Emergency Preparedness:
What to do about hurricanes in Northwest Florida

Emergency preparedness is essential during hurricane season. Whether you are a coastal resident or a visitor on vacation, you should have a hurricane plan. Know your evacuation routes and if you are on the beach, get out early if the storm is headed your way. Remember, the other two or three million people on the coast want to leave too and there are only a few bridges for everyone to get across to the mainland.

Most of the Northwest Florida coast is made up of several barrier islands that you can only get on or off by bridge. The whole of Santa Rosa Island is a barrier island. This includes Pensacola Beach, Navarre Beach, and Fort Walton Beach’s Okaloosa Island. Each beach has one bridge.

Perdido Key is a barrier island with one bridge north and another bridge that goes west to another barrier island in Orange Beach, Alabama. St. George Island near Apalachicola is also a barrier island with one very, very long bridge.

Destin and all of South Walton form one island. There are two bridges north across the Choctawhatchee Bay and one bridge going from Destin to Okaloosa Island and one bridge going to Panama City Beach.

High waves at Panama City Beach indicate a hurricane is coming.

Panama City Beach is a peninsula with no bridge if you go north on Highway 79, but there is a bridge on Highway 98 going into Panama City. From Panama City north, Highway 77 has one bridge but there is no bridge on Highway 231, the only four-lane evacuation route highway. As you move east through Gulf, Franklin, and Wakulla Counties there are fewer bridges, but also fewer roads. All roads heading north from the beaches in Northwest Florida, except highway 231, are two lane roads.

Tip 1:
Get cash. When the electricity goes out, ATMs and credit card machines don’t work.

Tip 2:
Fill your gas tank on your car as soon as there is a hurricane warning for the area. Gas is one of those things that runs out fast when everyone wants it and you don’t want to run out of gas on the road. Once you get out of the coastal area, traffic clears and you’ll be able to travel faster. If you wait to evacuate, you’ll be sitting in miles of traffic along with everyone else who waited.

Above all KEEP YOUR COOL and follow the rules. Emergency preparedness is all about - well - being prepared.

Make sure you have plenty of supplies.

Your Emergency Preparedness List

A hurricane list is essential and there are several good ones out there. Here’s my compilation from personal experience and from NOAA.

  • Flashlight with plenty of extra batteries
  • Battery-powered radio with extra batteries
  • First aid kit (band aids, alcohol, antiseptic cream, tweezers for splinters, pain medicine, etc.)
  • Prescription medications in their original bottles, plus copies of the prescriptions
  • Eyeglasses (with a copy of the prescription)
  • Water (at least one gallon per person per day is recommended; more is better)
  • Foods (a three-day supply of foods that do not require refrigeration or cooking)
  • Can opener (hand crank kind not electric)
  • Propane or charcoal for your grill if you are staying (you might need to cook that food defrosting in the freezer)
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger
  • Essential items that infants and elderly household members may require
  • Essential medical equipment and devices, such as dentures, crutches, prostheses, etc.
  • Change of clothes for each household member
  • Sleeping bag or bedroll and pillow for each household member
  • Checkbook, cash, and credit cards
  • Map of the area

You can add or subtract from the list according to your personal needs and preferences, but the most important thing is to have a workable and effective emergency preparedness hurricane plan, and stockpile these items at the beginning of hurricane season.

Hurricane winds and rain can do a lot of damage.

Important Papers to Take With You

If you decide to evacuate, or if there is a mandatory evacuation, be sure and take these items with you.

  • Driver's license or personal identification
  • Social Security card
  • Proof of residence (deed or lease)
  • Insurance policies
  • Birth and marriage certificates
  • Stocks, bonds, and other negotiable certificates
  • Wills, deeds, and copies of recent tax returns

Hurricane Resources

See these websites for important hurricane information.

National Hurricane Center

National Weather Service

The Weather Channel Hurricane Central

Florida Division of Emergency Management

Go from Emergency Preparedness to About Hurricanes

go to Hurricane Category Chart

go to About Northwest Florida

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