Hurricane Preparedness Tips from Harvey Survivors

From half-full is empty to how to file a FEMA claim, four things hurricane survivors wish they’d known, and advice on how to improve your chances of survival and speedier recovery.

While veteran-led disaster response nonprofit Team Rubicon has been responding to hurricanes for more than a decade, and its ranks are full of experienced first responders, the best hurricane preparedness tips come from hurricane survivors. Most will say they’ll never get caught in this kind of tropical storm, again. And while preparing for a hurricane can seem overwhelming, it’s key to storm survival. Here are four things hurricane survivors wish they had known. 

4 Things Hurricane Survivors Wish They’d Known

That There’s No Such Thing as Too Much Action

Act and react early is the number one hurricane preparedness tip most survivors give. According to people with firsthand storm experience, preparing for the worst-case scenario is critical: “Don’t underreact to the situation,” says a recent hurricane survivor.

To Evacuate Early

Preparation is key to surviving natural disasters. Avoid the last-minute dash for supplies by making plans early and maintaining a stockpile all year long. 

Most important? Make a bug-out plan now, before a hurricane even threatens. Having a plan makes it easier to leave when a hurricane does approach. 

“If you don’t leave a week before the storm, you are not getting out,” said a Harvey survivor in Texas. 

That During Storm Season, Half-Full Is Empty

Fill your tank when a hurricane watch has been issued. By the time a hurricane warning is issued, it’s too late. 

Keeping the gas tank as full as possible at all times can make it much easier to evacuate in advance of a hurricane or severe storm, or to recover after. Besides, gas supplies can run out and lines can run long ahead, and after, of major storms.

Those who choose to stockpile additional fuel should also remember to use safe storage containers, like store-bought gas cans, label them, and make a plan to dispose of the fuel when it expires. Regular gas should last three to six months, while diesel can last up to a year.

To Memorize the FEMA Application Checklist

In advance of a hurricane, understand how FEMA and insurance work: familiarize yourself with the FEMA process (the fastest way to apply is by visiting, read the FEMA application checklist, and learn the steps for filing a claim with your insurance company—if you have insurance. 

Having important contact numbers on hand and knowing how to file claims if the time comes will set you up for success should the worst happen. 

Still, expect to encounter red tape. One survivor reported, “FEMA denied me because I had insurance, then my insurance denied me. What was I supposed to do?”

As added personal insurance, videotape your home and possessions, urges a Team Rubicon volunteer, or Greyshirt, who was herself a victim of a fire.

“If you don’t have pictures of everything, you don’t get to claim it,” says Greyshirt Kim McGettigan. “Then send the video to a friend and your insurance agent. It is the best insurance against loss.”

Even if you think a natural disaster could never happen in your area, take it from the disaster survivors Team Rubicon has served: Always hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Heeding this advice from hurricane survivors could make all the difference.  

Read: 7 Cheap and Free Ways to Prepare for a Hurricane

Read: Still feel unprepared for a storm or hurricane? Check out these stories to learn the finer points of disaster preparedness.