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Smarter Ways to Prepare for the Next Hurricane

People living in mid-Atlantic and northeast states are waking up to the fact that hurricanes might be a permanent part of their landscape and gearing up to be better prepared for when the next one hits.

The U.S. government is predicting as many as six major hurricanes in the Atlantic region for this year, compared with two major hurricanes that occurred in 2012. Although meteorologists say hurricanes can happen anytime between June 1 and Nov. 30, historically 90% of them occur in August and September.
“People in the South are generally more prepared for hurricanes because they’re more common there,” says Nicholas Depola, claims manager for State Farm Insurance.

Zevan Cohen, a 40-year-old in MillburnN.J., had an electrician install a $1,200 generator in his home last week. He lived through Irene in August 2011, when his basement filled with six feet of water, and Sandy in October 2012, when he lost power for 12 days. After last year’s storm, he says his two children, ages 7 and 11, were getting “shuffled around every night” as the family stayed with friends and other family members. Mr. Cohen says he intended to purchase a generator after Irene, but never got around to it. After Sandy, and with the 2013 hurricane season starting up, he decided to be proactive.

Mr. Cohen says he installed the generator mainly to run the furnace, in case a storm hits again in cold weather. “After Sandy the temperatures really dropped and pipes freezing in the house became a concern,” he says. “Also, it’s for peace of mind, just knowing that the outlets will work and I’ll be able to run a few things in my house.”

Home Depot, the big home-improvement chain, has added hurricane-preparation workshops in places like Staten IslandN.Y., and the New Jersey shore to help people understand basic issues like how to choose the right generator, says Tony Lemma, Home Depot’s regional vice president for the New York metro area. It has long conducted such workshops in the South Atlantic and Gulf States. “Since we’ve had Irene and Sandy, we’ve found that things have changed. So, in the past two years we’ve ramped up the focus around being prepared, and seen attendance at these workshops go up,” Mr. Lemma says.

Some preparations need to be done well before a hurricane warning is issued, insurance and public-safety officials say. Trim tree branches that could damage the house if they fall. Replenish a home-survival kit, making sure it has water, flashlights and batteries, a portable radio, a first-aid kit and medicines. Maintain at least a three-day supply of nonperishable foods like canned goods, nuts and protein bars.

Insurers say a big problem they saw after past storms was homeowners who didn’t know what possessions they had. If there is damage, it’s easier to file a claim if you have an inventory taken in sunny weather, says Alan Niederfringer, vice president for risk control at property insurance company Travelers. Take snapshots of every room and write down the estimated value of items, he says. Focus most on major or hard-to-replace items, and include details such as the model number of appliances. Keep paper copies of the inventory and insurance policy in plastic sleeves and try to also have an electronic version stored in the cloud.

Another big problem insurers saw was loose garage doors, which are vulnerable in heavy winds. Homeowners can install fortifying braces, though for older structures it might be better to replace the door with one that is pressure- and impact-rated, says Marty Henry, a senior vice president at Travelers.

High-demand items like generators, plywood, batteries and flashlights can be out of stock by the time a hurricane warning is issued, says Home Depot’s Mr. Lemma. He says car chargers are important to power radios and cellphones and suggests stocking up on plastic containers to store small valuables, chargers and converters, toothbrushes and prescriptions or a dry change of clothes.

“If a storm hits and you have a generator and you need gas, the last thing you want to do is try to find a gas can,” says Mr. Lemma. After Sandy, some areas had two-to-three-hour lines for gasoline, so fuel up the car and fill the gas cans in advance.

In the final days before a hurricane threatens your area, experts say homeowners should stock up on cash, move patio furniture inside and tie down other items, such as propane grills. Elevate items in the basement in case of flooding.

When local authorities say a storm is imminent, finalize evacuation and communication plans. After Sandy, there were numerous instances of adults struggling to find information about older relatives, says Mary Goepfert, external affairs officer for the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management. Give your location and contact information, including the names and numbers of neighbors, to family members, she says. Coordinate with neighbors as well: Ms. Goepfert says that in some neighborhoods people with generators hosted charging stations at their homes for those nearby who lost power.

Pets can easily get separated from their owners during a hurricane. A microchip implanted in the animal can help bring everyone back together. And for people forced to leave their homes, one of the biggest problems was forgetting to bring medications, Ms. Goepfert says.

Historically, most hurricanes hitting the East Coast don’t go much north of North Carolina, says Christopher Landsea, science and operations officer at the National Hurricane Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

Still, the fact that Sandy and Irene went as far north as they did was unusual, but not unprecedented. A similar spike in hurricanes hit the mid-Atlantic region in the 1950s. The world has been in an active period of hurricanes since 1995, caused by warmer-than-average Atlantic Ocean temperatures, stagnant wind patterns and low-pressure clouds moving in from the west coast of Africa, says Gerry Bell, NOAA’s lead hurricane forecaster. “Such periods can last for 40 years,” he adds.
By ANGELA CHEN, Wall Street Journal,