“The only two good words that can be said for a hurricane are that it gives sufficient warning of its approach and that it blows from one point of the compass at a time.” – Gertrude Atherton.
Hurricane season was quite active when it started this year, but it is now in a sort of pause. That’s an opportunity for those who live in areas affected by hurricanes or the surrounding regions bordering these areas to review their plans and adequately prepare. Last year had a record 30 Atlantic storms. Fourteen of those were hurricanes. Though the current season is taking a little breather, August looks to resume activities. The Saharan Air Layer is currently suppressing tropical storm activity, but as this fades in August and a forecasted high-pressure system establishes over the northeastern United States, a steady stream of tropical storms and hurricanes could barrel in directly to the United States. Instead of bending away from the U.S. and skirting the coastline as years before, the conditions are perfect for these to hit populated areas directly.
Even if that doesn’t happen, we have seen the devastating effects of hurricanes over the last two decades. The damage to structures and the displaced people can stretch for hundreds of miles inland, away from the coastal regions. High winds, rain, flooding, power outages, road closures, and more could happen far from the shoreline and spill over into communities hundreds of miles away. The time to prepare for a hurricane is long before they even name the hurricane– before it even appears on any map or forecast. In this blog, I’ll review some of the basics of hurricane and extreme storm preparedness, but I’ll also provide a couple of hacks that can help you weather the storm better.
KNOW YOUR ZONE
If this season is your first season of hurricanes because you moved to a hurricane zone, there are a few things you absolutely must know to get up to speed. Know the location of shelters in your area. Mark more than one safe evacuation location on a map. Know your evacuation routes—elevation matters. You may think that the fastest route out of town is a certain way, but if it’s not an elevated route, it may be flooded. Mark more than one safe route to a safer location. If you may need special evacuation assistance or someone in your family may need assistance, ask local officials if there is a registry to assist in the event of an outage or flood. Your first zone is your home, so make sure you know how to shut off electricity, gas, and water in the event of catastrophic damage. Secure everything around your house that could blow away. In the days leading up to the hurricane potentially making landfall, clear all branches or dead trees around your home that could likely be snapped in the wind. Sustained winds of between 74 and 157 miles per hour or stronger are highly probable even if you are not directly in the hurricane’s path. Board up windows with 5/8ths inch plywood if you are in a coastal region.
Make sure your vehicles are gassed up. Even if you plan on weathering the storm in your home, you need to have a plan to get out of the disaster zone. Know where you will go, and keep that as your backup plan. In the period leading up to, during, and right after a disaster, food, water, and fuel will force many to desperate measures. Make sure to factor in your security with all your preparations. Consider the safety of your home zone, but also consider how safe the evacuation routes may or may not be. Know the areas prone to flooding, and know how to get out if you have to. If you decide to evacuate or are ordered to do so, don’t delay. Shut off the power, gas, and water to your home. Stay ahead of the masses of people who will evacuate. Hurricanes can cause significant damage for a hundred miles inland, but they are confined to a geographical path. You can get outside of that path if you act quickly. Make sure everyone in your family can connect with a family or friend far outside the disaster zone. In this way, if you are separated, you will be able to reconnect.
If you are in your home when the storm hits, make sure that you are in a low, interior room. Go to a safe area, such as an interior room, closet, or downstairs bathroom. Never go outside the protection of your home or shelter before there is confirmation that the storm has passed the area. Stay away from windows, skylights, and glass doors. Never go outside the protection of your home or shelter before there is confirmation that the storm has passed the area. The eye of the storm could create a temporary and deceptive lull, with high winds still approaching.
Your at-home kit must contain a minimum of a 3-day supply of water. That’s roughly 1 gallon per person, per day. I highly encourage people to have more water than that on hand. A bathtub emergency Waterbob, even liners, can allow you to fill the bathtub with around fifty to eighty gallons of emergency water. You should also know how to turn off the water flow to your water heater and have the tools necessary to tap this reserve of 20 to 60 gallons of water. Though it is likely completely safe to drink, it’s also at the right temperature to develop a bacterium known as legionella after a disaster. You may want to filter it or purify it if you feel it may have been tainted. Fortunately, with hurricanes, we can see them coming, so there is time to fill your water reserves. Even collapsible water containers can allow you to top up your water supply quickly. If you have to evacuate, competition for resources will be high. The water that surrounds you may be contaminated with chemicals or other waste materials. Having a personal filtration straw will be invaluable. Finally, freeze some water bottles in your refrigerator’s freezer and crank your refrigerator and freezer to its coldest setting. When the power goes out, the ice will keep your food colder for longer. As the ice melts, you will have clean water to drink.
All that said, every hurricane that hits results in people scrambling for cases of water. In extreme cases, people are sickened by drinking compromised water or dehydrated while sitting in floodwaters. With modern forecasting, we see the disaster of a hurricane days before it ever strikes. While others adopt a wait-and-see approach that leads to desperation later, secure your essential water resources right now–long before a tropical storm even appears on the maps.
With your water secured, you also need to have on hand enough non-perishable food that does not require cooking. Most hurricanes have a long build-up, a period of destruction, an aftermath, and a recovery. In some cases, like Katrina, the destruction can be so bad that much of the area is rendered uninhabitable, and the recovery effort is significantly delayed. While the Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends 72-hours of non-perishable food that does not require cooking, I think that’s the absolute minimum you should have. You would be better served to have at least two week’s worth of food on hand. A camping stove, rocket stove, or Kelly Kettle will allow you to purify water and cook small meals. The Kelly Kettle and the Minuteman rocket stoves will use just small amounts of biomass to boil or cook efficiently.
Without electricity or a cold source, food stored in refrigerators and freezers can become unsafe. Bacteria in food grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and if these foods are consumed, you can become very sick. You will want to raid your refrigerator and plan on eating or cooking what is in there in the early part of the disaster. Also, consider stocking up on ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, and vegetables. Freeze-dried foods will take up very little space but will provide you loads of nutrient diversity. Protein bars, powdered milk, and dried cereals will give you a feeling of fullness. You should consider two types of food: food that you can store in your home for surviving the aftermath of the hurricane and food you will need to take with you if you are forced to evacuate. If you are forced to evacuate, make sure you have at least 72-hours worth of food with you.
MAKE A KIT
With your water and food secured, you also need to make a kit. The basics for your kit are a battery-powered flashlight and radio and extra batteries, a first aid kit, and a minimum of a seven-day supply of any medicines you need to take regularly. Also, put a whistle, a dust mask, gloves, personal sanitation, hygiene items, a multi-tool, and maps of your area in your kit. Make copies of all necessary documents and identification cards and put them in a zip lock bag in your backpack. All of these items should be ready to go in your bug-out bag. I have several videos on what to include in your bag, and I will link to them in the comments below. Consult those videos for what you will need if the hurricane recovery doesn’t happen. Your kit should allow you to be self-sustaining for up to a week after any disaster.
If you have evacuated, return home only when it is safe to do so. Do not go through floodwaters to get to your home, as pollution and bacteria levels will be very high. Also, floodwaters can be deceptive, they may look shallow and slow-moving, but they can be deep, hide objects beneath them, and be very treacherous. Watch for downed power lines on your route home and when you arrive back at your house. Check for frayed wires around your home. Check your gas and electric connections before turning the power back on to avoid electrocution or explosions. Do not enter your home if water is still surrounding your home. Don’t eat food that has gone unrefrigerated. Don’t eat food from your garden if floodwaters have seeped into your soil. Consider boiling your water for a few days, even if no specific boil order has been issued. Typically, the deaths experienced during these types of disasters occur in the aftermath, not during the event itself. Be very careful during this period.
If there’s anything good about a hurricane, it is that you can see them approaching long before they show up at your door. Even knowing that many people fail to prepare until the very last moment. This leads to panic and desperation and can make a passing storm into a lasting disaster. If you live in any coastal region, prepare for the most likely disaster of a hurricane or tropical storm. Don’t be caught off guard. You will find that the preps you do put in place will get you through a host of other disasters, as well.
What do you think? What’s the one lesson you learned when you survived a hurricane? What do you wish you would have known?
As always, please stay safe out there.