I’ve been through two hurricanes in my lifetime. The most recent was Hurricane Iniki, which was a category 4 storm that devastated our island of Kauai, Hawaii in 1992. Every year when hurricane season starts in June with the arrival of El Nino or La Nina seasons, we are reminded by media, utility companies, and government entities to prepare hurricane survival kits and become familiar with procedures in the case that this type of natural disaster occurs. What my family has learned through our hurricane experiences is that in addition to those things, creating a Family Hurricane Plan is a critical component to preparedness.
A Family Hurricane Plan allows for family members to consider and discuss where they will be and what they will need to do in this type of situation. It also puts a system in place for how you will contact each other after the storm. One of the most stressful parts of the aftermath of a hurricane is not being able to contact loved ones to either check to see if they’re okay or to let them know how you are doing. The Family Hurricane Plan is poised to make things in this type of difficult event as orderly as possible.
My family’s hurricane plan encompasses more than 30 individuals spanning five generations. There is no limit to how many individuals can be involved in one plan, and when I say “family” I don’t mean that you have to be blood related to be included in a Family Hurricane Plan. Any group of friends or neighbors that care for each other can develop a plan together.
The Family Hurricane Plan should include:
- A list of everyone’s physical address, phone numbers and email addresses because you will most likely not be able to rely on the power sources for phones, computers, or other electronics to reference this information.
- A list of where each person and/or family unit will be during the hurricane. This will help other family members know where to look for each other after the hurricane. Check to see if you live in a flood zone or evacuation area. If so, choose another location to endure the storm. Research emergency shelters and their rules (do they allow pets?) in advance so that you can assess your options before you’re actually in the situation.
- A section labeled “Before the Hurricane” that details actions items to prepare for the storm, such as fill automobiles with gas, back up computers, charge electronics, or place all important documentation off the floor and in a waterproof containers. Assign individuals to certain tasks.
- The following section should be labeled “After the Hurricane,” and detail the process for getting in touch with each other and who will check in on whom. Our family assigns an uncle who does not live on our island to be the contact point for the entire family. He will keep track of where everyone is during the storm, and he is the contact person after the storm. Having one contact person who does not live in your area increases the likelihood that this person has a clear, accessible line of communication and that everyone will only need to make one call to get news about the others. Granted, outgoing communication will be difficult immediately following a hurricane, however when you are able to call out, you will only have to make one contact.
- Tips and advice on survival in the aftermath of a hurricane with no electricity or water. How long do you have to boil water for it to be safe to drink? What modes of communication can you use without phone service? This type of information should be shared in this section.
The plan should also include a hurricane survival kit checklist as well as phone numbers for utility companies, your local American Red Cross, and police and fire stations (just in case 911 is not accessible or you have a concern or question that is not an emergency).
A Family Hurricane Plan should be a living document subject to reviews and updates annually. Our family usually gets together once a year for a family meeting to review and update the plan. It’s surprising how many updates we need to make each year, such as address changes, additions of family members, etc. Keeping familiar with the plan is key to implementing it smoothly if/when the time comes.
One thing my family has learned from surviving a few hurricanes is that no matter how much you prepare, there will be bumps in the road that we cannot anticipate. During Hurricane Iniki my grandparents were away on vacation. In addition to our homes, we had to secure their home, and we had no way of contacting them after the storm for several days. They were also unable to fly home as our local airport was shut down. We were lucky that everything worked out fine in the end, but those were some nerve-wracking few days.
Having a written plan that everyone has contributed to and become familiar with certainly lessens the chaos and provides an anchor during rough times. There is no right or wrong way to create a plan. Customize your plan to your family’s needs. My family operates a retail business with three stores throughout Kauai. In our Family Hurricane Plan, we have built in some action steps for the business too, such as who will check in on the store locations, who will check on employees, etc.
The most important thing to remember about the Family Hurricane Plan is that if a hurricane is headed your way, print out the plan and place it in a ziploc bag so that it stays dry in case of flooding or other water exposure. Again, you’ll probably be without electricity for a while after the hurricane, so having a hard copy of the plan on hand is absolutely necessary.