The pandemic has delayed or canceled many routine events. Yearly summer vacations have turned into staycations, schools and athletic competitions are in a state of uncertainty, and the IRS even extended the tax deadline to October.

But apparently, hurricane season has elected not to take a break just because we’re in a pandemic. In fact, the National Hurricane Center is predicting a busy hurricane season from the end of August through early September.

Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself and your home during hurricane season.

Prepping Your Home

If you live in a hurricane-prone area, Mike Bidwell, president and CEO of Neighborly, says the first and most important thing you can do is ensure your home’s insurance plan includes flood insurance. Don’t just assume it does, since he says most home policies don’t automatically include this type of protection.

“Next, keep in mind that the parts of your home most likely to be affected by powerful winds and excessive rain include your windows, utilities, landscaping, and outdoor entertainment areas,” Bidwell says. For added protection, he recommends the following:

  • High-impact glass or hurricane film and shutters for your windows.
  • Surge protectors and a generator as added sources of electricity.
  • Landscaping services from a professional who knows how to properly trim your trees and shrubbery to limit potential damage.

“While putting money toward these resources in advance of storm damage may seem costly in the moment, it will mitigate the costs you’ll be forced to incur if you leave your home susceptible to extreme damage,” Bidwell explains. In addition, surge protectors are inexpensive items that can keep your electronic equipment from sustaining damage.

Prepping Your Family and Yourself

If a hurricane makes landfall in your area, it’s going to be chaotic, so these are some of the things you need to do in advance.

Plan your evacuation route. “This includes finding where your nearest shelters are, what to do with pets, where your emergency supply kit is kept, and what important papers you need to keep with you,” says Gary Findley, CEO of Restoration 1.“Remember that shelters will have social distancing protocols in place, so make sure to have a couple of options since locations may be limited in the number of people allowed.”

Have an Emergency Supply Kit packed and ready. “There are many important nonperishable items that you should have on hand before disaster hits: batteries, candles or lamps with fuel, matches, tools for home repairs, prescription drugs, a three-day supply of drinking water, food that doesn’t need to be refrigerated or cooked, first aid supplies, extra face masks, cash,and more,” Findley says.

Review your insurance policies. Findley agrees with Bidwell that you need to find out if your insurance policy covers repairs, or the cost to rebuild your home or replace your belongings. “Also, you should create a home inventory of your personal property, which will speed up your claims process,” Findley says.

Store important documents. “Have a waterproof safe for important documents such as birth certificates, house deeds, passports, etc.,” Findley advises.

Safe Procedures for Returning to Your Home

If you had to leave your home as the result of a hurricane, returning may be a little different from returning after a vacation.

Findley says the damage in your area and to your home may be significant and recommends the following steps:

  • Always remain clear of loose or fallen power lines.
  • Avoid drinking or using tap water in your home until the utility companies provide the all clear.
  • Do not eat any of the food in your refrigerator if the temperature has risen above 40 degrees for more than two hours.
  • Remain out of any structure that is surrounded by floodwater.
  • Wear personal protective clothing, including gloves, boots, coveralls, and a respirator.
  • Watch for loose tree branches, fallen building materials, and harmful debris while outdoors.
  • Drive only when absolutely necessary and do not drive over flooded roads or washed-out bridges.

Assessing Damage to Your Home

If your home sustained damage, Findley recommends the following steps:

  • Make sure all electrical power is off and check that any fuel sources are shut off.
  • Expose potential pockets of moisture and remove affected materials such as base molding, saturated wall panels, and insulation.
  • Dispose of all items that could be contaminated that cannot thoroughly be cleaned.

However, there may also be hidden damage. “For instance, gutters are a part of the home you might not think to look at when you’re distracted by the other more obvious cases of damage like broken glass, but the gutters of your home have likely become a gathering place for debris that was sent flying during the storm,” Bidwell says. “If left unattended, your clogged gutters will be useless for protecting your home from flooding and water damage.” He notes that replacing a gutter system is expensive, but it’s avoidable (and a simple cleaning may be all that’s needed) if you look for signs of damage as soon as possible.

However, other types of hidden damage may not be as easy to find by yourself. “Especially in the case of flooding, hidden damage in the walls and floors can introduce harmful contaminants that can negatively impact your family’s health.” These are the steps he recommends to alleviate the severity of such damage:

  • Dry out building materials to the best of your ability by cleaning and fanning them.
  • Let household items air dry, and throw away items completely saturated by floodwater.
  • Thoroughly clean your kitchen with bleach.
  • Remove drywall and carpeting to allow the structure of your home to fully dry.

Bidwell says there’s also a tendency to focus on the aesthetically damaged parts of the home. “Fallen trees, broken windows, debris, floodwater and other obvious examples of damage are where we focus first and what inconveniences us immediately.” However, he says hidden damage can be detrimental.

“Expect that damage can occur beneath the surface and hire a professional home inspector after a severe storm to pinpoint where your home may have been compromised in ways that you might not be able to see.” If you fail to address these areas, Bidwell says you could run the risk of foundational issues, rotting or warping wood, or the need to rewire your home’s electrical system.