The best way to cope with a natural disaster like a cyclone is to prepare your family and your home before crisis occurs. You may not have enough time to organise things or to think clearly during an emergency situation, so it’s important to be prepared well in advance. This guide contains some useful checklists and information to help you prepare for the cyclone season.

Cyclones explained

A cyclone is a violent storm that forms over warm tropical waters. It’s a system of winds rotating around a calm centre (also known as the ‘eye’) of low atmospheric pressure, and produces wind gusts of over 90 km/h. If these gusts reach 165-200 km/h, the cyclone becomes severe and can cause plenty of damage. It may even cause death or injury as a result of heavy flooding, falling buildings, and flying debris. Coastal regions have a higher risk of being hit by a cyclone.

Cyclones can also produce storm surges and storm tides. A storm surge is a rapid rise in sea level, up to several metres high and 50 km wide, that moves inland at a very fast speed. A storm tide is a combination of a storm surge and the normal ocean tide. If it’s high tide, the storm tide will be able to reach areas considered safe, with low-lying areas most at risk of being inundated.

Preparing for the cyclone season

The Australian cyclone season starts from November and ends in April. It’s important to prepare your family and home before the cyclone season starts, especially if you live in a cyclone-prone area. This will help reduce the amount of damages to your home, and ensure that your family stays safe.

Between May and October, here’s what you need to do to get your family and your home ready for the cyclone season:

Prepare your family

  • Ask your local council if you live in an evacuation zone and if your home will be prone to storm surge or flooding
  • Make a list of emergency contacts and place it somewhere that your family can see, e.g. on the fridge
  • Get a friend or an interstate family member to be a point of contact if your family becomes separated during a cyclone
  • Make sure all family members know how to tune into warnings, such as:
    • Tuning in to your local radio and TV stations
    • Logging on to the website of the Bureau of Meteorology
    • Listening out for emergency alert messages that are sent to your phone
    • Acting fast when warnings are issued and advice is given
  • Find out which room in the house will provide better protection (e.g. the smallest room), and let everyone know where it is in the event that you need to seek shelter in your own home
  • Ensure that at least one person knows first aid
  • Make sure your family understands cyclones and the risks involved, as well as the community alert stages and the steps to be taken for each
  • Develop a family cyclone plan, which should include emergency and evacuation plans. Review it on a yearly basis.
  • Prepare emergency and evacuation kits, and tell your family where they’re stored
  • Find out where your nearest welfare centre is
  • Determine whether you and your family can relocate on your own during a cyclone or if you’ll require special assistance
  • If you live in a low-lying area, find out where your family can relocate to on a safe high ground in the event of a storm surge/tide.

Prepare your pets

  • If you have pets, figure out what to do with them during a cyclone as welfare centres cannot take in pets
  • Decide whether your pets will relocate with your family or friends, or if you’ll keep them in the strongest part of your house with food and water
  • Determine when to relocate your pets to ensure their safety and yours
  • Update your pets’ tags and registrations so they can be properly identified if required
  • Make sure your pets have extra food, water, and bedding.

Prepare your home

 

  • Check if your home is built to cyclone standards by contacting your local council
  • Make sure your home and contents insurance covers you for any cyclone damage, including cleaning up and removing debris after a cyclone
  • Also ensure that you have enough car insurance cover and that it’s currently valid
  • Check the condition of the walls and roof of your home, and fix loose tiles, eaves, gutters or roof screws, as well as corrosion, rotten timber and termite infestation
  • Fit your glass windows and doors with shutters or metal screens
  • Install a wind rated garage door, which can withstand the stresses of cyclone winds
  • Install double locks on external doors, and ensure that all shutters and locks are working
  • Trim overhanging branches and remove leaves and debris from gutters and downpipes
  • Secure or remove any loose items around your home
  • Store poisons and garden chemicals above ground level
  • Find out if there are any indoor items you’ll need to raise or empty out if there’s going to be a flood
  • Make your own sandbags in the case of flooding (you can fill up plastic bags, pillow cases, or stockings with sand)
  • Replace carpet with tiles or another floor material
  • Know where and how to switch off the main supply for electricity, gas, and water
  • Use a licensed contractor to relocate power points to above previous flood levels
  • Have a professional builder check your home and identify ways to increase its structural security to withstand strong winds.

Prepare emergency and evacuation kits

An emergency and evacuation kit can ensure your family’s survival, whether you seek shelter at home or relocate to a safer place. Prepare a kit before the start of the cyclone season with the following items:

  • Portable battery-operated radio
  • Waterproof torch
  • Spare batteries for your radio and torch
  • First aid kit with a manual
  • Medications, toiletries, and sanitary supplies
  • Special items for infants and the elderly, injured, or disabled
  • Strong waterproof containers or sealable plastic bags for important documents (e.g. wills, certificates and passports), as well as cash
  • Emergency contact numbers
  • Spare keys for the car and house
  • Change of clothes for each person, including sturdy gloves and shoes, and waterproof ponchos
  • Basic toolkit that includes hammers, nails, and timber strips
  • Masking tape for windows
  • Strong waterproof plastic bags for storing items
  • Candles and matches
  • Fuel lamp
  • Combination pocket knife
  • Tent or tarpaulin
  • Sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, and towels
  • Extra supply of fuel for your car
  • Pet food, water, and equipment
  • Non-perishable food (e.g. canned or dried food), and 3 days worth of fresh water for each person
  • Can opener, cooking gear, and eating utensils
  • Portable gas stove or barbecue, and fuel for cooking
  • Water containers to store washing and cooking water
  • Pen and paper for communicating during a noisy cyclone
  • Books, games, and cards to help pass the time.

If it looks like you’re going to be hit by a cyclone, add to this kit your mobile phone and charger, and your credit and debit cards (items which you will likely need to keep on you throughout the season!).

Create an emergency contact list

You should have emergency contact numbers for the following:

  • Police, fire, and ambulance (for life-threatening emergencies): 000
  • State Emergency Service (SES) assistance: 132 500
  • Local GP or doctor’s surgery
  • Local hospital and/or veterinary hospital
  • Interstate family contact
  • Work numbers
  • Local council
  • Electricity provider
  • Neighbours
  • Local primary or high school
  • Insurance company.

Other useful information

  • The Bureau of Meteorology issues a cyclone watch when gales or stronger winds are expected to hit within 24-48 hours. A cyclone warning is issued when gales or stronger winds are expected to hit within 24 hours.
  • The Standard Emergency Warning Signal (SEWS) is issued when a cyclone is expected to hit within 12 hours.
  • You need to listen carefully for community alerts and do what they say to ensure your safety. There are four stages of alerts:
    • Blue – Get ready and prepare for cyclonic weather
    • Yellow – Prepare for the arrival of a cyclone and get ready to seek shelter
    • Red – Seek shelter from the cyclone immediately
    • All clear – The cyclone has passed but be careful around any damages.
  • Here’s where you can find more information:
    • Bureau of Meteorology website (for weather and cyclone forecasts)
    • Emergency Management website
    • Your local council’s website for information on the cyclone, evacuation centres and routines, and assistance for afterwards
    • ABC radio and other local media
    • Bureau of Meteorology cyclone warning advice line: 1300 659 210