FORT RUCKER, Ala. (May 31, 2012) -- When a hurricane is bearing down on the area, it is not exactly the ideal time for people to start figuring out what to do to stay safe.

People need to be prepared and have a plan before disaster strikes, according to Army Ready, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Homeland Security and Fort Rucker Information Operations Center officials.

"This area will usually have warning before a hurricane makes landfall," said Willie Worsham, Fort Rucker duty battle captain, adding that the IOC tracks potential storms when they leave the coast of Africa heading west to Fort Rucker.

"Usually, when it comes off the coast of Africa, it takes almost two weeks before it hits the continental U.S.," he said.

But what do you do when a hurricane approaches?

Once word is received that a hurricane is approaching the area, the first step FEMA suggests is that people listen to the radio or watch television for the latest information on the storm. On post, Worsham said the IOC will put information up on Fort Rucker's Channel 6 and 1640 AM Radio when severe weather approaches.

Next, secure your home. Close storm shutters and secure outdoor objects. You don't want to find your lawn furniture gone after the hurricane, or worse yet find it inside your car. Bring inside any objects in your yard that you can.

If you are instructed to turn off your utilities, do so. Otherwise, turn your refrigerator down to the coldest setting and keep the door closed. The colder your food is, the longer it will last if the power goes out.

FEMA also suggests turning off propane tanks. A hurricane can pick up objects and move them. Shutting off your propane tank makes it a little safer, and make sure more than one person knows how to shut it off so you have some backup. Also, avoid using your phone unless it is an emergency. You don't want to overstress the system.

Moor your boat if you have the time. If your boat is parked on your property, secure it to the ground. Some boats can be filled with water to weigh them down.

Lastly, FEMA suggests you ensure a supply of water for sanitary purposes such as cleaning and flushing toilets. You can fill a bathtub full of water and have many gallons to use until utilities are restored.

As for when you should evacuate your home, FEMA says you should if you are directed to do so by local authorities. Follow their instructions and don't try to second guess them.

Also, if you think your structure will not survive a hurricane, you should find a safer place. Mobile homes, temporary structures and camping shelters are particularly hazardous during hurricanes no matter how well they are fastened to the ground.

Hurricane winds are stronger at higher elevations, so if you are in a high-rise building and can safely move, you should do so. If you are on a coast, on a floodplain, near a river, or on an inland waterway, you should get to a safer location.

FEMA says, if you feel you are in danger, get to a better location. However, if the hurricane is close and you can't safely get away, then you have to make the place you are safer.

Get to your safe room if you are at home, but if you don't have one FEMA has tips for you.

The most important thing is to stay indoors during the hurricane, and away from windows and glass doors. Close all interior doors and secure or brace exterior doors. Keep curtains and blinds closed, and don't be fooled by the "eye" of the storm. As the center of a hurricane passes over you, things may calm down. Stay where you are, this calm won't last.

Staying outside is a big time no-no. The best rooms to take refuge in are small interior rooms like a closet or hallway that is on the lowest level of the building. Lie on the floor if you can, or under a table or other sturdy object.

In the end, staying calm and making good decisions is the most important thing. It only takes one bad decision to turn an exciting story into a tragic one.

Page last updated Mon June 4th, 2012 at 00:00