We’ve all been there–the hurricane evacuation announcement has been made and it’s time to act. The next few hours are crucial for your family, your home, and your peace of mind. We’ve learned in the last several months what we’d do differently for the next hurricane. Despite being inland from the coast, the 2020 hurricane season demonstrated that Cenla is not immune to the damaging effects of tropical cyclones, as a record number of named storms formed in the Atlantic Ocean last year. Perhaps nowhere does the old adage, “an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure,” apply more than in hurricane preparedness. As we emerge into some semblance of a new normal from a year-plus of pandemic response, it’s as important as ever to Get a Game Plan for this year’s hurricane season.
While the 2021 Hurricane season officially began on Tuesday, June 1st and runs through Tuesday, November 30th, the National Hurricane Center has already tracked the first named storm of the year, Tropical Storm Ana, which formed on May 22nd. Researchers at Colorado State University are predicting 17 named storms during the season. Of those, they expect eight to become hurricanes and four to become major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher) with sustained winds of 111 miles per hour or greater. CSU has issued forecasts of hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin for over 36 years.
CSU researchers predicted 2020 would be an above-average season, and it was. Last year, Cleco Power’s service area was hit by three hurricanes, Laura, Delta and Zeta, in just two months. “Some areas are still recovering from the 2020 hurricane season,” said James Lass, director of distribution operations and emergency management for Cleco Power. “In Louisiana, we know from experience that hurricanes can cause loss of property and life, so we have to take each storm seriously and prepare in advance. Preparation can help customers stay safe this hurricane season.”
“The 2020 hurricane season presented unique challenges we’ve never faced,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards. “While recovery continues from hurricanes Laura, Delta and Zeta, we must be ready for any tropical threat this season. Some forecasts indicate an above average season for tropical activity, but as our partners at the National Weather Service often say, it only takes one storm hitting our coast to make it a bad year. We must remain vigilant. Your personal role in preparedness is just as important as the state’s role in preparedness. They both work hand in hand. That includes being aware of the risks you face and knowing what steps to take before, during and after an emergency.”
Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) Director Jim Waskom said, “Maintaining you emergency supplies and planning for any potential evacuations are critical as we head into a new hurricane season. Also, try to maintain an emergency fund in case you are forced from your home with little notice. As we have seen with past storms, each event is different and includes different challenges. Being prepared means planning now and not waiting for an emergency. An emergency plan can help protect your family and make recovery easier if we do face a storm striking Louisiana.” The GOHSEP website offers a wealth of resources for hurricane planning. On the site, you’ll be able to build a storm kit, form a business and cybersecurity plan, make a damage mitigation plan, and make arrangements for your furry family members, plus much more.
The LA Get A Game Plan App is the official GOHSEP emergency preparedness mobile app. The app allows Louisiana residents to access emergency information on the go and get prepared prior to an emergency happening. Users can prepare customized emergency plans, review the Louisiana Emergency Preparedness Guide, and get up-to-date information about evacuations. The app even allows you to notify family and friends that you are safe in the event of an emergency. Real-time notifications are sent directly to the device from GOHSEP to provide the most up-to-the-minute information for residents. The “LA Get A Game Plan” is available in the Apple App Store and from Google Play.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is tasked with the mission of helping people before, during, and after disasters. FEMA notes that the first order of business in disaster preparations is to stay informed. Pay attention to weather reports and information from state and local news agencies, keeping up with television, radio and online weather reports to stay aware of hurricane warnings. Look for emergency organization phone numbers, websites, social media sites, smartphone apps and other information with hurricane-related reports. Pay close attention to advisories from your local and state authorities. Download the FEMA app: Get alerts from the National Weather Service plus safety reminders, emergency checklists and information about shelters. Get the app at www.fema.gov/mobile-app.
It’s crucially important to make a plan. Talk with your family members to make sure each one knows what to do in case of an emergency. Should governmental authorities order an evacuation, make sure everyone in your family knows where you are going and how to get there if you’re traveling separately. Remember, phone service may be unavailable at the time of an emergency. However, texts may go through. Determine safe places where you could stay if asked to evacuate. Establish multiple meeting points in different directions, so you’re prepared for any emergency. Figure out where you’ll take shelter from the hurricane if you don’t have time to evacuate.
Consider making pre-registering for DSNAP or updating DSNAP pre-registration part of a hurricane preparedness game plan. DSNAP, formerly called Disaster Food Stamps, provides food assistance for eligible households who do not receive regular Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and who may need help buying groceries due to lost income or damages following a disaster.
Pre-registration allows you to get a head start on the application process that determines final eligibility if DSNAP is authorized in your parish. It also allows you to enter necessary information into the system should you lose access to the information or documents following a disaster or evacuation. To pre-register, residents can visit dcfs.la.gov/preregister or getagameplan.org.
In addition to making preparations for evacuation and to protect property, it’s also important to make a plan to ensure your financial wellbeing through the storm. “We won’t know what our home and community will look like after the storm, but we can do our best to safeguard what we can–like our finances–to ensure that the aftermath is more manageable,” said Nolan Spillers, Vice President and Business Relationship Specialist at First Federal Bank at Coliseum Boulevard in Alexandria.
Before a Hurricane is in the Gulf:
- Start an emergency fund. Build up an emergency fund throughout the year, and it can help later when you are waiting on insurance reimbursements. These savings can help cover expenses that accumulate during an evacuation like hotel rooms, gas, and food.
- Go digital. Sign up for eStatements and enroll in online and mobile banking with your bank. “eStatements are more secure and easier to access than paper statements, especially if there is a disruption in mail service or if you can’t return to your home immediately after a storm,” said Spillers. Mobile and online banking are essential for keeping track of expenses and transferring money. Your digital wallet, like Google Pay, Samsung Pay, or Apple Pay, make it easy to pay on-the-go from your phone.
- Have an emergency credit card. Using a credit card during an evacuation is a great way to avoid draining your cash and stay protected from fraud. Be sure to keep this card away from your wallet during other times of the year or else you may be tempted to use it.
- Review and protect your financial files. Don’t wait until the evacuation to read your homeowners insurance policy in your stack of important papers. Take the time to organize your files in a waterproof and fireproof case that’s easily accessible. “Most people don’t know the details of their insurance policies until they have to make a claim,” Spillers commented. “Take time to review your policies with your insurance agent to ensure you are properly covered.”
When a Hurricane is in the Gulf:
- Have cash on hand. “We all know people who wait until they evacuate to get cash then find themselves in line for hours at their bank,” noted Spillers. When a hurricane begins to form, it’s a good time to get the cash you need for immediate and unexpected needs. Check your bank’s operational hours during a storm to make sure you don’t miss your window for accessing your money.
- Handle urgent financial issues. If you have a loan payment coming up, contact your bank to see due date extensions or refunds for late fees due to the hurricane. Check your cards and accounts to make sure everything is up-to-date and you don’t have any problems accessing your money. “No one wants to be across the state calling customer service in a hotel parking lot because your new card hasn’t been activated yet,” said Spillers.
- Stay in contact with your bank. “If you bank local, chances are your bank is also keeping an eye on the storm, so they’ll understand your worries,” said Spillers. Find out if your bank plans on closing or if other services will be suspended during an evacuation. Also, notify your bank if you plan on evacuating so they can put a travel notice on your debit cards.
For more tips on keeping your finances protected, contact First Federal Bank at (318) 561-1000 or visit www.ffbla.bank. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
“Hurricane season can be a devastating time in Louisiana with damage caused not only by Mother Nature but also by con artists trying to profit from the storms,” said Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. “So I encourage the people of our State to prepare for hurricanes and to learn about natural disaster scams.”
The Attorney General’s Office encourages consumers to consider a wide range of considerations when preparing for the 2021 Hurricane Season. Become familiar with evacuation routes and shelter locations. Protect documents such as birth certificates, passports, Social Security cards, insurance policies, deed, mortgage, lease and loan papers, list of medications, allergies and medical equipment, photos of valuable belongings you may want to include in an insurance claim, and contact information for doctors, relatives, creditors and utilities. Keep important documents in a safe place and consider creating password-protected digital copies.
Review insurance policies, confirming they are current, and update if necessary. Likewise, do preventive maintenance around your property. Declutter drains and gutters, install check valves in plumbing to prevent backups, and ensure hurricane shutters are operable. Maintain necessary supplies for at least three days and keep in mind each family member’s specific needs, including the needs of pets. In case an evacuation becomes necessary, prep your vehicle. Have cars in good working condition; and when hurricane is near, keep gas tanks full and vehicles stocked with emergency supplies and changes of clothes. Lastly, develop a communications plan with family members if power is lost and remember that text messages may be more reliable and faster than phone calls during disasters.
As you make plans for what your family will do in the event of tropical weather, either sheltering in place or evacuating to another location, be sure to consider your healthcare needs as well. Keep your healthcare coverage information handy, including your ID card. Blue Cross customers can log into their member accounts to get a digital version of their ID cards. Many other health plans offer digital versions of ID cards, which is an easy way to keep this information with you.
Make a list of your family’s health information, including any medications you take with dosages and the names of your healthcare providers and their contact information. Store this on your phone, or keep a written copy in your wallet or somewhere else it will be with you if you leave home. If you need to get care or get a prescription filled while away, this will be very helpful.
Sign up for telehealth services so you can be treated online if you’re away from home. Ask your regular healthcare providers if they offer telehealth services. Platforms like Blue Cross’s BlueCARE offer 24/7 online doctor visits via its telehealth platform. BlueCare works on any device with internet and a camera, like a smartphone, laptop, tablet or computer, and is a good option to treat routine, non-emergency medical conditions. BlueCare is available in all 50 states, and BlueCare providers can write prescriptions to treat many conditions via telehealth.
BlueCare is easy to use and costs less than ER or urgent care visits. What you pay for a BlueCare visit depends on your plan type and benefits. Before your visit begins, you’ll see what it will cost. You will not be charged until your visit is finished. Create your BlueCare account at www.BlueCareLA.com or with the BlueCare (one word) mobile app for Apple and Android devices.
Be aware that social distancing restrictions and face mask mandates may be in effect at shelters or when evacuating to limit the spread of COVID-19. One of the most important things each of us can do to prevent the double whammy of a tropical cyclone and pandemic spike is to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, currently available to all individuals 12 and up, free of charge.
So, while we can’t stop hurricanes from arriving, we can mitigate the disruption and lasting effects on our lives. As we diligently prepare for the worst, in true Louisiana style, we keep our spirits high as we to hope for the best. Take time to make your preparations now. Let’s get a game plan, Cenla!