Family Disaster Preparedness

Be Prepared

Disaster can strike quickly and without warning. It can force you to evacuate your neighborhood or confine you to your home. What would you do if basic services--water, gas, electricity or telephones--were cut off? City officials and relief workers will be on the scene after a disaster, but they cannot reach everyone right away. Therefore, the best way to make your family and your home safer is to be prepared before disaster strikes. Prepare a plan, build a family disaster kit with a minimum five days of supplies, and be alert for any type of emergency by listening to media broadcasts, and a weather alert radio.

The study which was conducted after Hurricane Irma recommended changes to how some operations are described, enhancements to existing systems and addition of new programs. The Hurricane Preparedness Guide(PDF, 147KB) has information will help clarify these changes.

Here are some links to assist you with the preparation of a family disaster plan:

US Department of Homeland Security American Red Cross - Southwest Florida Chapter Florida Division of Emergency Management

Here are some additional guides you may download to provide you with additional disaster preparedness information (these are large files):

Not every Sarasota County public school will open before a hurricane; only specific schools that have hurricane-rated buildings. Visit the Know Your Level website and enter your address to locate the shelter closest to your residence.

Medical Needs Program

This is a shelter of last resort for those people that need more medical supervision than a general population shelter can provide and have special medical needs, but do not require hospitalization.

Should you have no other place to go, you must pre-register with Sarasota County Emergency Management. Find out now if you qualify before an emergency impacts our community. The shelter does not take reservations, so plan to arrive early once it has been determined that the shelter will be opened for a particular emergency situation. Click the link in the below paragraph to complete the application on line or call the Sarasota County Call Center at (941) 861-5000 to request a Medical Needs form and registration information.

Once received, the form will be forwarded to the Sarasota County Health Department where the applications will be screened by a medical doctor for eligibility. You will be notified by mail if you qualify for admittance into the special needs shelter or not, and if there may be additional information required for individual determinations, a Health Department nurse will contact you directly. You will be contacted on an annual basis to update your information.

Visit with specific questions about the program or eligibility, or call Sarasota County Emergency Management at (941) 861-5000.

NOAA Weather Radio

Saving lives is the focus of NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards by providing immediate broadcasts of severe weather warnings and civil emergency messages and giving those in harm’s way critical lead time to respond and remain safe.

NOAA RadioBroadcasts of tornado warnings, flood warnings, “Amber” Alerts for child abductions, chemical spill messages and many other notifications, in addition to routine weather observations and forecasts, make NOAA Weather Radio an essential item for every home, business and public area.

Sarasota County’s specific area message encoding (SAME) code is 012115, and Charlotte County’s SAME Code is 012015.

The National Weather Service radio channel should be set to: Channel 1 (which transmits from a tower in the Venice area).

For more information visit the NOAA Weather Radio website.

Transportation Plan (Hurricane Evacuation Centers)

If you cannot drive to an evacuation center, Sarasota County will provide bus transportation (along with a limited amount of supplies) to and from a general population evacuation center. This program is activated only when Sarasota County has a declared county emergency, an activation is ordered, and evacuation centers are opened. Transportation will be offered at designated rally points throughout the county. For more information please view the Sarasota County Transportation Plan.

Keep in mind...

  • Transport will be provided by Sarasota County Area Transit and school district buses.
  • Space on buses will be limited.
  • Baggage is limited to two carry-on sized bags per person that can be stored under a seat or held in lap.
  • Pets must be in a crate or carrier, and you must bring all pet supplies.
  • Passengers cannot specify what shelter they will be transported to.
  • All transportation will cease when landfall is expected within eight hours.

Disaster Planning for Your Pets

Pets should not be left behind. Plan how you will care for your pets in an emergency. Leaving pets behind, even if you try to create a safe place for them, is likely to result in their being injured, lost or worse. So prepare now for the day when you and your pets may have to leave your home.

Disaster Preparedness Should Include Your Pets

Develop a Pet Disaster Plan for your pets. Whether you decide to stay at home, or go to family, friends, a hotel or a shelter, you will need a plan for your pets.

Before the Disaster

Obtain Sarasota County Animal Services registration of your animal. This is the most effective method of identification, and it is required prior to admittance at a pet-friendly shelter. Make sure your pet’s vaccinations are updated (have tags and/or proof of vaccination for shelter registration):

  • Dogs: rabies vaccine, distemper, Parvo groups, Bordetella and Corona
  • Cats: rabies vaccine, feline leukemia, Rhinotracheitis, and Panleukopenia

Assemble a support kit to accompany your pet:

  • Id tag/rabies tag on the animal
  • Id on all belongings
  • Water and food bowls
  • Wire crate (not plastic travel carrier)
  • Food and medication for 14 days
  • Cat litter/pan, extra litter and a litter scooper
  • Written feeding and medications instructions

Have a Safe Place to Take Your Pets

Pet-friendly shelters will be located at each hurricane shelter.

Before you go, review the following:

  • Exotic pets or livestock will not be accepted. If you need to arrange for safe housing for exotic pets or livestock, contact your veterinarian or local kennels.
  • At the shelter, you will register, collect all documentation and records, photograph your pet, and place it in one of the assigned locker rooms.
  • The pet will remain in the crate at all times.
  • Owners may not stay with their pets -- pet must remain in the general portion of the shelter. Exception - walks outside by the owner will be permitted until high winds require the shelter to lock-down.
  • A responsible owner will be responsible to feed/water/medicate the pet at the appropriate times.
  • Pets will be released back to their owners on leaving the shelter.

Contact hotels and motels outside your immediate area to check policies on accepting pets and restrictions on number, size, and species. It is important to make reservations early – space will be limited in the case of an emergency. Ask if the “no pet” policy may be waived in an emergency. View pet friendly shelter and lodging information.

Disaster Preparedness for Pets

Pre-arrange to board your pet at an animal hospital, veterinarian’s office, or boarding facility. Make sure the building will be able to withstand high winds, and utilities outage.

After a Disaster

  • Walk pets on a leash until they become re-oriented to their home -- often familiar scents and landmarks may be altered and pets could easily be confused and become disoriented. Also, downed power lines, reptiles and fire ants brought in with high water, and debris may all pose a threat for animals, as well as humans after a disaster.
  • Pets can become aggressive or defensive after a disaster -- monitor their behavior.

Florida Pets

How to Stay Safe in a Mobile Home During a Tornado

The National Weather Service is always on the lookout for severe weather, and tornado warnings typically give residents an average of 18 minutes to get prepared for oncoming storms. Many tornados happen in the middle of the night and people are caught unaware. It is important to have a NOAA Weather Radio that can wake you up with a warning and allow you time to take action. Mobile homes are constructed to be light and easily moved, and this can be a problem when it comes to being safe in a tornado. Mobile home dwellers need to know what to do when a tornado is in the area. It is important to know what to do and where to go before a tornado strikes.

  1. Leave the mobile home if possible. According to the National Weather Service, there is absolutely no safe way to remain in a mobile home during a tornado. Tornadoes are too strong for mobile homes, even ones that are well-anchored.
  2. Sarasota County does not have a designated tornado shelter. If you have time to a get to a safer building do so immediately. In cases where a tornado warning has been issued, but not yet sighted, this is an option. If the tornado has been sighted close by, do not leave by car.
  3. Take shelter in a permanent, sturdy home or building if there is one nearby. The safest place in a large building is on the lowest floor, away from windows. Since buildings in Florida do not have basements, interior hallways or under a stairwell are the safest places to be.
  4. Run outside away from trees and cars. Find low ground and lie down flat, with hands clasped behind your head to protect the back of the head. This is safer than staying inside of a mobile home, although seeking a permanent building for shelter is preferred.
  5. If you cannot leave your mobile home in time, move to the bathtub or shower area and cover yourself and others with pillows and a mattress, have all family members put on closed toe shoes and if available wear bicycle or sports helmets.
  6. Keep movable items tied down. Tie down swing sets and other loose yard items. Do this in advance there is no time to secure items when a tornado has been sighted.
  7. Install an underground shelter under the mobile home. These shelters can be installed in one day, and greatly improve the odds of survival in a tornado. This option may not exist if the land is rented. If so, check with the landlord to see if he would be willing to have a storm shelter installed on the property.


"Shelter-in-Place" means to take immediate shelter where you are—at home, work, school, or in between. It may also mean "seal the room;" in other words, take steps to prevent outside air from coming in. This is because local authorities may instruct you to "shelter-in-place" if chemical or radiological contaminants are released into the environment. It is important to listen to TV or radio to understand whether the authorities wish you to merely remain indoors or to take additional steps to protect yourself and your family.

Wind Mitigation Inspections

Why should you make an investment to strengthen your home against hurricanes?

Before you can improve your home’s ability to withstand a hurricane, you need to know how hurricane resistant it is today. Contact your homeowner’s insurance company to recommend a licensed wind mitigation inspector. The inspection will be conducted by a qualified wind inspector trained in wind-resistant building techniques. Following the inspection, a detailed report will be provided to you that will:

  1. Explain and prioritize what improvements can be made to strengthen your home against hurricanes,
  2. Provide cost estimates for making each of the recommended improvements,
  3. Rate how hurricane resistant your home is today, and how resistant it will be after improvements are made, and
  4. Explain what insurance discounts are available to you if improvements are made and how to get them, if you provided your insurance information.

You may be eligible for a discount on insurance premiums. Homes that are strengthened with hurricane-resistant improvements are less likely to suffer serious damage in a hurricane. Homeowners who invest in strengthening their homes will be entitled to a range of discounts on their homeowners insurance premium, depending on what and how many of the recommended improvements are made. The discounts you may be eligible to receive will be outlined in your wind inspection report.

What kind of improvements can be made to strengthen my home against hurricane damage? Wind inspections will recommend improvements in one or more of seven specific categories:

  1. Improving the strength of your roof deck attachment.
    • For instance, if your roof is made of shingles nailed to plywood sheets, the wind inspection may reveal that the plywood sheets are not adequately nailed to your roof trusses, and that more nails and/or longer nails need to be added to prevent the plywood from being blown off during a hurricane.
  2. Creating a secondary water barrier to prevent water intrusion.
    • There are products that cover and seal the joints between the plywood sheets on your roof. This will reduce leakage if your shingles are blown off.
  3. Improving the survivability of your roof covering.
    • Upgrading to stronger and thicker hurricane-resistant roof shingles, attached with properly sized and applied roofing nails, will reduce the chance of your roof shingles blowing off during a hurricane.
  4. Bracing gable-ends in your roof framing.
    • This is usually done in your attic to lessen the chances that your roof will collapse under hurricane wind loads.
  5. Reinforcing roof-to-wall connections.
    • For example, installing metal tie-down straps that attach roof rafters to wall studs to decrease the chances that all or part of your roof will lift up from your house during a hurricane.
  6. Upgrading exterior wall-opening protections.
    • For instance, installing hurricane-rated window shutters.
  7. Upgrading exterior doors.
    • For example, replacing a standard garage door with a hurricane-rated garage door.