Emergency Preparedness for Hurricanes and Similar Disasters

Cartoon of a strong wind

While Maine surely can be considered a State with its share of bad weather we most often think of winter storms & not emergencies during hurricane season. Hurricanes can and do happen in Maine. The State of Maine is located outside the hurricane belt and in most cases the storms weakened considerably prior to their arrival but on average a significant hurricane system impacts the State about every 8 years. The infrequency of these storms is the very reason why most residents are ill equipped and prepared to weather these storms.

In the event that a weather condition can be monitored you might have a day or two to get ready. However, many disasters allow no time for people to gather even the most basic necessities, which is why planning ahead is essential.

The hurricane season officially runs from June 1st through November 30th but the peak season here in Maine begins typically in the last week of August and runs through the end of September; of course Mother Nature doesn’t always consult with the calendar.

Watch v. Warning

WATCH: Hurricane conditions are possible in the specified area of the WATCH, usually within 36 hours.

WARNING: Hurricane conditions are expected in the specified area of the WARNING, usually within 24 hours.

DISASTER SUPPLY KIT: First and foremost you should assemble a disaster supply kit with anticipation that you may be stranded and without power for 3-7 days.

  • Water: at least 1 gallon daily per person for 3 to 7 days
  • Food: at least enough non-perishable packaged or canned food for 3-7 days, non electric can opener, cooking tools/fuel and paper plates/plastic utensils
  • First Aid Kit and essential medications
  • Flashlight / Batteries / Radio
  • Telephones: Fully charged cell phone with extra battery and/or traditional (not cordless) telephone set
  • Cash: Banks and ATM’s may not be available for extended periods of time
  • Important Documents: i.e. Insurance, medical records, bank account numbers, social security card; all should be stored in waterproof container(s)

At any time you may be instructed to evacuate or you may simply decide it is the safest thing to do for you and your family. Identify ahead of time where you plan to go and have a few alternatives. Remember traffic may be heavy and slow and roads washed out or otherwise impassable. If possible check with local authorities about emergency evacuation routes and stick to those routes; do not take shortcuts as those secondary roadways may be blocked off. Keep your tank full of gas as gas stations may be closed or out of order due to power outages.

High winds are the most common hazard associated with hurricanes. Hurricane force winds can easily destroy poorly constructed building and mobile homes.

Protect all windows by installing commercial shutters or preparing 5/8 inch plywood panels; taping windows does not prevent them from breaking. Trim any tree limbs that have the potential of coming in contact with your windows.

Turn off all utilities and turn off propane tanks. Unplug all appliances except for your refrigerator and freezer and those should be set to the coldest setting with the doors kept closed.

Garage doors are frequently the first feature in home to fail; reinforce these doors with wood supports to provide extra strength and weight.

Don’t forget your pets: Specialized pet shelters, animal control shelters and veterinary clinics are all potential refuges for your pet. Animals brought to a pet shelter are required to have: Proper identification collar and rabies tag, proper identification on all belongings, a carrier or cage, a leash, an ample supply of food, water and food bowls, any necessary medications and any specific care instructions.

If possible designate an interior room with no windows or external doors as a “Safe Room” and make sure it is stocked with a disaster supply kit. Do not leave the Safe Room until directed to do so by local officials; it may appear that the storm has passed, but remember, there is little to no wind in the eye of a hurricane. Typically wind speeds diminish significantly within 12 hours after reaching landfall but winds can stay at or above hurricane strength well inland. In 1989 Hurricane Hugo battered Charlotte, North Carolina with gusts of 100 mph and that city is located 175 miles inland.

When it comes to hurricanes, wind speeds do not the only associated hazard. Hurricanes produce storm surges, tornadoes, and often the most deadly of all inland flooding. Intense rainfall is in no way related to wind speed and ironically the greatest rainfall amounts occur from weaker storms that drift slowly or stall over an area. In a study from 1970-1999 freshwater flooding accounted for more than 59% of U.S. hurricane deaths so the next time you hear hurricane, think inland flooding.

  • Determine whether or not you live in a potential flood zone
  • If advised to evacuate, do so immediately
  • Keep abreast of road conditions through the news media
  • Move to a safe area before access is cut off by flood water
  • Do not attempt to cross flowing water. As little as six inches or water may cause you to lose control of your vehicle

While we’re probably all more prepared for the typical winter Nor’easter a tropical hurricane is a very real threat even here in Maine. The steps we can all take to prepare for and avoid potential injury and damage are all very simple and well worth the effort.