you also should talk to your patient’s physician about staying home during a storm.
    • Keep all medications in full supply and discuss ways of keeping them refrigerated if necessary.
    • Make sure to note any emergency phone numbers in case you need to reach your physician quickly.
    • Secure all car keys in a safe place so your loved one can’t get to them and leave the house alone.
    • Maintain as much of a routine as possible. Have a supply of books, magazines, newspapers, games and puzzles to keep your loved one engaged. Include a battery-operated CD player and a selection of  music.
    • Keep your loved one on a regular sleeping pattern.
    • Stay calm throughout the storm. An Alzheimer’s patient may take cues from your behavior.
    • If you plan to evacuate, know exactly where you are going. Call ahead to ensure a safe place to stay.
    • If possible, have a trusted friend or family member stay with you and your loved one. The extra help will allow you time to take care of your own needs.
    • If you do need to leave your home, always take your loved one with you, or have someone stay with him or her while you are gone. Never leave an Alzheimer’s patient unattended during a disaster.

    Claims: How to file, deal with adjusters

    What if you have to file a claim?

    Take photos or video of your home to document your belongings for insurance adjusters. A free computer software program, www.insurancevault.net , will walk you through what are the key images to take. Make sure images are easily accessible immediately after the hurricane — not solely stored on a computer.

    Save copies of receipts, purchase dates and serial numbers.

    Start a disaster savings account so that money is available in a worst-case scenario.

    Write down the name, address and claims telephone number of your insurance company, which may differ from your agent’s contact information.

    Keep this information in a safe place and make sure you have access to it if you are forced to evacuate.

    Keep materials such as plywood on hand in case you need to make temporary repairs after a storm. Take photos of the damage before you make repairs. Finally, keep receipts from your repairs so that your insurance company has documentation to reimburse you.

    Also, document any repairs you make to your house after previous hurricanes. If you don’t, and suffer new damage in the same place, an insurance company could dispute that you ever used the money they paid you to make repairs.

    Help adjusters – and others – find you

    If you have to leave your home following a storm, it is helpful to leave a phone number where you can be reached somewhere on the outside of your home.

    You can spray-paint the number on a piece of wood or on the side of your house. Paint your address and the name of your insurance company on the damaged part of your home for adjusters cruising neighborhoods.

    The basics of your policy

    Some policyholders mistakenly think they need to insure their house for its resale value. You should be insuring your house for its replacement value, which is the amount it will take to rebuild the home if it is destroyed by a covered peril.

    Your insurance agent will provide you with an estimate, but experts also advise paying a contractor, engineer or a trained appraiser to place the right replacement amount on a house if you do not agree with your agent or company replacement cost amount. Be aware that these expert expenses could be the responsibility of the homeowner.

    In the event your home is destroyed, your policy will pay up to the limits on your policy to rebuild your home. Some insurers have what is called an inflation guard contained in the policy. This will increase the amount of insurance on your home by a small amount each year to keep up with inflation.

    Some insurers pay only the replacement value stated in your insurance contract, while others will provide a cushion of up to 25 percent. The replacement estimate may not take into account a surge in demand after a storm that could increase the cost of supplies and labor.

    Contents coverage

    Florida homeowners are allowed to waive coverage for furnishings and other contents. Some companies also allow consumers to pick the level of contents coverage. Insurers used to give consumers coverage pegged at a certain value of their structure — 50 percent was common — even if their furnishings and belongings were minimal.

    Windstorm coverage

    Florida statute 627.712 allows homeowners to exclude coverage for wind events in some cases. Most mortgage holders, however, require wind coverage.

    To waive wind coverage, a homeowner must provide a letter from their lender that says it is all right with the lender if the insured drops the coverage. The savings from a policy by dropping windstorm coverage could be substantial, up to half of the total premiums paid.

    Even so, use caution before dropping the coverage, because it comes with a high risk. It’s not just hurricanes that it covers, but any wind scenario. That would include a tree falling on your house if it did so as a result of a strong wind and not just a hurricane.

    Raising deductibles

    An option that could offer substantial premium savings is raising your deductible. Your mortgage company might be able to veto such a move. Most insurers offer hurricane deductible of $500, 2 percent, 5 percent and 10 percent.

    Florida Statute 627.701 allows insurers to offer deductibles beyond the 10 percent, but not all insurers offer larger deductible options. To have a deductible in excess of 10 percent, the home must be valued at less than $500,000 and the policyholder must provide to the insurer a letter, written in his or her own hand, saying what amount in deductible they are willing to pay.

    Permission must also be obtained by the mortgage company if applicable. Calculate whether you could make repairs yourself in the event of a catastrophic event. Do you have $30,000 on hand, the amount you would pay if you took a 15 percent deductible, and your house suffered $200,000 worth of damage?

    You will want to check your state's current laws before the storm hits to make sure you are covered after the storm.

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