Hurricane Irma: Everything you need to know to prepare for hurricanes

A hurricane expected to affect parts of Georgia next week has been upgraded to a Category 5, according to the National Weather Service. 

“This is now the strongest Atlantic hurricane in a decade,” Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Brad Nitz said Tuesday.

» Follow full coverage on AJC of Hurricane Irma

While Hurricane Irma is still over the Atlantic and its potential effect on Georgia uncertain, the state’s residents were hit by heavy flooding and damage after last year’s Hurricane Matthew, raising awareness of the risks to the state. 

"Advance planning and preparation are essential for protecting property, reducing risk and ultimately saving lives," National Weather Service officials said in the intro the the NWS hurricane guide for the Southeast.

"Your community's collective efforts improve Coastal Georgia's readiness, responsiveness and overall resilience against extreme weather, water and climate events."

» Should you evacuate your home? Understand hurricane categories first

Charley English, former director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security got more specific, saying in a news release from 2014: "Learn your flood risk, create a Ready kit for your home and car, and develop an evacuation and family communications plan."

GEMA said in that release that research shows "69 percent of Georgians do not know designated evacuation routes from their community, and 67 percent have not arranged a family meeting place or reconnection plan."

To help educate Georgians, Ready Georgia provides a host of tools and info at its website.  It advises evacuation if:

• If you are directed by local authorities to do so. Be sure to follow their instructions.

• If you live in a mobile home or temporary structure – such shelters are particularly hazardous during a hurricane no matter how well fastened to the ground.

• If you live in a high-rise building – hurricane winds are stronger at higher elevations.

• If you live on the coast, on a floodplain, near a river, or on an island waterway.

• You should be able to move your valuables within 15 minutes. 

Here are more tips to help you prep for the storms, from the NWS guide:

• Elevation matters: Are you in a flood or evacuation zone?

• Mobile homes: Check tie-downs and prepare to evacuate.

• Landscaping: Always trim trees, shrubbery and dead limbs, especially close to your home.

• Roofing: Inspect it for loose tiles, etc.; and clear loose or clogged gutters and drainspouts.

• Doors: Reinforce garage doors and tracks or replace with a hurricane-tested door; and reinforce double-entry doors with heavy-duty foot and head bolts. Use security dead bolts with a minimum one-inch bolt length.

• Windows: If possible, install hurricane shutters. Alternatively, use five-eighths (or greater) grade exterior playwood secured by two-and-a-half inch screws and/or special clips. 

• Renters need to prep, too: Review your renter's and flood insurance; prepare to relocate to a lower floor

• For pets: Update their vaccinations and have proof; have a current photo; have properly sized pet carriers; pack enough food and water for the duration of the evacuation; and be sure to have proper ID collars. Read more.

» Read more: Hurricane season? Plan ahead to evacuate your pets

The NWS also recommends preparing emergency evacuation kits for functional and medical needs clients, those clients who either require support to maintain their independence or support of trained medical professionals.

The kit should include:

• Medications

• Personal items

• Clothing

• Sanitary supplies

• Contact information, including doctor's contact

• Special equipment, if needed; and a list with style and serial numbers of included medical devices

• Pillow

» Read more: Family emergency supply kit must-haves

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