For most of the past decade, South Florida rode a wave of unusual luck. Despite being well-known as a regular target of Atlantic and Caribbean tropical storms, not a single hurricane made landfall in Florida for over ten years. That record-breaking stretch came to an end with Hurricane Hermine in early September 2016.

Not long after, Hurricane Matthew skirted the coast and brought massive property damage as well as record flooding to the coastlines of Florida, Georgia, and North and South Carolina. The two storms were undoubtedly a wake-up call to residents lulled into complacency by a decade of calm.

Hurricanes Are Inevitable—Plan Accordingly

Particularly for newer residents, it’s important to realize that hurricanes are a matter of when—not if—for people living in Florida. This means that having a plan of action is an absolute necessity.

Make sure your home is hurricane-ready

Shoring up any weak links in your home’s “armor” is a good first step in hurricane prep. Take these steps well in advance of hurricane season—don’t wait until contractors are in the middle of peak demand.

If you do not already have hurricane shutters, getting them installed is a great way to add protection to your home. Hurricane shutters prevent flying objects from breaking windows. Broken windows allow high-velocity winds inside and cause the interior air pressure to rise; this makes the structure more vulnerable, putting it at risk of roof failure.

You should also repair roof leaks, loose siding, and flashing in addition to securing anything on your property that is vulnerable to strong winds, such as lawn furniture or grilling equipment.

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Take measures to secure important documents and valuable keepsakes—consider a fireproof lock box or safety deposit box. Rounding up difficult-to-replace items ahead of time can potentially save you from major headaches down the line.

Plan for evacuation or riding out the storm

Long before a storm is bearing down on your hometown, make sure that you have an action plan for impending hurricanes.

Decide ahead of time where you will ride out the storm—if officials order evacuations over large areas, hotels may be hard to come by. Arrange to stay with friends or family members in a safer area, if you can. Should that not be an option, try to book your room as soon as you know you won’t be riding out the storm at home.

Orange emergency first aid kit

Things to do before a storm:

  1. Review and plan your evacuation route, and make note of potential alternate routes.
  2. Gas up your vehicles—shortages could occur along evacuation routes.
  3. Stockpile a supply of several days’ worth of food and potable (drinkable) water.
  4. Fill necessary prescriptions ahead of the storm—pharmacies may close for some time afterward.
  5. Create an emergency kit—weather radios, candles, portable chargers or generators, and first aid kits are all good additions.

Whether you stay or evacuate, it’s worth bringing along some form of entertainment—maybe a board game or two. Being cramped up in a hotel room for several days with nothing to do is enough to make anyone a little stir-crazy.

Make arrangements for your pets

Don’t forget to make arrangements for your four-legged family members. In case of evacuation, you need to figure out where your pet will be able to stay if they can’t travel with you. A fully loaded vehicle with you, your family, and your emergency supplies may not leave room for Spike or Felix, especially if you have multiple animals.

Figure out if you have friends or family members outside of the storm’s path that can watch your pets until the storm is over. If no one can take them, look into boarding them at a shelter temporarily. Before dropping them off, make sure they have collars with up-to-date contact information and that all vaccinations are current.

If your pets will be traveling with you, prepare a specialized emergency kit for them, including a carrier, water, food, and any medicines they might need.

Know Your Insurance Coverage

Should your home or property suffer hurricane damage, proper insurance coverage is critical in relieving the financial burden of restoring your home. If you’re not familiar with the ins and outs of your policy, contact your agent or the company to find out specific information about what your coverage does and does not protect you from.

Most home insurance probably covers at least some hurricane damage, but it’s absolutely crucial that you know what your policy says. Some policies may explicitly exclude coverage for hurricane damage or any type of flooding, requiring homeowners to purchase additional windstorm or flood insurance.

Sort out your insurance situation before hurricane season arrives—once a storm is on its way, insurance companies are prohibited by law from writing new policies or changing existing ones.

To help speed along any possible claims, document your home and belongings on video in still photos prior to the storm to create a record of their condition.

After the Storm

Houses surrounded by flood waters

When the storm has passed and any evacuation orders have been lifted, check with local news and authorities to determine whether it is safe for you and your family to return to your home. Flooding or downed trees could lead to road closures, and there is also potential for washouts and sinkhole formation.

Once you are back home, take stock of your property, checking for damage and missing items. If you find more than minor damage, contact your insurance company to begin the claims process.

Seeking federal and state disaster assistance

As with most natural disasters, federal and state governments as well as nonprofit organizations—like the Red Cross—will offer immediate assistance for those needing food, water, and shelter.

In addition, homeowners can receive additional disaster assistance from the government if major disaster declarations have been made for your area. State and federal disaster aid typically cover losses that are not already addressed by your insurance. Also, aid is time-limited, so be sure to begin the application process as soon as possible.

Choose reputable contractors

If you need to get repair work done, watch out for fly-by-night contractors—disasters can bring out companies looking to take advantage of a huge spike in demand by soliciting services door-to-door. Sometimes these companies are less than reputable and may not be in business several years down the road if issues arise or warranty work is necessary.

If approached by a company, be sure to do your homework to determine if the company is trustworthy, does quality work, and has an established track record.

Lucky for you, we’ve actually done some of that research for you. All Best Pick contractors—including roofing, siding, and window and door companies—have established histories of delivering high-quality work and leaving customers satisfied.

Bottom line: Hurricane prep is as essential as sunscreen for South Florida residents. Spending a little time getting your home and family ready for major storms can prevent catastrophic losses should the eye of the storm cast its gaze your way.