1. Stock upPerhaps the most important thing to do is gather items you might need if you become trapped or stranded. Even in the worst case, if your house is compromised or you are unable to leave it, you and your family will be okay so long as you have taken the time to put together the necessities.
Hurricane Irene, the first of the 2011 season, has done damage in the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. People on the East Coast of the US are now readying themselves for their own imminent encounter with the storm. If you live in that part of the country, what can you do to protect your home and your loved ones?
The National Hurricane Center has released a suggested list of supplies. Among these are first aid kits, toys, books and games, and of course food and water. Make sure that you have what you need to entertain and nurture yourself until it’s safe outside once again.
2. Keep an eye on the weatherA storm is at its most dangerous when it is unexpected. Do some research on weather news outlets to find the one you deem most valuable. If you're watching the hurricane, you'll rid yourself of the helpless feeling that it’s an invisible enemy that can't be guarded against. And you'll know when it's about to hit your area or head in another direction.
Many 'Hurricane Tracking' applications have been created for the iPhone, iPad, and other digital tablets. These are as cheap as $2.99 (or even free) and as expensive as $70. If you’re fairly active, it seems like a smart idea to have a tracking program with you on your mobile device; if you're driving to and from work, picking up children from school, or getting the groceries, you'll be first to know to abandon your routine and take shelter.
3. Guard your windowsIf you plan to stay in your house, you must make it as secure as possible. Windows should become barricades – not against burglars, but rain, wind, and maybe even flying objects.
There are two parts to this procedure. First, limit the number of things that could come crashing into the side of your home. Make sure to "bring in all outdoor furniture, decorations, garbage cans and anything else that is not tied down," says Amanda Lindner at Half Hollow Hills (Long Island) Patch. Also, she writes, "keep all trees and shrubs well trimmed."
Second, fortify the windows themselves. This can be done with plywood or "hurricane shutters," for which the South Florida Sun Sentinel has put out a buyer’s guide. Hurricane-proof glass is another popular option.
4. Make a simple but thoughtful planA family disaster plan will keep you organized; the last thing you want is for a moment’s panic to ruin all your careful preparation.
The National Hurricane Center has a checklist that can serve as a template. Things to do are discuss "vulnerability to storm surge, flooding and wind," decide about the evacuation of any pets, and determine escape routes "measured in tens of miles rather than hundreds of miles." In addition to uniting your family under a single mode of operation, a well-constructed disaster plan should incorporate other families and friends nearby: will you maintain communication with them, and can you work together if need be?
5. After it's over: be carefulHazards don't vanish the second a hurricane moves on. The Federal Emergency Management Agency can give you some pointers for the hours and days after the immediate terror.
One of the priorities will be to clean and repair broken parts of the house. Says the American Red Cross on wiping out flooded areas, "when in doubt, throw it out. Don't risk injury or infection."
And there can be emotional ramifications to deal with as well as the physical ones. The crucial step in healing traumas, says FEMA, is to acknowledge your feelings, and also focus "on your strengths and abilities." Remember that it is normal to be shaken, spacy, sad or angry. Talk with others about the ordeal you've been through and rebuild together, as a community.