By Sarah Smith

Over the years, Southwest Florida has weathered multiple hurricanes, and with the region still recovering from Hurricane Ian, area residents, especially seniors, should be prepared and stay vigilant as the season progresses.

Living in a coastal area comes with its own set of weather-related challenges, especially for homes in flood zones. This is why preparing yourself and your home is so essential. Our homes are very important to us, especially to seniors who have worked their entire lives to have the home of their dreams and want to stay in it as long as possible, while protecting it from the outside world.

While it is a hurricane hotspot, Southwest Florida is also a popular retirement destination. Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties all have a population comprised of 29% to 41% seniors. Many of those seniors live at home independently, so understanding proper hurricane preparation is crucial. For seniors aging in place, refer to this guide from Senior Choice at Home, the only life plan at home program for healthy, independent seniors in Southwest Florida, when preparing for the 2024 Atlantic Hurricane Season.

Protect your home

One of the signs that hurricane season is on its way is the influx of hurricane shutters in your neighborhood. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) states that hurricane shutters are the first line of defense against a hurricane, that is why it’s so important to protect your windows and glass doors. With your windows protected, the rest of your home stands a better chance against wind and intense pressure. There are several types of hurricane shutters to consider, including rolldown, accordion, Bahama, awning and storm panel shutters. Plywood is an affordable alternative to hurricane shutters. If you do not have hurricane shutters, weigh your options, make the investment and enlist the help of a neighbor, family or company to help you put your shutters up. Lastly, move any outdoor objects, like plants and furniture, inside.

Document everything

If you do not already have one, create an inventory document of everything in your home. Create a baseline list of what you own and continue to update the document as you get rid of items and purchase new ones. If a hurricane does cause damage to your property, having an itemized list of your belongings and their costs will be beneficial while working with your insurance company to recover lost or damaged items. Include everything from hand towels to televisions; nothing is too little, and costs add up when replacing lost items.

If a storm is headed your way, create a copy of the inventory and keep it in a safe place, like with a family member or in a safe, just in case. Also, do a thorough walkthrough of your home and snap photos with your cellphone of each room and the outside of your home.

Get organized 

Evacuating is recommended when a hurricane is on the way, but if an evacuation is not ordered for your area or you are unable to evacuate, be prepared with all necessary materials. Stock up on nonperishable food and water and create an emergency bag in case you do need to evacuate. This evacuation bag should include the essentials, such as clothing, medications, hygiene products, food, water, chargers and important documents. Also be sure to have spare batteries to power a fan, flashlight and radio in case power is lost.

Gather important documents and keep them together in a waterproof container. Documents include:

  • License, passport and birth certificate
  • Social security card
  • Health insurance card, living will, important medical records and a list of allergies and medications
  • Home inventory list
  • Emergency contact information

If you have pets, create a plan for them. If you choose to evacuate, be sure to know of a safe place that will take you in with your pet, like a family member’s house or a pet-friendly hotel. Disaster kits for pets are just as important as they are for humans. Some items to include are medications and medical records, leashes, harnesses, carriers, food, potable water and hygiene items, like shampoo and a litter box. Also pack items to reduce their stress, such as their favorite toys or bed.

When it comes to personal belongings, pack up sentimental items and store them in a waterproof container or safe. The last thing you want is to lose precious memories due to a natural disaster, so take the right steps to protect them prior to a storm approaching. The 2024 Atlantic hurricane season is predicted to be more active than past ones, so preparation is key.

About the author

Sarah Smith is the director of home and community based services for Senior Choice at Home, a life plan at-home program for healthy, independent seniors in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties.