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Get Inside: Choosing a Safe Shelter

Get Inside: Choosing a Safe Shelter

It is up to you to decide on the best place for your family and yourself during a storm. Public shelters are provided in each district but space is limited and is meant for people whose homes cannot be made safe and who can’t find another safe place to stay. If your home is hurricane-proof and is in a safe location it is probably the best place to be during a storm. The next best place is with family or friends whose house is well-constructed and in a safe location. However, if you have no other alternative or are not sure, do not hesitate to go to a public shelter. Here are some tips to help you decide.





Assess Your House at the Start of the Hurricane Season

If you can, get a structural engineer to do a proper assessment.


  • Can the walls stand up to strong hurricane winds?
  • Is there adequate protection for all windows, doors, and patio openings, sky lights and roof vents (commercial shutters, properly cut and secured plywood sheets or hurricane-rated glass; sturdy locks and hinges; tight, water proof seals)?
  • Are garage doors reinforced with wood or metal beams?
  • Are the roof trusses tied with hurricane straps bolted to the walls? Are they braced with proper supports and properly nailed down?
  • Is the roof cover waterproof and properly secured?
  • Is your building on high ground or is the floor several feet higher than the surrounding yard?
  • Are the windows and doors watertight and do they swing outwards?
  • Do the pipes to the septic tank have backflow valves/float plugs, or is there a second floor or safe attic to which you can go if waters begin to rise?
  • Can you make the necessary renovations in time? (It’s worth the investment.)


If you can not, plan to stay with someone in a safer location or to go to a shelter.


Assess Your Location

  • Is your house on or near the beach/ironshore?
  • Is it in an area with a lot of weak, unprotected buildings or loose structures such as trailers, equipment, derelict vehicles or other items which could become missiles or battering rams in a hurricane?
  • Has there been serious flooding in your area in the past? (If you are new to the area, ask other residents. You can also get an elevation map from the Planning Dept. This shows how many feet above (or below) sea level your area is. If so, plan to stay with someone in a safer location or to go to a shelter.

    Note: Most areas of Cayman will get some flooding. Don’t worry about the yard flooding, or even some water seeping inside. But, if you live in an area where rising water could pose a threat to life, plan to stay with someone in a safer location or to go to a shelter.


Assess Your Health

  • Are you or a family member elderly, bedridden, severely disabled?
  • Do any of you have a chronic medical condition, or are you in the last three months of pregnancy?
  • If so, go to an Emergency Medical Centre.


Know Your Flood Risk

Storms can bring several inches of rainfall and if this rain has nowhere to run off it will cause flooding. A storm surge can then add several more feet of water, from four ft. or less in a category one storm, to 18 ft. or higher in a strong category five. Find out how high above sea level your property is. Measure how high above the ground outside the threshold of your door is. Add these two measurements together to see how high above normal sea  level the floor of your dwelling is. Suppose your area is two ft. above normal sea level and the floor of your house is two ft. above that. It means you are four ft. above normal sea level. If there is a storm surge of six ft., you could get two ft. of water inside your house.


Public Shelters

A number of governement buildings in each district are chosen and equipped to serve as public shelters. The HMCI chooses these based on the buildings' ability to withstand hurricane conditions and there height above sea level. As newer, purpose-built centres are constructed the HMCI phases out older shelters that are not as ideal.


What to take to the Shelter

Supplies at the shelter are for post hurricane use, so each person must bring:

  • 3 - 4 days supply of food which does not need cooking
  • 3 - 4 days supply of water
  • Special items such as medication, eyeglasses, baby food and diapers, female sanitary supplies, etc.
  • If you have small children, do not forget to bring at least one of their favourite foods (e.g., breakfast cereal) and something to keep them occupied.
  • A blanket and pillow
  • A working flashlight and extra batteries
  • A change of clothing


Do not take

  • Pets
  • Alcohol or tabacco
  • Cooking Equipment
  • Weapons


Who is in Charge?

The management team is in charge of the shelter. They are trained for this function. Items not allowed in the shelter will be confiscated and the owners asked to sign for them. The items will be returned to the owners when they are leaving the shelter.



Many people have to share a small space in a shelter. Be prepared for some amount of discomfort. Safety is the main concern, so follow shelter wardens' instructions


If you Decide to Stay

If you’re satisfied your house and location are safe and you decide to stay:

  • Make sure you have adequate supplies. (See hurricane supplies checklist.)
  • Know that you may still be required to leave if authorities feel an area is at great risk. (See box: “Evacuation Order,” overleaf.)
  • If you need help at any time, contact 911 or the Emergency Operations Centre at 949-6555.


If you Decide to Leave

If you consider you will be at risk, decide on a plan for you and your family in advance:


  • If you have family or friends in hurricane resistant homes on high ground, make arrangements, in advance, to stay with them.
  • If your work place is safe and secure, consider getting permission to shelter there.
  • Know which shelter is nearest you and what is the quickest way (and the next best alternative route) to get there.
  • N.B. If you are leaving home to stay with someone else, let someone know, preferably your district Police Station, your neighbour, and a friend or relative outside the area.


Evacuation Order

In cases where the Hazard Management Cayman Islands feels an area is at special risk it will issue an Evacuation Order for that area. This means that all residents in that area should leave at once and go to a designated shelter or other safe location outside the evacuation area. Listen out for these orders as they could come at any time before or during the storm. Announcements will be given by radio and TV and by police and firemen, who will come around the community with loud speakers.

If you refuse to leave when authorities recommend evacuation you will have to sign a release form. This means the authorities cannot be held responsible for you. If you are ordered to evacuate, do so immediately!
Never ignore an evacuation order. All storms are unpredictable and can be life-threatening. Wind, debris and rising water could leave you suddenly trapped at a time when no help can reach you.

Take only essential items with you. Leave pets indoors in a safe, covered area with ample food and water. If you have time, turn off the gas, electricity, and water if you have not already done so; unplug all appliances.
Have each family member take their Survival Kit. When you leave home, If you are driving, follow any instructions by authorities regarding passable routes—others may be blocked. Expect heavy traffic.

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