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Hurricane prep

Key West hurricane prep | Part 1: Let’s get started

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.


(Editor’s note: First in a three-part series on Key West hurricane prep. Part One covers hurricane prep basics. Part Two helps decide when to evacuate and what to do. Part Three covers the how-to of sheltering in place.)

I turned four five months before Hurricane Hazel slammed into the North Carolina coast as a Cat 4 hurricane. My western Pennsylvania mother, blissfully unaware, encouraged my sister, brother and me to run off some pent-up energy outside as the eye of the storm passed. Her idea of hurricane prep was a couple extra cans of tomato soup, white bread, bologna, water and candles.

By the time I was 10, there’d been eight more, including Hurricane Donna, a Cat 3 with its exceptionally wide eye and staying power. By then Mother knew better, but she sent us outside anyway. (Donna did a number on the Florida Keys, too, clocking in at 128 mph when it crossed Sombrero Key.)

Except for a two-decade respite — other than tornadoes — I’ve lived cheek-by-jowl in hurricane land and I’ve come a long way since the tomato soup days. I keep a couple cans in the Key West hurricane boxes for old times sake.

Last week, though, a new-to-Key-West friend stumped me when she asked what she ought do for hurricane prep. I take hurricane prep for granted, as I suspect, most of you do. So I promised her I’d organize a “what you REALLY need to know” guide. There’s so much hurricane prep info floating around that it can overwhelm anyone for whom hurricanes are, well, new.

This week we can do the “getting started” check list. Next week I’ll share what Ranger Ed and I do if we are planning to leave the island. The following week, I’ll tell you what we do if we are going to stay. (The top two things if we stay? Ice and a way to cool down.)

Hurricane prep 09-09-2017 Hurricane Irma
Hurricane Irma in September 2017 was the last major hurricane to hit the Keys. Irma “gently” touched Key West as a small Cat 1, but destroyed parts of the Lower Keys as a Cat 4

Getting started on hurricane prep

Whether you decide to shelter in place or head for parts elsewhere, these are the basics:

  • Stay informed. Download or sign up for Monroe County and Key West alert apps. You can get them on the county and city’s website. Bookmark the websites and bookmark the Facebook Pages for Key West, Monroe County Emergency Management, the Sheriff’s Department and both the National Hurricane Center and the Key West National Weather Service. You might also like Mike’s Weather Page if you are a weather junkie.
  • Collect the paperwork: I hate this part, because, depending on how complicated your life is, it takes hours, if not days. I have found after done once, it’s simple to update. Check online for lists of what documents you need, then scan to a thumb drive and make one paper copy. That’s the old school method. If you’re a digital geek, create a folder in the cloud and copy everything there — but, keep a paper copy of at least the cover sheet of such things as flood, wind and homeowners insurance, last year’s income tax filing, medications and your emergency contacts list. Keep your passport and other ID with you. If you’ve got pets, take vaccination and health records. You won’t get into a shelter without them — and you can pre-register them. I also keep an external hard drive with the same info and a full back-up of my devices; it’s small and handy to grab for the go-bag.
  • Double up on your meds: Have at least a one month supply for you and your pets. Whether you go or stay, getting a prescription filled will be dicey.
  • Pack a personal go-bag: The nice thing about hurricanes is they happily provide lots of warning. Though the odds of having to ditch everything and leave in minutes are small, I still recommend a personal go-bag. A personal go-bag doesn’t have all the equipment and gear that a full-on survival bag would have. But it’s a great thing to have when you can’t unpack all the big stuff. Get a decent backpack, large enough for what you need and small enough that you can carry it easily under stressful circumstances. Check online for a list of what goes into it. Think of what you (and your pets) would need for two or three days. Paperwork, meds, a change of clothing, a small tarp, a first aid kit, a flashlight, hammer, screw driver, duct tape, whistle, some food, bottled water, books and games.
  • Nail down now where you’ll go: Are you leaving the island by car? Keep the gas tank never less than three-quarters full. Know where you’ll go and stay once you leave the Keys. Know that just making it to Florida City doesn’t mean you are (1) safe; or (2) going to find a place to land — especially not with pets. Make a contact list so you can call for reservations early. Staying with friends and relatives? Make sure they’re up for your visit — not everyone wants house guests for a couple weeks. Leaving by plane? Good luck with that unless you’ve got lots of spare credit cards and make your reservations several days before the storm is predicted. Flights out of Key West are jammed as a hurricane approaches and the airport will close quickly.
  • Gather cash: I gather spare cash all year. I add a few dollars here and there as I can. Because come a hurricane, there are no electric, wifi or cell services to make all those modern devices. ATM, credit cards, gas pumps. You get the idea. Cash. At least several hundred dollars in small bills.

OK, that’s your homework for this week. Next week we’ll figure out what to do if we decide we’re leaving the island before a storm.

The best links for hurricane prep information


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