The 2023 Atlantic hurricane season has officially begun, and NLIHC has prepared the following resource guide to provide resources, information, and links regarding hurricane preparedness, response, and recovery. The resources listed below will also be posted on the Disaster Housing Recovery section of the NLIHC website.
Please note: in the event of a hurricane, tropical storm, or other disaster, you should listen to the directions and pay attention to the emergency alerts from federal, state, and local officials and first responders. While individuals can and should remain aware of their ability to advocate for themselves and their civil and human rights during and after disasters, first responders will have access to information about disaster impacts, evacuations, and potential health and safety dangers that you may not. For this reason, it is safest to follow their instructions in the context of immediate disasters.
Portions of the following information have been taken from Southerly Magazine’s Disaster Glossary. Readers, especially those living in the Appalachian and Southern regions of the U.S., should refer to this article for additional information on the topics covered below.
Know Your Risk
A tropical cyclone is a rotating, organized system of clouds and thunderstorms that originates over tropical or subtropical waters and has closed circulation. A tropical cyclone forms as a tropical depression, which is classified as a tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 38 mph or less but which can intensify into a major hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 111 mph. Tropical cyclones in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico typically form between June 1 and November 30. However, it is important to note that these storms have appeared outside of that time period. The “busy season,” during which the most storms are seen, statistically-speaking, lasts from August through October. Learn more here.
Tropical storms and hurricanes can bring several different hazards to your area, including river and coastal flooding, tornados, rip currents, and high winds. Learn more about the impacts these hazards have here.
Tropical storms and hurricanes can impact any area of the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast from southern Texas to northern Maine. You can find out when the last time a tropical cyclone impacted your area via the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Historical Hurricane Tracker, located here.
Build a Kit, Make a Plan, Stay Alert
The best time to prepare for a tropical storm or a hurricane is before it forms. Making emergency kits and evacuation plans can seem expensive and time-consuming, but being prepared is vital to ensuring you and your family are safe during and after a disaster. In many areas of the country, local governments, non-profits, mutual aid organizations, and volunteer organizations offer essential goods that can help lower the overall cost of making kits.
An emergency kit does not have to prepare you to live on a desert island, but it should contain food, water, and supplies to last for at least 72 hours and contain basic items that allow you to stay safe in the event of a disaster, making sheltering in place or staying at an emergency shelter easier, should this be necessary. A basic emergency supply kit could include the following items (kept in a waterproof bag, box, or backpack):
- Water (one gallon per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation)
- Food (at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food) and a can-opener
- A battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA weather radio with a tone alert
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- First aid kit, with bandages, antibacterial creams, ibuprofen or aspirin, tweezers, antiseptic wipes, tissues, and gauze
- Essential medications for your family
- Pet care items (for at least three days) and photos of your pets to help locate them if necessary
- A written list of emergency contacts
- Cash, if possible
- Electronics chargers
- COVID-19 masks and hand sanitizer
- Games, toys, books, or other items to entertain yourself and your family
You can find out more about creating emergency kits from FEMA here.
Your kit should also include copies of vital documents stored in a waterproof container, including government issued IDs, proof of citizenship and legal residency, social security cards, documentation regarding medical needs (e.g., oxygen tanks, wheelchairs), car titles and registrations, home or renters insurance policies, a copy of your lease, information about housing subsidies if you live in federally assisted housing or utilize a housing voucher, deed and title information for your home if you own it, and financial documents such as a voided check.
In extreme situations, the safest course of action might be to evacuate. Likewise, local governments might call for a mandatory evacuation across a particular region. Making an evacuation plan ahead of time could save valuable time in a crisis.
How will I get out?
- If you will drive your own car: Fill your car up with gas as soon as local tropical storm or hurricane watches are issued. Gas stations and other services may be closed later.
- If you do not have a car: Check with your local emergency management office at the county or city level about transportation assistance. You may need to register in advance of the hurricane for assistance.
- Special needs assistance: Some counties and cities also offer specific assistance for elderly and disabled people in case of emergency. Call your local emergency management office to find out what assistance it may provide. Typically, you must register in advance of a hurricane or tropical storm.
Where will I go?
- Determine if you can stay with relatives or friends in another area that’s unlikely to be affected by the same event and write down their address and directions to that location.
- Write down a list of hotels to which you may be able to drive if you can’t stay with others.
- For emergency shelters: Download the FEMA App, which will update information regarding public shelters operating during the crisis.
- Not all public shelters accept pets. If you plan to evacuate with your pet, check with your local emergency managers about this, or plan to find a hotel that allows pets indoors. Shelters are required to take service animals, so bring documentation if you use one.
- Check with your local emergency management office for the best routes out of town. Many counties or cities keep maps listing the recommended roads. Remember to check the routes before evacuating.
Who is coming with me?
- Check in with your neighbors, friends, and relatives who may need assistance with evacuating. Make sure you have their phone numbers and addresses written down or stored in your phone.
- If you will be evacuating with other people, plan to have enough snacks, water, medications, and other essentials with you in your emergency kit.
What should I take?
- Have a go-bag ready: This can be an emergency kit that you’ve already prepared, your important documents (see above), and cash.
- Subscribe to local weather and emergency alerts via email, text, etc. Monitor those alerts ahead of the storm.
Review Information on Disaster Response and Recovery
The response to tropical storms and hurricanes involves a great number of different agencies and organizations working to coordinate assistance and ensure disaster survivors are safe and that communities recover. While disaster response will vary depending on disaster size, it is important to maintain familiarity with certain broad concepts.
Local Emergency Management Agencies
Disasters begin and end locally. Your local emergency management office, agency, or department will be responsible for directing the disaster response in your area. Typically, each county or parish has at least one designated entity handling emergency management. Sometimes, it will be called “Office of Emergency Management” and have its own staff, or it might be housed under other public safety-related government offices, such as fire departments. Whatever the name, it will be the “eyes and ears” of the broader emergency response taking place during and after the disaster. It will also maintain important disaster-related information, such as evacuation plans, disaster recovery plans, and other documents, that can be helpful when finding out what you need to do during a tropical storm or hurricane.
State Emergency Management Agencies
Your state’s emergency management agency oversees and coordinates preparations, response, and recovery to disasters in your state. The state-level emergency management agency also provides local governments with resources and information to carry out preparation and response to disasters. It also assists those local government in applying for and receiving grants from FEMA regarding disaster response and recovery. In rural areas or areas without significant local emergency management agencies, the state department might become the lead agency coordinating the response. In some states, the state emergency management agency may take on the administration of assistance or sheltering to compliment those services created and administered by FEMA.
Tropical storms and hurricanes typically result in emergency shelters being opened for those in voluntary or mandatory evacuation zones. Impacted households can go to these shelters to find places to sleep, as well as electricity, food, water, and sanitation facilities. These shelters are typically run by local and state emergency management agencies in partnership with volunteer organizations like the Red Cross. These shelters typically stay open for several weeks following major disasters. The FEMA App will contain information about open shelters in your area. Many shelters do not accept pets, but all are required to accept service animals.
If you have special needs related to a disability, you should inquire before arriving about whether the shelter is fully accessible and has facilities that meet your needs. While shelters are nominally required to be fully accessible, the quality of compliance ranges, although there is typically at least one fully accessible shelter within a locality during a disaster. Shelter staff are often supplemented by individuals from local Centers for Independent Living and Continuums of Care to handle the needs of those with disabilities or individuals experiencing homelessness.
If you do have special needs and are in need of information about available resources, you can reach out to DHRC member The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, which runs a toll-free disability and disaster hotline at +1 (800) 626-4959 and [email protected].
The “Stafford Act,” which governs the federal response to disasters, requires the President to approve a disaster declaration before FEMA and the federal government can provide direct assistance to impacted state and local governments, as well as disaster survivors. This declaration must be requested by the governor of a state or territory or leader of a Tribal nation. This request prompts FEMA to conduct a preliminary damage assessment, which looks at the impact of the disaster and other information about the impacted state or region, including response capability and economic indicators. If damage is found to be severe enough, FEMA will direct the President to approve the disaster declaration. You can view active disaster declarations from FEMA here.
FEMA is the federal agency in charge of disaster preparedness, prevention, response, and recovery. FEMA runs many programs that can aid people affected by natural disasters. The agency often works with state, tribal, and local governments. After a disaster, the agency oversees financial aid to local, state, and tribal governments as well as individuals who apply for aid. Applications for assistance can be completed online via DisasterAssistance.gov.
FEMA and state and local emergency management agencies will typically open Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs), physical locations where people can go if they have questions about assistance programs. Sometimes FEMA deploys Disaster Survivor Assistance (DSA) teams to go door-to-door assisting with applications.
Please note: Anyone who knocks on your door claiming to be connected to FEMA should be asked to display their FEMA credentials. Federal employees and contractors always wear a government or government contractor badge to identify themselves. Call FEMA at 800-621-3362 (TTY 800-462-7585) if you are suspicious of someone who says they’re from FEMA. Don’t trust someone who asks for money in exchange for federal or state assistance.
Not every assistance program will be activated after every disaster, but it is important to know what programs exist.
Transitional Sheltering Assistance Program: If requested by the state, FEMA may provide short-term non-congregate shelter options for people displaced by a disaster, meant to serve as a bridge between an emergency shelter and permanent housing. Through this program, FEMA may temporarily cover the cost of a hotel room for an evacuee in a neighboring state. Evacuees are responsible for locating a pre-approved hotel from a list provided by FEMA.
Lodging Expense Reimbursement: FEMA may reimburse an evacuee for short stays in hotels, motels, or other short-term lodging. Receipts are required.
Critical Needs Assistance: In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, FEMA may provide a one-time, $500 payment to cover life-saving resources to those impacted by a disaster. This can be used for food, water, infant formula, diapers, certain medical supplies, hygiene items, and fuel for transportation. To receive the payment, you must register through FEMA.
Rental Assistance: Homeowners and renters may receive funding to temporarily relocate if their home is not safe. Before providing aid, FEMA will inspect the primary residence; if it is deemed unsafe, the applicant can receive up to two months of initial rental assistance. If you receive rental assistance from an insurance company, you can’t receive additional funding from FEMA. The rental assistance rate is set by an area’s Fair Market Rent; look up yours here. To receive assistance for longer than two months, you must be able to demonstrate ongoing need and prove that you are working towards securing permanent housing or making progress on repairs. Generally, rental assistance can be used up to 18 months after the disaster declaration, unless FEMA approved an extension request from the state.
Home repair or replacement: FEMA may provide funding to help repair or replace owner-occupied homes that serve as the owner’s primary residence. This program is geared towards homeowners who have uninsured or under-insured needs and aims to make the home “safe, sanitary, and fit to occupy,” not to return the home to its pre-disaster condition. Receiving funds for replacements is rarer.
Operation Blue Roof: This program can provide free fiber-reinforced tarps to cover damaged roofs before permanent repairs are made. Homeowners and permanently occupied rental properties in disaster areas can be eligible. This program is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for FEMA.
Other Needs Assistance (ONA): FEMA may provide assistance with medical and dental expenses caused by the storm, as well as funeral costs, and moving or storage costs; a one-time childcare stipend may be provided as well, covering eight weeks. In some cases — for example, for personal property or transportation assistance— the application goes through the Small Business Administration (SBA), even if the applicant is not a business owner.
Crisis Counseling: This program provides short-term mental health counseling to survivors of a natural disaster. Counseling may be available for up to nine months after a disaster and is available to anyone who may benefit from counseling who lived in the area impacted by a disaster.
Department of Labor
Disaster Unemployment Assistance: This program provides assistance from the date you become unemployed due to a natural disaster and can be extended up to 26 weeks (about six months) after the Presidential Disaster Declaration. This program covers people who are not receiving, or do not qualify for, other types of state-level unemployment benefits. To apply for FEMA disaster unemployment assistance, you must be registered in your state’s employment services office; other requirements, such as work searches, vary by state.
Department of Agriculture
Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP): This program gives food assistance to low-income households with food loss or damage caused by a natural disaster. A state must be approved for individual assistance through a disaster declaration first and can then request approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to operate D-SNAP. Even if you don’t typically qualify for SNAP, you may qualify for D-SNAP. More information can be found here.
Small Business Administration
Disaster Recovery Loans: This agency may provide federally subsidized loans for individuals and businesses. Individuals do not have to own a business to apply, and FEMA may refer people to the SBA. The agency provides loans to help repair damage to homes or personal property during a disaster. Businesses may receive a loan to repair physical damage or economic losses.
If you are living in subsidized housing, you should contact your public housing authority (PHA) to access housing assistance if displaced. It is very important to contact them when you are able. The agency offers several key protections immediately after a disaster. For example, if you have a Federal Housing Administration loan on your home, you will be protected from foreclosure for 90 days.
HUD administers the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program, which can fund home repairs, public infrastructure, and buyouts for residents in particularly vulnerable flood zones. The program must be approved by Congress after a disaster, when there are significant unmet needs for long-term recovery. It is usually administered through a partnership with state governments.