FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Disaster can strike when you least expect it, which is why advance preparation is essential, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

With the six-month hurricane season here again, now is a good time to review a few simple preparedness basics.

Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials predict an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season, with 12-18 named storms, of which three to six will likely be major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher).

According to the DHS’ Ready.gov website, following a few key steps ahead of time will lessen the stress when facing a natural or manmade disaster.

Get a kit

The first step is to gather emergency supplies, including non-perishable food, water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra flashlights and batteries.

It is also wise to prepare a portable kit to keep in your car. This kit should include:

Copies of prescription medications and medical supplies;

Bedding and clothing, including sleeping bags and pillows;

Bottled water, a battery-operated radio and extra batteries, a first aid kit, a flashlight; and

Copies of important documents: driver’s license, Social Security card, proof of residence, insurance policies, wills, deeds, birth and marriage certificates, tax records, etc.

Make a plan

Prepare your Family by making a Family Emergency Plan.

Your Family may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important to know how you will contact one another, how you will get back together and what you will do in case of an emergency.

Plan places where your Family will meet, both within and outside of your immediate neighborhood.

It may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than to call across town, so an out-of-town contact may be in a better position to communicate among separated Family members.

You may also want to inquire about emergency plans at places where your Family spends time: work, daycare and school. If no plans exist, consider volunteering to help create one.

Plan to evacuate

Identify ahead of time where your Family will meet, both within and outside of your immediate neighborhood.

Identify several places you could go in an emergency, a friend’s home in another town, a motel or public shelter.

If you do not have a car, plan alternate means of evacuating.

If you have a car, keep a half tank of gas in it at all times in case you need to evacuate.

Take your emergency supply kit " an example of one is at http://www.ready.gov/america/getakit/index.html.

Take your pets with you, but understand that only service animals may be permitted in public shelters. Plan ahead on how you will care for your pets during an emergency " ideas are available at http://www.ready.gov/america/getakit/pets.html.

Be informed

Familiarize yourself with the terms that are used to identify a hurricane:

A hurricane watch means a hurricane is possible in your area. Be prepared to evacuate. Monitor local radio and television news outlets or listen to NOAA Weather Radio for the latest developments.

A hurricane warning is when a hurricane is expected in your area. If local authorities advise you to evacuate, leave immediately.

Prepare your home

Cover all of your home’s windows with pre-cut plywood or hurricane shutters to protect your windows from high winds.

Plan to bring in all outdoor furniture, decorations, garbage cans and anything else that is not tied down.

Keep all trees and shrubs well trimmed so they are more wind resistant.

Secure your home by closing shutters, and securing outdoor objects or bringing them inside.

Turn off utilities as instructed. Otherwise, turn the refrigerator thermostat to its coldest setting and keep its doors closed.

Turn off propane tanks.

Ensure a supply of water for sanitary purposes such as cleaning and flushing toilets. Fill the bathtub and other large containers with water.

Listen to local officials

Learn about the emergency plans that have been established in your area by your state and local governments. In any emergency, always listen to the instructions given by local emergency management officials.

For further information on how to plan and prepare for hurricanes, as well as what to do during and after a hurricane, visit the NOAA Hurricane Outlook or American Red Cross websites. You can also check the National Hurricane Center website.

Page last updated Wed July 6th, 2011 at 00:00