With Storm Season Looming, It’s Time to Update Disaster Kits

May 29, 2008

Living on a canal in Treasure Island, Fla., just six blocks from the Gulf of Mexico, Dennis and Martie Fagan don’t mess around when it comes to preparing for hurricane season.

Around this time of year, they take stock of the disaster supplies that remain stored year round in an upstairs room. They review a plan for what will be packed into their cars if they’re ordered to evacuate, which has happened three times since they moved there in 1993.

“You’re silly if you don’t anticipate something happening,” said Dennis Fagan, an executive at a Tampa software company. “When we moved down there (to the beach), we realized that despite the predictions of how many hurricanes there are going to be, it only takes one. And you better be prepared for it.”

That’s a message that state emergency managers preach incessantly, although after two relatively quiet hurricane seasons it threatens to be lost in the din of other challenges facing homeowners these days.

Busy and destructive storm seasons of 2004 and ’05 had shaken residents of coastal states from their malaise. Homeowners rushed to stockpile bottled water, batteries and cans of soup, bracing for the next big one.

With another dire forecast for the storm season that starts June 1 — ;researchers predict 15 named storms and a “better than average” chance of a major hurricane hitting the United States — emergency managers say it’s a good idea to look again at disaster kits and those storm provisions that have been gathering dust in the corner of the garage.

“We’re in our preseason,” Florida Division of Emergency Management spokesman Mike Stone said. “You have preseason for ball players, and it’s time for Floridians to get into that spring-training kind of mode. Now is really the time.”

Among the suggestions:

Review and update important documents, such as medical records that might have changed since the disaster kit was assembled. It’s also a good time to read homeowner’s insurance policies again to review the coverage. Keep documents in a waterproof bag in the disaster kit.

Check use-by dates on canned goods and other perishables. Rotate them out or donate them to a food bank if they are getting near expiration. Doug Douglass of the Tampa Bay chapter of the American Red Cross suggests using a permanent marker to write purchase and expiration dates on cans and boxes of stored food.

The Red Cross recommends replacing bottled water if it has been sitting around for more than six months.

Check the batteries in flashlights, radios and other electronics. And make sure you have others on hand. Stone said people tend to “borrow” batteries from their hurricane kits for Christmas toys and other things throughout the year and forget to replace them. Make sure there are plenty on hand and that they are within their use-by dates.

If plastic tarps, cloth cots or blankets are being stored in a garage or some other humid place, open them up and check for deterioration.

Pull out the gas generator, check the oil, gas it up and make sure it will start. Like cars, generators get cranky if they’re not run.

“If it’s part of your tool kit, you want to go out there and practice,” Stone said.

Regarding food and water, disaster managers advise storing as much as you have room for.

“The conventional wisdom has been to have three-days supply on hand at your disposal,” Stone said. “At the very least have three. If you can make it five, better. If you can make it seven, even better.”


On the Net:

National Hurricane Center Disaster Supply Kit:

American Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org

Florida Division of Emergency Management:

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