FEMA: Be Prepared, Listen to Experts

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When a hurricane is on the way, stock up on water, batteries and food. Prepare a first aid kit. Stow away pieces of lawn furniture that fierce winds can transform into projectiles.

Fill up the car with gas, and don't forget to have cash on hand in case ATM cards and credit cards won't work.

But the most important advice emergency management officials have to offer East Coast residents as Hurricane Isabel (search) heads for the Atlantic seaboard: Listen to the experts.

"The first thing is to pay attention to the emergency advisories that are being put out by your local emergency management agencies," Kevin Koob, emergency response program office for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (search), said Monday. "They are the most knowledgeable about what is happening right there in the area."

"There are professionals out there putting into place plans that have been developed over the years," he said. "Their advice can and should be taken to heart."

Frequent monitoring of radio and television reports is strongly recommended by Philip Clark, spokesman for the FEMA regional office in Philadelphia.

The federal agency's web site at www.fema.gov has detailed information on how to prepare for and ride out a hurricane. Updates on the location and expected path of Hurricane Isabel are available on the National Weather Service's (search) Web site www.nws.noaa.

During a hurricane watch, when winds of at least 74 mph are expected within the next 24 to 36 hours, FEMA recommends cleaning gutters, putting away small pieces of outdoor furniture and tying down bigger pieces that can't be moved indoors. Even boats on trailers should be tied down and anchored to the ground, Koob said.

He said this is not the time to undertake major tree trimming, but he does recommend cutting back dead limbs that present an obvious potential danger.

Taping or boarding up windows helps protect the home and also reduces the possibility of being cut by flying glass.

The hurricane watch period is also the time to stock up on batteries for flashlights and a portable radio, check food supplies and make sure there is plenty of drinking water -- one gallon per person per day for three days. A hand-operated can opener is handy.

FEMA recommends turning refrigerators and freezers to the coldest settings and opening them only when necessary.

"We all have our little stash of important papers. You want to make sure they are in a watertight container, or wrap them in plastic," Koob added.

The Maryland Emergency Management Agency suggests getting the family together and talking about disaster plans. Adults and responsible children should know how to turn off water, gas and electricity at the main switches if necessary.

If there is a possibility family members may get separated, make plans on how to stay in touch, including asking an out-of-state family member or friend to be a family contact.

It is also a good idea to consider pets, which may not be allowed in a shelter if an evacuation becomes necessary.

There isn't a lot that can be done about flooding that may result from hours of torrential rainfall except to be cautious when driving on water-covered roads. MEMA spokesman Quentin Banks said if there is an obvious low spot where a house is subject to flooding, bags of soil may help keep water away from the foundation.

During a hurricane warning, when winds of at least 74 mph are predicted to hit in less than 24 hours, FEMA recommends filling vehicles with gas and checking again for emergency supplies.

People who live in trailers should check tiedowns and evacuate to safer housing.

If there is a general evacuation order, FEMA again recommends listening to the experts.

"People are often reluctant to leave their homes, but their families and their lives are more important. They really, really should heed the advice given by local officials," Koob said.