With the anxiety of Superstorm Sandy never far from our minds, Long Islanders have watched painfully familiar scenes unfold across the South, the mid-Atlantic and the Caribbean over the past two years, as a series of historic storms — Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, Florence and Michael — turned hundreds of thousands of lives upside down.
I traveled to North Carolina with the Red Cross after Hurricane Florence last September, and witnessed the same heartache and loss we experienced here in 2012. My prevailing thought was that I needed to do everything I could to help prepare my neighbors for the next storm here. That’s why I joined community, government and other partners last month to mark the start of the 2019 hurricane season and urge all Long Islanders get ready now.
Being prepared for a hurricane, or any natural disaster, can be a game-changer when the storm is over, and its victims are recovering. Emergency preparedness can be summed up with three simple steps: get a kit, make a plan and be informed.
Get a kit
Make time to assemble an emergency kit for when you have to evacuate, or shelter in place. It should have enough food, water and other basic supplies for every family member for at least three days. Include essential medications, copies of important documents and special items for children, the elderly, those with special medical needs and pets.
Make a plan
It’s also critical to create an evacuation plan for you and your family. And practice as a family! Here are some tips:
• Follow the instructions of officials and evacuate if told to do so.
• Leave early enough to avoid being trapped by severe weather.
• You may have to get out on foot, depending on the type of disaster. If you don’t have a car or can’t use your vehicle, plan on how you will leave the area.
• If you have a car, keep the gas tank full if an evacuation order is possible. Don’t let the tank go below half full, in case gas stations are unable to pump gas.
• Decide where you will go and what route you’ll take to get there. It could be a motel, the home of a friend or relative a safe distance away, or an evacuation shelter.
• If you have time, let someone outside the region know you’re evacuating and where you’re going. Leave a note saying when you left and where you plan to go.
• Wear sturdy shoes and clothing that provides some protection.
• Be alert for road hazards such as downed trees or flooding. Don’t drive onto a flooded road.
• Practice evacuating your home twice a year. Grab your emergency kit and drive your planned evacuation route. Include an alternate route in a different direction in case one is impassible. Make sure you have locations and maps saved on devices such as cellphones and GPS units, as well as on paper.
• Don’t forget your pets. If it’s not safe for you to stay home, it’s not safe for them, either. Prepare a phone list of pet-friendly motels and animal shelters along your evacuation route. Keep in mind that shelters usually allow service animals only.
• Find out how local authorities will notify you during a disaster and how you will get information, whether through local radio, TV or a NOAA Weather Radio channel.
• Know the difference between different weather alerts such as watches and warnings, and what actions to take in each.
• When a major disaster occurs, your community can change in an instant. Loved ones may be injured, and emergency response is likely to be delayed. Make sure that at least one member of your household is trained in first aid and CPR, and knows how to use an automated external defibrillator, or AED. This training is useful in many emergency situations.
The American Red Cross has great resources to help you prepare, including free apps and classes. Go to www.redcross.org and download the free app to get up-to-the-minute information and weather alerts, to access first aid tips and much more.
Being prepared is empowering. Join us in our effort to build a more resilient and prepared Long Island.
Neela Lockel is CEO of the American Red Cross on Long Island.