With the official start of hurricane season on Saturday and the continuing severe storm threat, the time to prepare is now, officials say.
There are multiple aspects to preparing for storms, but one of the best ways is to create an emergency kit and have a plan in place before it is needed, Brazos County Office of Emergency Management Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator Jason Ware said.
The No. 1 thing, he said, is for people to prepare ahead of time.
“Fortunately, we have been pretty lucky, but it’s only a matter of when it’s going to happen; it’s not if,” he said about storms that have a widespread impact on Brazos County. “We went several years without a tornado, and then we have two in two weeks. Storms are definitely getting more interesting.”
Ware stressed that people need to have a way to get information about weather emergencies, whether it is through social media or the free Code Red alert system through the CEOC, local news outlets or a weather radio.
When it comes to preparing a kit, he said, people can use a bag, a backpack or even a cooler. At the Community Emergency Operations Center, Ware has a cooler of supplies to give people some guidance.
Some items that could go into an emergency kit are flashlights, extra batteries, water (two gallons per person per day), prescription medication, a change of clothes, pet vaccination records, pet food and supplies, granola bars or other shelf-stable items, phone chargers, insurance paperwork, a second pair of glasses or contact lenses, cash, a fire extinguisher, matches, a first aid kit and games or activities for children.
“Anything and everything you think you’re going to need to survive, you probably need to put in your kit if you can,” he said.
There is no such thing as preparing too early, and some people throughout the season add to their kit, Ware said.
He stressed the kit should also be specific to the season, so it should be focused on severe storms and hurricanes now. In the winter, though, the kit might need to include extra blankets and jackets.
In addition to creating a kit for their home, Ware said, people can create kits to keep in their cars also if they are stuck on the road when a weather threat emerges.
Those kits might include some of the same supplies as their home kit, but should also include jumper cables.
The other step to becoming prepared is having an established plan. That means knowing where to go in the event of a storm.
In a well-built sturdy structure, he said, the best place to be is in a windowless interior room with as many walls between them and the outside. Many times this is a bathroom or a closet.
Mobile homes are not safe during storms, no matter how much better the construction is getting, he stressed. If someone is in a mobile home, he said the best place to go is to a friend or family member’s house, a store or find a low-lying area.
Ware grew up in mobile home, he said, and remembers his dad, who was a firefighter at the time, preparing the family when a tornado watch was issued.
“We would all go get our pillow off the bed along with our blankets, we all pile it by the front door. … I remember it very well, we used to pile stuff by the front door, so that way if we knew there was a tornado imminent, we could grab our stuff and go get into a drainage ditch and put all that stuff over your head because most of the injuries are caused by flying debris. The low-lying area, you get there and it comes up on the sides, it typically will go over the top instead of down.”
If on the road, he said, people should not stop under overpasses.
For some, planning also means having multiple ways to get to and from their home if they are in a flood-prone area.
Ware suggests people drive around on a clear day and look for where the roads connect and find alternative routes in case the main entrance or their typical route is blocked due to flooding.
At the Community Emergency Operations Center, Ware said, the preparation work is continuous with emergency management coordinators from Bryan, College Station, Brazos County and Texas A&M University all housed in the building.
“We monitor, monitor, monitor,” he said, noting their job at the CEOC involves lots of planning.
Once it appears the weather threat will impact the area, they will push out information on social media, on the CEOC website and through local news outlets.
During those planning stages is also when they also start coordinating with volunteer organizations, such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army and United Way to make sure they are ready if needed.
While severe storms are present at any point, the preparation for hurricanes typically begins about a week ahead of a storm predicted to hit the Texas Gulf Coast.
Sometimes, though, like with Hurricane Harvey, they had very little time to prepare for the effects the storm brought.
“It wasn’t expected to do much. And then all of a sudden it hits the Gulf of Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula area and all of a sudden it just blows up,” Ware said. “So we had very little head-time. When we start getting to that 72-hour, 48-hours out, we’ve got all of our team in here and then other folks will start coming in. … If the cone of uncertainty on the weather map shows it coming up anywhere close to the Gulf Coast, we’re starting to look at it. We’re tracking it; we’re watching it.”
Their preparation is different than Houston or Galveston, though, in that Brazos County is looking at the components of the storm that could impact the area, rather than the hurricane as a whole.
Typically the hurricane threat in Brazos County involves tropical moisture, heavy rain, wind and some strong or severe thunderstorms. Most of the time, the winds do not quite reach sustained hurricane strength of 74 mph, but it is not impossible, especially if a major hurricane strikes the coast and moves inland toward the Brazos Valley.
The CEOC uses a hazard mitigation plan and an emergency management plan, both of which are available at bcdem.org/plans.
For more information about how to prepare for storms, go to Ready.gov.