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Safety experts offer tips to prepare for potentially dangerous hurricane season

In 2017 Hurricane Harvey brought devastating flooding to the Houston area. Experts at UTHealth say now is the time to prepare for a potentially dangerous hurricane season.  (Photo credit: Deborah Mann Lake, UTHealth).
In 2017 Hurricane Harvey brought devastating flooding to the Houston area. Experts at UTHealth say now is the time to prepare for a potentially dangerous hurricane season. (Photo credit: Deborah Mann Lake, UTHealth).

Summer is just around the corner, and so is hurricane season. Weather experts are warning Americans to prepare for an active and potentially dangerous Atlantic season – which gets its official start on June 1. With the potential for heavy rain and strong winds, the threat of power loss, and dealing with potentially dangerous cleanup in the aftermath of a storm, experts at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) say preparing in advance is the best way to weather anything hurricane season may bring.

Robert Emery, DrPH, vice president of safety, health, environment, and risk management for UTHealth, said that while most Southeast Texans have been preoccupied with staying up to date on COVID-19 guidelines and precautions, it is important to begin prepping for the upcoming hurricane season as well.

“The pandemic doesn’t make the known hurricane season go away. The time to prepare is now, before a storm is barreling down on us,” he said.

Emery, who is also a professor of environmental and occupational health safety at UTHealth School of Public Health, says that the most important thing to consider when planning your preparedness kit is to ask yourself what you and your family will need to survive for up to 72 hours if a hurricane hits.

“This will include items such as water (at least five gallons), nonperishable food, flashlights, batteries, medications, and diapers for young children – whatever items your family depends on for survival,” Emery said.

Oxygen requirements may mean extra canisters or backup generators, experts say. Older adults and people with disabilities may have special needs to consider. Infants will need baby food. Don’t forget hand sanitizer or cleansing wipes. Have at least two weeks of any prescription medication on hand in the event you are unable to access a refill for an extended period of time due to evacuation or delivery interruptions.

It is also important to prepare your home for the upcoming season, such as securing any items outside your home that could be blown around during high winds. Store important documents in a watertight location. Examples include zip lock bags, plastic containers, or other watertight containers. In addition, it is important to have a backup plan for evacuation in case the worst happens. Be sure to pack phone chargers, jumper cables for your vehicle, any medications you will need, an extra pair of eyeglasses, identification, cash, blankets, and pillows, as well as food, a water bowl, and leashes for family pets.

For individuals with mobility impairments or other challenges, it is important they reach out to trusted individuals who can provide support for evacuation and coordinate a plan in advance of the season.

“People with mobility impairments and others who use battery-powered mobility devices, like electric wheelchairs or ventilators, should have backup generators available or be prepared to find alternative places to charge their batteries,” said Lex Frieden, a professor of health informatics at UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics.

“Also, individuals should register for evacuation assistance by calling 311.  Operators will obtain specific information about a person’s needs, including information about caregivers, pets, medical equipment, and mobility assistance devices that may need to be evacuated along with the individual. This information will only be used by local offices of emergency management to rescue people in the event evacuation is deemed necessary,” Frieden said.

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued new guidelines stating fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear a mask indoors or outdoors to protect against the coronavirus, do not throw your N95 or KN95 masks away! They may still be needed to protect from other communicable diseases if you have to evacuate to a shelter, and are critical for storm cleanup.

“A suitable mask for cleanup is absolutely necessary – something that can filter out dust and mold residue, such as an N95 or KN95, to avoid respiratory irritation. You will also need other items you would use in a construction zone. Things like safety glasses, a hard hat, a few pairs of work gloves in the event one pair gets wet, steel-toed boots that are ideally water resistant, and multiple pairs of thick work socks will all be useful for any aftermath cleanup,” said William Perkison, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health safety at UTHealth School of Public Health.

For step-by-step instructions on how to properly wear a N95 or KN95 mask, visit OSHA.gov.

Perkison also advises that those recovering from COVID-19 should be extra cautious about appropriate storm cleanup protective gear, as further respiratory irritation should be avoided.

For more information on hurricane safety and preparedness, visit ReadyHarris.org, FEMA.gov, or the National Hurricane Center.

For more information on building a preparedness kit, visit the American Red Cross’s hurricane preparedness page.

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