Hurricane Irma Complete Safety and Survival Guide

As the already record-setting, “nuclear” Hurricane Irma collects moisture and deadly strength from the Atlantic Ocean, civil authorities warn the winds and storm surge are set to decimate Florida from coast to coast.

Irma has eaten up entire islands on Barbuda and Antigua and ravaged Cuba, which didn’t expect such a direct and sustained hit from the storm. Coastal Florida is facing a Category 5 or Category 4 hurricane, depending on disturbances in the gulf and how well Irma can regain power between Cuba and the Florida Keys.

Storm surge, referring to the amount of flood water sloshed onto normally dry land, is forecasting flooding up to 12 feet in some areas. Federal, state, and local municipalities have pre-positioned search-and-rescue and emergency response throughout Florida, on Navy battleships off-shore, and resources ready as far away as New York.

One trending connection being made on social media is that the destructive effects of Hurricane Irma will hit the U.S. over the weekend preceding 9/11.

Yet despite the largest mandatory evacuation in U.S. history – over 6 million Floridians – many tough residents are staying put. If you are one of them, here is a list of things that are must-know for your safety when riding out Hurricane Irma.

Hurricane Irma Safety: Before the Hurricane Makes Landfall

To prepare for Hurricane Irma, you should take the following measures:

  • To begin preparing, you should build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
  • Know your surroundings.
    • Learn your elevation level and whether the land is flood-prone. This will help you know how Hurricane Irma’s storm surge or tidal flooding may affect your property.
      • There are apps for your smartphone in the App Store and Play Store that can tell you what your real-time altitude is.
    • Identify levees and dams in your area and determine whether they pose a hazard to you.
      • For example, this is a map of South Florida’s entire Water Management District, pinpointing locks, levees, dams and more.
    • Learn community hurricane evacuation routes and how to find higher ground. Determine where you would go and how you would get there if you needed to evacuate.
      • With this interactive map from Florida Division of Emergency Management, you can enter your address.
  • Make plans to secure your property:
    • Cover all of your home’s windows.
      • Permanent storm shutters offer the best protection for windows.
      • A second option is to board up windows with 5/8” marine plywood, cut to fit and ready to install.
      • Tape does not prevent windows from breaking.
    • Install straps or additional clips to securely fasten your roof to the frame structure. This will reduce roof damage.
    • Be sure trees and shrubs around your home are well trimmed so they are more wind resistant.
    • Clear loose and clogged rain gutters and downspouts.
    • Reinforce your garage doors; if wind from Hurricane Irma enters a garage it can cause dangerous and expensive structural damage.
    • Plan to bring in all outdoor furniture, decorations, garbage cans and anything else that is not tied down.
    • Determine how and where to secure your boat. Here is a tutorial from NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
  • Install a generator in case of power outages for emergencies.
  • If in a high-rise building, be prepared to take shelter on or below the 10th floor. The exception is if the building is certified hurricane-rated.

Hurricane Irma Safety: During and After the Hurricane

  • If you’re not in an area that is recommended for evacuation, plan to stay at home or where you are – also called shelter in place.
    • Call your local police non-emergency number to tell them you’re staying, and to report any disability or other medical status you may have.
    • Let friends and family know your location. Update them regularly by texting or using social media.
  • Listen to local officials for updates and instructions.
  • Check the latest weather updates and emergency instructions every 30 minutes.
    • Turn on your TV/radio, or check the official websites of your city/county and emergency management office.
  • Close storm shutters, and stay away from windows. Flying glass from broken windows could injure you.
  • Turn your refrigerator or freezer to the coldest setting and open only when necessary. If you lose power, food will last longer.
  • Go outdoors to assess damage and determine your next steps only when authorities indicate it is safe to do so.
  • Watch out for debris and downed power lines.
  • Photograph the damage to your property in order to assist in filing an insurance claim or disaster relief from FEMA.
  • Do what you can to prevent further damage to your property, (e.g., putting a tarp on a damaged roof), as insurance may not cover additional damage that occurs after the storm.
  • Avoid walking or driving through flood waters.
    • Just 6 inches of fast-moving water can knock you down.
    • A few more inches can sweep your vehicle away. Turn around, don’t drown.
    • Flood water may be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
    • Debris, places where the ground is washed away, and other dangers can be hidden (e.g., sewers filling with water and the water pressure popping off manholes).


FEMA and the National Weather Service have asked everyone to relay these critical tips to get through a hurricane safely, with no loss of life and minimal property damage.

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