Guest Column: Prepare for a hurricane today

David B. Shoar, St. Johns County Sheriff

It has been nearly 46 years since a hurricane struck the first coast directly from the east and that hurricane, Hurricane Dora, has been the only one to strike from the east since records have been kept dating back to 1851.

There are only a very small percentage of folks who remember the destruction that Hurricane Dora caused in the early morning hours of September 10, 1964. The storm made a direct hit at then sparsely populated Vilano Beach with its 120 mph winds and a storm surge of 12 feet.

Dora continued east to Lake City and then made a right turn and traveled north through Georgia and the Carolinas before going out to sea. The storm caused one death directly and $280 million damage.

Not too long ago, we had the outer effects of three storms coming from the west coast that caused substantial damage.

Although we have been spared from devastating storms we should not let down our guard and be prepared if a hurricane is headed our way.

With that said, I would like to devote this month’s column on Hurricane Awareness and Safety.

Hurricane season began on June 1st and lasts until the end of November. Meteorologists are predicting a very active season in the Atlantic basin. You should be familiar with the terms Hurricane Watch and Hurricane Warning. A Watch is issued when conditions are favorable that a hurricane could strike in 36 hours. A Warning is issued when hurricane force winds are expected to strike in 24 hours. By this time you should already have an emergency plan for yourself and family and begin implementation of that plan.

Some things to consider in your preliminary plans are:
• Take photos of your property from all angles; it may not look the same once the storm passes.
• Plan for elderly/handicapped/invalid care at a shelter or at home.
• Learn which routes will be safe during a storm.
• Learn where official shelters are located.
• Trim any dead wood from trees prior to the storm.
• Check for, fix or take note of loose items on your structures (shutters, screens, eaves, gutters, antennas, satellites).
• Get and use a hurricane tracking chart
• Plan what you and your family will do if you have to evacuate.
• Get necessary supplies and secure them in safe area.
• Plan for pet care.
• Review your insurance coverage.
• Protect your important documents.
• Show others in the family how to turn off/on gas, electricity, and water.
• Make outside repairs.

When a Hurricane Watch for your area is issued you should do the following:
• Listen to official bulletins on radio, TV, or NOAA Weather Radio, and Internet for updates.
• Check all supplies you already have to see if they are in satisfactory condition include batteries.
• Fill gas tank of vehicles, check oil and tire pressure.
• Inspect mobile home tie-downs.
• Board, tape, cover windows and doors or skylights.
• Secure boat.
• Secure any objects and furniture that are outside.
• Check on all medical supplies, special needs for elderly, handicapped, etc.
• Plan to evacuate if necessary.

When a Hurricane Warning is issued here are some suggestions:
• Stay tuned to TV, radio, Internet or NOAA Weather Radio.
• Move valuables to higher location
• Move furniture away from windows and cover.
• Fill containers (bathtub, plastic jugs) with drinking water.
• Use phones only in an emergency.
• Bring in/secure pets (food & water).
• Shut off water and electricity at main breaker switch.
• Leave mobile homes.
• Leave low areas. If evacuating–leave early.

Sometimes a hurricane path may not be predictable and evacuation orders could come at any time. If you are asked to evacuate, please do so early and know the route you will be taking. Remember there will be many folks taking the same route from a very large area — be sure to give yourself plenty of time to leave safely.

Finally, if you refuse to leave following an evacuation order, here are some safety tips for riding out the storm:
• Make sure your building is well-constructed.
• Turn the refrigerator to maximum cold.
• Freeze water in plastic containers, if the electricity goes off you can use the ice to keep food cold.
• Turn off utilities if told to do so by the authorities.
• Unplug small appliances.
• Fill bathtub and containers with water.
• Stay indoors.
• Prepare for storm surge and possible flooding.
• Plan what to do if the winds become too strong.
• Stay away from windows and doors, even if covered.
• Stay in a small interior room, hallway, or closet.
• Close all inside doors, brace exterior doors.
• If you have a two-story house, stay on the first floor.
• Lie on the floor or under a table or other sturdy object.

Now is the time to go over your hurricane preparedness. If you have not made any emergency plans, you should do so now. Planning ahead will save you unnecessary stress from not knowing what to do or not having the supplies you will need to get you through the hurricane watch, warning, storm, and aftermath.

Print and post this list on the refrigerator or somewhere it will be easily seen. Please visit our website, for additional information concerning Hurricane Preparedness and of course feel free to drop me a line at It is our hope at the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office that you have a safe and happy summer.

Photo credits: © 2010 Historic City News staff photographer

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