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A sculpture marks an evacuspot where residents can be picked up for transport to a shelter in the case of an evacuation.

For the fifth year in a row, the hurricane season got off to an early start. Subtropical Storm Andrea formed in the Atlantic last week, but never neared land and fizzled out before it had a chance to develop. May all of Andrea’s 2019 successors do likewise.

The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season officially begins June 1, and authorities’ advice regarding preparations has changed over the years. Many used to say they wouldn’t evacuate for anything “weaker” than a Category 3 storm, but in recent years experts have cautioned that a slow-moving tropical storm could wreak more wet havoc than a fast-moving hurricane. Of course, we now know that even a rainstorm — never mind a tropical event — can overwhelm New Orleans’ antiquated pumping system.

So it’s time once again for those in south Louisiana to develop a hurricane plan, or two: one for getting out, the other for hunkering down.

The biggest change in civic policy this year is the establishment of the Smoothie King Center as the official headquarters for city-assisted evacuation. City Hall officials and the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (NOHSEP) say the Smoothie King Center can process evacuees nearly four times faster than the old location, the Union Passenger Terminal, and it will make evacuation easier for those on the city’s official list of people who have special needs.

What won’t change are the city’s 17 "evacuspots," located around New Orleans, where people who have no way to leave can wait for help getting out in the event of a mandatory evacuation. Five of those spots are specifically designed for seniors. The spots are marked by 14-foot statues of people hailing a bus. During an evacuation, buses will pick up folks needing a ride, transport them to the Smoothie King Center to board buses for state or federal evacuation centers, and either bring them to their homes or to local shelters when it’s safe to return. For a list of the locations, visit ready.nola.gov/evacuate.

Take time now to review your hurricane preparations. Make sure friends, relatives and neighbors have a plan as well. As a general rule, don’t let your vehicle’s fuel tank get below half-full from now until Nov. 30, the official end of hurricane season. Even before authorities advise or order an evacuation, have at least a week’s worth of medications along with baby supplies, pet supplies, wet wipes, a stash of cash and cellphone chargers ready to pack.

In addition, bring copies of important paperwork (insurance policies, medical records and family photos) in a waterproof container. If you have pets, that paperwork should include your pets’ proof of vaccinations. Most important, you should know where you’re going now and be prepared to spend hours on the road.

If you plan not to evacuate and to hunker down instead, be sure to have lots of bottled water (at least a gallon per person per day), ready-to-eat food, flashlights, a battery-operated radio (and extra batteries), and all the essentials listed for evacuations. For emergency fixes, a tool kit and contractors’ garbage bags are also good to have around.

Experience has taught us that it only takes one storm to create havoc. Get ready now.

This is a commentary from Gambit, produced independently from reporters at the paper.