How to prepare for Florida hurricanes and why you should start now

The most important time to prepare for a hurricane is before the storm forms.

The Tampa Bay Times spoke with 14 experts working in fields related to storm preparation, response and recovery about how to prepare for a natural disaster — and where people go wrong.

Here’s what they said.

Related: Emergency managers want to keep you alive in hurricanes. But they need help.

Plan ahead

Evacuation behavioral studies have found that people who have a plan in place before a storm is forecast are more likely to evacuate when the orders are called, said risk geographer Chris Emrich.

Emrich, who is a founding member of the National Center for Integrated Coastal Research at the University of Central Florida, studies people’s really bad days. His job is to look at disasters and understand how to make them less devastating.

People often make the mistake of being reactive instead of proactive when it comes to hurricane preparation. The last one is dangerous.

The threat of an approaching storm is stressful, he said, and evacuation can be resource-intensive. If you live in an evacuation zone, Emrich said, it’s important to prepare before pressurized compounds.

“That really reduces the amount of stress when it comes time to evacuate because you’ve already thought about it,” Emrich said.

The plan should include details about housing, transportation, and resources needed to stay safe.

If you live in an evacuation zone, will you be able to stay with friends or family nearby who don’t — or do you plan to go to a shelter? If you are not in an evacuation zone, do you have a place for friends or family to stay with you? Communicate with them.

Learn more about your evacuation zone using the county-specific links below.

HILLSBOROUGH: https://www.hillsboroughcounty.org/en/residents/public-safety/emergency-management/find-evacuation-information

PINELLAS: https://pinellas.gov/emergency-information/

PASCO: https://www.pascocountyfl.net/322/Evacuation-Zones

MANATEES: https://www.mymanatee.org/departments/public_safety/emergency_management/evacuation_levels

HERNANDO: https://www.hernandocounty.us/departments/departments-ae/emergency-management/evacuation-routes-zones

Stay close but leave flood zones

Emergency managers said misconceptions about evacuation can affect response during storms.

You don’t have to leave your city to make sure you’re safe during a storm. Just get out of flood and evacuation zones.

In fact, if you stay closer to home, in an area you are familiar with, you can better return once the storm has passed.

What emergency managers don’t want to see are people leaving one flood zone for another in another coastal city.

Storm paths can change, as was evident during Ian. Make sure that when you evacuate, you plan to leave evacuation zones and the risk of the storm, rather than leaving a specific city or region.

Transportation is available

Manatee, Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties are each providing transportation to shelters during evacuations for people in need, but require residents to register in advance.

In addition to door-to-door transportation, public transportation lines in each county are free for all in the run-up to the hurricane.

If you or someone you know has a medical condition that qualifies you for a spot at a special needs shelter — which cares for the medically vulnerable — during a hurricane, apply in advance.

Resources are available, but only if you plan ahead using the county-by-county links below.

HILLSBOROUGH: https://www.hillsboroughcounty.org/en/residents/public-safety/emergency-management/action-folder/register-for-special-needs-disaster-assistance

PINELLAS: https://pinellas.gov/emergency-information

PASCO: https://www.pascocountyfl.net/320/Special-Needs

MANATEES: https://manatee.hosted.civiclive.com/departments/public_safety/emergency_management/special_needs_registry

HERNANDO: https://www.hernandocounty.us/departments/departments-ae/emergency-management/special-needs-information

Lean into the community

Storm preparation must be a community effort.

If you know someone who is particularly vulnerable, help connect them to resources. If you work for a nonprofit organization that serves elderly or low-income populations who may need help evacuating during storms, or communities that may have difficulty accessing information, contact your county’s emergency management services department for support .

“Neighbors need to help neighbors,” Emrich said.

Talk to your friends

Dispelling misinformation that undermines the potential danger of storms is essential.

Remind your loved ones of hurricane risks and the importance of a plan.

People tend to gravitate toward information that eases their fears, but downplaying the severity of a natural disaster will only lead to harm.

Direct the people you care about to your county’s evacuation zone map and remember to listen to emergency managers when a storm is approaching.

You don’t have to worry if you are prepared.

Additional resources

If you need a helping hand on how to get started with hurricane preparation, here are some other resources to check out.

Get a planning tool — https://apps.floridadisaster.org/getaplan/

This tool from FloridaDisaster.Org helps residents create emergency plans for personal or business purposes.

Vulnerability Map: https://www.vulnerabilitymap.org/

Learn more about the factors that make your neighborhood vulnerable to storms by entering your zip code on this page from researchers at the University of Central Florida.

Hazard Awareness Map: https://hazardaware.org/

Get information about a particular home’s hazard risk, as well as how to make it more storm-resilient at that location, from researchers at the University of Central Florida.

• • •

Tampa Bay Times coverage of Hurricane Ian

HOW TO HELP: Where to donate or volunteer to help victims of Hurricane Ian.

FEMA: Floridians injured by Ian can now apply for FEMA assistance. Here is the tutorial.

THE STORM HAS PASSED: What now? Safety tips for returning home.

POST STORM QUESTIONS: After Hurricane Ian, how to get help with downed trees, food, damaged shelter.

IMPACT ON WEATHER: Hurricane Ian was about to hit Tampa Bay on the head. What happened?

MORE STORM COVERAGE: Prepare and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.

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