Hurricane safety: Facts vs. fiction

Plenty of wisdom has been dispensed in the wait for Hurricane Irma, some of it sound and some of it silly. Here are some of the more common misconceptions — and a few that, surprisingly, are correct.

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Do I open a window to reduce pressure?

NO! Leaving a window open will not relieve the pressure inside your house during a hurricane, and any openings in the house can lead to pressure actually building up inside and causing major damage — possibly even lifting off your roof. But the Institute for Business & Home Safety says you should close not only all your exterior openings but also interior doors. The IBHS reports that tests showed wind entering the home through an open or broken window can create strong upward pressure on the roof, but closing interior doors "helps compartmentalize the pressure inside the home into smaller areas, reducing the overall force on the roof structure, which gives the roof a better chance of staying intact."

Can I use masking or duct tape to cover windows?

NO! Tape will not stop windows from breaking. And while it will limit the flying glass, by keeping windows from shattering completely, it may create large shards that can act as flying daggers. Also, tape will bake on your window. Use standard window coverings.

Can I operate my generator or barbecue grill inside the home?

NO! Unless you want to die from carbon monoxide poisoning. It's deadly, odorless and colorless and can kill in minutes, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reminds. Do not use generators or grills even in open garages or porches unless they are at least 20 feet from the home.

Credit: Brian Blanco

Credit: Brian Blanco

Can I connect my generator directly to my home’s electrical system? 

NO! Don’t plug a gasoline-powered generator into your household AC circuits. The electricity will travel outside your house to the downed power line. You could electrocute yourself or start a fire. Also, utility workers, believing the line is dead, could be electrocuted. Plug appliances directly into the generator.

Is it OK to store propane and gasoline in my garage during the storm?

NO! There’s a danger of both fumes and possible fire and explosion.

Is it OK to cut up downed power poles?

Florida Power & Light Co. urges you to stay away from any power poles. The line might still be electrified. And if a pole has been pulled down, the electrical line might have been pulled frighteningly taut; cutting up that pole could cause a fatal reaction.

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If the winds aren’t too bad, is it OK for me to drive in the hurricane?

Not really, and more importantly why do you want to? Storms are not a time for sightseeing. Their winds are dangerous and unpredictable, especially if you’re in a high-profile vehicle such as a truck or bus or driving a motorcycle, Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Tom Pikul said. And, he said, that doesn’t even take into consideration the dangers of driving on flooded roads.

Should I put important documents in my dishwasher or washing machine?

According to the Florida Bar, the state organization for lawyers, there’s no harm in that, and it is a secure enclosure, but don’t forget and later turn the thing on! If possible, use a home safe, and if time permits, scan everything and get the originals to a safe place outside of the storm area.

Will my home phone (land line) work without power?

Yes and no. The phone lines into your home still will work because the system was built with just enough juice to keep phone lines operating even if power is lost. But most homes these days have cordless home phones — which of course need to be plugged in. What you need is an old-fashioned connect-to-the-wall phone. You might find one in a thrift shop or in some electronics stores.

I want to hold a hurricane party. Is that OK?

Consider this cautionary tale: In 1969, as Camille, one of only three Category 5 storms to strike North America in the 20th century, approached the Mississippi coast, a dozen people had gathered at the Richelieu Apartments, in the Gulf Coast town of Pass Christian, Miss. Stocked with food and drink, they were going to have a hurricane party. Another dozen Richelieu residents also opted to wait out the storm in their apartments. While everyone else had fled inland, the group was bent on a wild ride. Besides, most forecasts had the brunt of the storm striking 100 miles to the east in the Florida Panhandle. But Camille hit Pass Christian head-on. The next morning, there were no partiers. One of the 24 was found alive, clinging to a tree five miles inland. And no Richelieu remained. Just a slab.

Should I throw my lawn furniture in the pool to get it out of the wind?

Not a good idea. It can scratch the finish, requiring costly repairs.

After the storm, should I try to ration my bottled drinking water?

No. Drink your water as you normally would. Stay hydrated, stay healthy. More water will be available later.

Can I use my tap water to wash my hands even if a boil-water order is in effect? Can I give it to my animal?

The tap water will be safe for showering and washing hands. It is unsafe to ingest in any way, such as brushing teeth or drinking. Do not wash dishes in it. And It will make your animal sick.

How do I know when to throw out food that was refrigerated or frozen? 

The rule of thumb is that most perishable refrigerated food held above 40 degrees for more than two hours must be discarded. When in doubt, throw it out!

Is someone offering free Wi-Fi hotspots?

Comcast has opened its more than 137,000 Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots across Florida to non-customers in an effort to help keep residents and emergency workers connected in advance of the storm.

Does the PETS law means all hotels must accept pets? 

No. The 2006 Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act hasnothing to do with hotels. It requires only that governments include pets in emergency planning.

Does the Zello app let me communicate without cell service?

Zello's smartphone app is essentially a walkie-talkie. It functions much like a police dispatch system, with crucial information relayed from volunteers. It requires Internet access via Wi-Fi or a cellular data network.

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