Prepare for hurricanes; secure belongings

by Terrence J. McGregor, chief of emergency services

LANCASTER—The hazards associated with hurricanes can affect those living on the shore, as well as inland residents. Understanding these hazards and how to protect your home and your family helps to recover quickly when the storm passes.

Residents living in areas outside of evacuation zones are not free from risk. Hurricanes bring the risk of substantial rainfall, very high winds and tornados. These hazards can cause catastrophic damages well inland. While residents may choose to shelter in place outside of evacuation zones, they should take precautions to minimize the risk to their safety and damages to property. Those living in mobile homes should always plan to evacuate when a hurricane approaches, regardless of whether the property is in an evacuation zone or not.

Residents should secure anything outside that can be picked up by the wind, such as lawn furniture, bicycles and grills. Close windows and doors and board up windows with plywood. Set the refrigerator and freezer to the coldest setting to preserve food after the likely power outages. Turn off propane tanks and small appliances to reduce the risk of gas leaks and fires. Ensure your car has a full tank of gas and be sure to keep enough cash on hand for several days following the storm. Talk to your family and have a plan to communicate with one another. Be sure your emergency kit is well stocked and readily available.

For those living in areas threatened by storm surge, it is very important to have a plan to evacuate. When residents fail to heed the warnings of local officials, they risk the chance of becoming isolated, making rescue dangerous for residents and responders. Storm surge can result in the accumulation of water in places that are not normally prone to flooding. This results from water being pushed up the Chesapeake Bay and onto land by the sheer power of a tropical system. In addition, large waves resulting from strong winds can result in significant inland flooding and destruction caused by the water and the wave action. Residents in evacuation zones should follow the direction of local officials and have a plan to evacuate, now. To find out if you live in an evacuation zone go to knowyourzoneVa.org.

If sheltering in place, take refuge in a small interior room on the lowest floor of your home, away from doors and windows as the storm closes in. Use only battery-powered flashlights and lanterns. Keep a battery-powered radio and a NOAA weather radio with you to stay informed of the latest information, including instructions from local officials. If the eye of the storm passes overhead, there will be a period of calm—do not go outside—winds will rapidly increase to their maximum strength as the opposite side of the eye approaches.

Communication during a storm can become difficult, as cellular networks may become damaged from the winds, or overloaded from use. Communicating by text message may be more reliable and effective during these times.

During the storm, continue sheltering in place until given the all clear by local officials.

Lancaster County Emergency Services will provide information through local radio, television, newspapers, social media, the ReadyLancaster and Lancaster County websites and through CodeRED messages. Information will include when the storm has passed and it is safe to leave your home and to return to evacuated areas. Additional information about the severity of damages and how residents can receive assistance will also be shared through these various outlets.

For more information about how to prepare for hurricanes and what actions you can take to reduce your risk of harm go to Readylancaster.org/hurricanes, email info@ReadyLancastedr.org, or call 436-3553.