If you're a Boy Scout, you know about being prepared. If you've ever been through a hurricane, you know how wise the Scouts are. Savvy souls who prepare their homes and yards when a major storm isn't threatening don't have to panic as much should Felix, Gabrielle or Humberto, the next storms on this year's names list, decide to breeze into the area as full-blown hurricanes.
"If you're preparing now, you aren't going to be as panicked as those who have not prepared," said Tabby Shelton, mitigation coordinator for Horry County. "You already know what the plan is, and basically the house is already taken care of." September is the most vulnerable month for hurricanes, the most likely time for a "disaster to hit landfall," according to Home Depot in its Hurricane Preparation Guide 2001.
Now is a good time for homeowners to inspect their homes for any weak spots, trim problem trees and have plans and resources in place for protecting windows or securing outdoor structures and doors.
But most homeowners don't take advantage of the calm period before the storm.
"They wait till the last minute, and then they come running," said Rich Rose, assistant manager at The Home Depot in Myrtle Beach, which conducted a hurricane preparation seminar earlier in the summer.
It's better to plan ahead, to make sure you have the supplies you'll need and also avoid the long check-out lines that typically form whenever a hurricane is approaching, Rose said.
Advance inspections and preparation also can help offset damages that a hurricane might cause.
If you plan on using a generator for backup power, it's a good idea to shop for one now and learn how to use it safely. Some homeowners are already doing that.
"If there's a [hurricane] threat, you'll never find a generator around here," because they sell out fast, Rose said.
Homes should be inspected for any weaknesses in roofing or structure. Doors and garage doors may need attention. Trees also need to be inspected.
If you're not sure how to do these things, you can call professionals to help with inspections and recommendations.
Here are some guidelines for hurricane preparation for homes and yards.
Up on the roof
Check the roof for any weak spots that might be vulnerable to high winds or leakage. The signs aren't always obvious, according to the American Homeowners Association.
Clues that you might have a leakage problem actually can be found inside your home. Look for discolored walls or brown-spotted ceilings.
Also, get up in the attic and check for darkened spots on roof trusses or ceiling joists, then follow the trail to the source of the leak.
Check the roof for signs of aging or shingles that are missing, bent or curled. Depending on the type of materials, roofs need to be replaced every few decades, but hurricane season isn't always the best time to start looking for a contractor.
If you have skylights, you might want to purchase panels to cover them or build a frame around them in the event of a hurricane.
Rain gutters also need to be regularly inspected, cleaned and kept free of debris.
Home Depot recommends having a pole saw on hand to remove weak branches and also cut air channels through trees to offset high winds.
Mike Mathis, owner of M&M; Tree Service in Conway, Longs and North Myrtle Beach, said that essentially amounts to thinning trees where branches have grown too thick. Remove any dead trees or branches and, if you're in doubt, seek out a certified arborist to help you, Mathis said.
Mathis also recommends inspecting trees now and seeking out any help now rather than waiting until a hurricane watch or warning has been implemented, which tends to be a tree professional's busiest time.
"When a hurricane is headed this way, the phone starts ringing," he said.
Ann McKinnon, aka "Hurricane Annie" and Realtor for Robert E. Powell and Associates, is showing off the company's new "hurricane house" in Deerfield Plantation.
Built by Coastal Concrete Homes of Surfside Beach, it's the ultimate hurricane-resistant structure, with foot-thick concrete and steel walls and steel-reinforced rafters tied down with straps.
"They started doing rooms like this in Florida when Hurricane Andrew hit," McKinnon said. "But why do rooms when you can do a whole house?"
The four-bedroom, three-bath home is designed to withstand the forces of nature including earthquakes, tornadoes and Category 5 and Category 6 hurricanes.
"This house will last for 200 years, and costs just a few more cents per square foot," McKinnon said, adding her company can build similar "hurricane rooms" on existing structures.
Likewise, homeowners can consider strapping down their roofs and inspecting doors and garage doors to make sure they are secure in the event of a hurricane.
The Home Depot recommends inspecting entry doors for any weaknesses that might require reinforcement such as storm panels. French doors and double doors are particularly vulnerable.
Inspect and reinforce any weak latch systems. Two-by-fours can be secured on weak doors, according to The Home Depot.
There are a number of materials that can be used to provide protection for windows during hurricanes.
If you prefer not to mar your windows with masking tape, there are window films you can use to cover them and prevent flying glass. Other homeowners prefer to use shutters or custom aluminum panels, which need to be fitted and ordered ahead of time.
Then, of course, there's always plywood. Again, it helps if you buy sized pieces ahead of time, to avoid the long lines that typically gather at local home improvement stores when a hurricane is threatening.
There are two types of generators that can provide auxiliary power if a hurricane knocks out the electricity.
Gas-powered portable generators are the less expensive, more commonly used type but need to be handled with care.
Jill Watts, director of customer communications for Santee Cooper, says portables should never be hooked into home or structural wiring, which can potentially lead to the feedback of electricity over district lines.
"If a technician is working on the lines, it could harm that person," she said.
Whole house generators are installed by qualified electricians and are designed to kick in automatically to provide auxiliary power.
Furman Williamson, manager of distribution services for Santee Cooper, said appliances should be plugged directly into generators to prevent danger to lives.
"As far as I know, all generators have warnings on them about connecting to your [existing power] system," he said.
Whole house generators are more costly, but also larger and more convenient, whereas portable ones work at a more limited capacity, Watts said.
"It depends on how much you're going to use them, and how much you want to pay," Williams said.
"It depends on what kind of load you're going to carry. You could probably get a small generator to carry a few lights."
Larger businesses may use larger, built-in generators with more sophisticated controls that start up when the power goes out, Williams said.
For after the storm
It's a good idea to stock up on items you'll need after a hurricane, for cleanup and repair.
The Home Depot recommends gas-powered chain saws, cordless drills, wet/dry vacuums, work gloves, plastic tarpaulin, trash cans and bags, axes, and wrecking and crow bars.
Other good post-hurricane items for homeowners to have on hand now include brooms and mops, caulking guns, heavy-duty extension cords, hammers and axes, lanterns with extra fuel, mosquito repellent, nails and screws, rakes and shovels, and wheelbarrows.
LAURA LEWIS can be reached at 626-0282 or [email protected]
Graphics by Jason H. Whitley/the Sun News.