How to Prepare for a Hurricane

Advance planning can keep your family safe and make filing insurance claims easier later.

Sarah SchlichterJun 3, 2021
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Key takeaways

  • The first step in hurricane prep is having the right insurance, which could include up to four policies: flood, homeowners, windstorm and comprehensive car insurance.

  • Prepare your home for a hurricane by covering windows, moving outdoor furniture inside, unplugging electronics and moving valuables to a higher floor, if possible.

  • If you're evacuating, leave early and have a plan for your pets. If sheltering in place, gather nonperishable foods and plenty of water.

It can be frightening to find yourself in the path of a hurricane, but you can take steps to protect yourself, your family and your home. Following these tips for hurricane preparation can not only keep you safe but also make it easier to file insurance claims after the storm.

Prepare your insurance for hurricane season

Checking your insurance coverage is an important way to prepare for a hurricane long before a storm is on the horizon. Below are the three main types of insurance you’ll need to make sure you’re fully covered for hurricane damage:

  • Flood insurance: Pays for damage from flooding, including to foundation walls, electrical and plumbing systems, many appliances, furniture, clothing and more.

  • Homeowners insurance: In most states, pays for damage caused by wind, including items hurled into your house. In some coastal areas, you must buy a separate windstorm insurance policy if you want wind coverage.

  • Comprehensive car insurance: Pays for flood-damaged cars.

Early in the hurricane season, reach out to your agent or insurance company to ensure you have adequate coverage in all three areas. For example, if you’ve made improvements to your home since the last time you spoke with your agent, you may need additional coverage on your homeowners policy.

This is also a good time to check your deductibles. Many homeowners policies in coastal areas have separate hurricane, named storm or windstorm deductibles that are significantly higher than the standard deductible that applies to other types of claims. Make sure you know what you’ll be expected to pay if a hurricane hits your property.

Keep in mind that new policies may not take effect right away. For instance, flood insurance policies from the National Flood Insurance Program generally have a 30-day waiting period.

Hurricane prep for your home

Whether you’re evacuating or staying put, following this hurricane prep list will help you limit wind and water damage to your home and make sure your insurer reimburses you for anything you lose:

  • Move everything from the backyard — grills, patio furniture and so on — into the house or a garage so they don’t become projectiles.

  • Remove dead or dying branches from trees.

  • Make sure all doors and windows are tightly shut to keep wind and water out. Cover windows with storm shutters or plywood.

  • If you have a second floor, bring valuable items upstairs.

  • Move vehicles to higher ground away from trees, or into a garage, if possible.

  • Take photos or video of the interior and exterior of each vehicle in case you need to provide proof of their condition when making a claim for storm damage.

  • Take an inventory of your belongings. The easiest way is to shoot videos of each room with your smartphone, opening closets and drawers to show everything you own.

  • Unplug appliances and electronics.

Sheltering in place safely

If you’re not under evacuation orders or you’re unable to leave, here’s how to keep yourself safe at home during a hurricane.

Prepare a hurricane food list

Power outages are common during hurricanes, so you’ll want plenty of nonperishable food on hand in case you lose access to your fridge and freezer. Consider shopping for these items as part of your hurricane prep:

  • Dry cereal.

  • Granola and energy bars.

  • Bread.

  • Peanut butter.

  • Tuna and other canned meats.

  • Canned fruits and vegetables.

  • Crackers and other snacks.

  • Nuts and trail mix.

  • Apples, oranges and bananas.

  • Canned soups and stews.

  • Powdered milk.

  • Shelf-stable baby food.

  • Dry pet food.

Most importantly: Don’t forget bottled water. You should have at least one gallon of water per day, per person (or pet), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In hot weather, you may need even more.

If you normally use an electric can opener, make sure you have a manual one available.

Stay safe inside

To prepare for power outages, stock up on flashlights and extra batteries. Fully charge your phone and backup chargers, and consider filling your bathtub with water for washing in case you lose your water supply.

If you’re using a portable generator, never bring it inside your home (including your garage). The carbon monoxide released by these devices can be deadly.

During the storm, take shelter in an interior part of your home, away from windows and glass doors. If you can, monitor the news on TV or your phone to find out about evacuation orders or all-clear alerts.

Preparing for evacuation

Perhaps the most important part of hurricane preparation is being ready to leave the area quickly. If you have to evacuate, try to head out as soon as possible — before roads clog up and gas stations run out of fuel. If you don’t own a car, reach out to local friends or family to see if you can get a ride.

Pack an evacuation kit

To ensure a quicker departure, prepare an evacuation kit in advance with the following items:

  • Three to five days’ worth of clothing.

  • Cash in small bills.

  • Cell phone and charger, including a portable charger if you have one.

  • Flashlights and batteries.

  • First-aid kit.

  • Prescription medicines for everyone in the family.

  • Water and nonperishable foods.

  • Extra keys for your home and car.

  • Hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.

  • Important family documents, like marriage licenses, birth certificates and passports.

  • Diapers, formula and other infant supplies.

  • Personal hygiene items such as toothbrushes and deodorant.

  • Your homeowners and flood insurance policy declaration pages (these list the coverage you have).

  • Contact information for your insurance agent.

Find a place for your pets

Many hotels and evacuation shelters don’t accept pets. That includes most Red Cross shelters (which make exceptions for service animals). So it's important to contact your veterinarian or a local animal shelter ahead of time to find a safe haven for your pets. If none can be found, look for a hotel that accepts animals and is on high ground.

The furry members of your family should also have a disaster kit ready to go. The Humane Society recommends the following list of supplies:

  • At least five days’ worth of water and food.

  • Medications and medical records.

  • Waste bags and litter box supplies.

  • Sturdy leashes and carriers.

  • Current photos and descriptions of your pets in case you’re separated.

  • Your vet’s contact information.

  • Toys and blankets.

  • Cleaning supplies.

Making insurance claims

Once you’ve surveyed the damage, call your insurance agent or company to initiate a claim. If you can, prevent further damage by doing things such as covering holes with a tarp, and keep receipts from your purchases for the claim.

Be prepared to have a different insurance adjuster for each type of claim, even if your policies all come from the same company.

Many homeowners policies will pay for additional living expenses up to a certain amount if you must relocate during a mandatory evacuation or repairs. Keep receipts for everything you buy during and after the disaster, in case you can be reimbursed by your insurance company.

If your home suffers flood damage but you don’t have flood insurance, here’s how to get help.

Frequently asked questions

If you're sheltering in place during a storm, consider having the following on hand:

  • One gallon of water per person, per day.

  • Manual can opener.

  • Non-perishable foods such as dry cereal, granola bars, trail mix and tuna.

  • Flashlights and extra batteries.

  • Backup chargers for phones.

If you're planning to evacuate, fill the car with gas as far in advance as possible. Stock the vehicle with snacks, water, a first-aid kit, flashlights, batteries and portable chargers. If you're sheltering in place, move the car into a garage or to higher ground, and make sure you have copies of important documents, such as your insurance card and registration. You may want to take photos or video of the vehicle to document its pre-storm condition; this can help with insurance claims if you need to report damage after the storm.

The following hurricane prep list can help you keep your home safe during a storm:

  • Move outdoor furniture inside.

  • Unplug electronics and appliances.

  • Shut all windows and doors, and cover them with storm shutters or plywood.

  • Bring valuable items to the highest floor in the house.

  • Remove dead branches from trees.

  • Take an inventory of your belongings to help with potential insurance claims.

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