Getting prepared for a hurricane

Typically when people hear the word “prepper”, they think of crazy rednecks storing ammo and food in underground bunkers bracing for the zombie apocalypse. While there is certainly some truth to the stereotype, most “preppers” are just normal people with forethought. People who acknowledge and accept there is risk and danger in the world, and prepare accordingly so when bad things happen the experience isn’t as painful and the recovery is faster. It’s the reason for wearing seat belts, for having insurance, for having smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. It’s the old adage of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

We Texans are still dealing with the after-effects of Hurricane Harvey. Now Hurricane Irma – the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever – is destroying the Caribbean, and on its way to Florida.

The time to prepare is now.

Time is your most important factor. You can use it to your advantage, or to your detriment. The sooner you take positive action towards improving your situation, the more you work to be ahead of the masses, the easier and better things will be for you. If you wait until the last minute, you’ll be competing with the crowds for scarce resources and that won’t be fun.

As a simple example, my wife and I started hearing about Harvey early in the week. We immediately went into action, doing extra grocery shopping, scrubbing the bathtubs to fill with water, fueling up all the vehicles, etc.. All store shelves were stocked, no lines at the gas pumps, no pressure, no nothing. We were even able to order a few things off Amazon Prime and bought a few movies in the iTunes Store. It was a fairly stress-free run up to Harvey’s landfall. But we had many friends that waited until the last minute, dealt with shortages, long lines at the store, and just a general no-fun time. Use time to your advantage.

Things to do

One could write volumes about preparedness – it’s a deep and broad topic. But now is not the time to study deeply, now is the time to take what actions you can.

An colleague of mine, Mark Luell, posted a good list of immediately actionable items to Facebook. I’ve used that list as a starting point, elaborated on a few points, made some edits and additions.

  1. For a big storm, it’s good to have enough water to drink for 7 days. The water does not have to be bottled. You can simply buy water containers and fill them with tap water. A general guideline is 1 gallon per person per day, but that’s only a guideline. For example, if you opt to use freeze-dried food, you will need more water to handle the food rehydration (in addition to drinking). When in doubt, opt for more water.
  2. Fill your bathtub with water. If your bathtub leaks or slowly drains, get a large plastic sheet to line the tub. You can use this water to flush the toilet (pour a scoop of water into the toilet bowl), and for basic cleaning.
  3. Have enough food on hand to eat for 7 days. Food bars and other packaged food can be good. Consider how the food would be prepared and how your means of preparation work. If electricity goes out, freezers will melt, refrigerators will warm, food can spoil, microwave ovens won’t work, etc.. Have food that can survive at room temperature (e.g. canned goods), and be eaten without much prep. Gas stoves are useful; don’t forget the matches. It won’t be gourmet, but you’ll live. Oh, and don’t forget a hand-operated manual can-opener.
  4. Don’t forget your pets. Make sure they will have enough food and water. Other things, like litter or how puppy will go to the bathroom. Gather up any vet records that may be necessary in case they have to be kenneled/sheltered.
  5. Buy a large number of Ziploc-like plastic bags, both large and small. You’ll use them to protect papers and other valuables. Also, you can fill them 3/4 full of water, then stuff your freezer full. Do this early to ensure they are frozen by the time the hurricane hits (and power goes out). What keeps our refrigerators and freezers cold is the thermal mass within — an empty fridge will get warmer faster, so having more stuff in there to retain cold is good. And these will eventually provide another source of water too. BTW, do not set your fridge to the lowest setting.
  6. If you have ice makers, do the same thing. Put the ice in freezer bags, fill space in your freezer. Let the ice makers run and keep doing this.
  7. You can also use up your perishables now to make more room for these “fillers”.
  8. Get a portable radio that receives AM and FM. NOAA weather radio is good too, but may not always have information on evacuations and other instructions. Batteries are good. And they do make “survival radios” that have things like hand cranks so the radio can function if the batteries go out. Some of these also have ports that let you plug in your phone so you can sit there and crank away and slowly charge your phone.
  9. Get LED flashlights and batteries. Lanterns are nice too, so you can light a room and set the lighting on a table (instead of always having to hold it). Headlamps are useful too. Oh yeah, did I say you need batteries? Don’t skimp; get quality ones. Make sure all lamps/lights are working, with fresh batteries, and then staged in well-established locations so you can find them in the dark if needed.
  10. We live life on our mobile phones. How will you keep yours running? Again, one of the hand-crank radios can help, but they are slow. There are battery packs and other solutions, like Goal Zero products.
  11. Get large plastic bags. They are invaluable for keeping things dry.
  12. Get large plastic boxes. If you put valuables, photos, papers, inside plastic bags inside plastic boxes, they have a better chance of weathering the storm.
  13. Get plastic sheeting and plenty of duct tape. Gorilla Tape sticks pretty darn well. Don’t get cheap stuff that sticks to nothing, especially when wet.
  14. Do your laundry, now.
  15. Fill up all vehicles with gas. Check tires. Check oil. Check other fluids. Make sure your vehicles are running well.
  16. Get cash. Credit card networks may well be down. ATMs may be empty due to a rush. Cash to buy gas, tolls, food, whatever you might need.
  17. Important documents can be screenshotted (just put them on the table and snap a pic with your phone), then emailed to yourself or saved in a safe could storage (e.g. Dropbox). Originals can be sealed in plastic bags and taken with you.
  18. If you have to evacuate, what is your plan? Where are you going to go? Are you certain you’ll be able to get there? Are you certain you’ll have room/board once you arrive? Be sure these plans are shared with family and friends.
  19. If you have any heirlooms that you can’t part with, do what you can to preserve them. Again, putting in plastic bags and boxes, putting them in a high place (e.g. second story), etc..
  20. If you have firearms, ensure they are properly secured.
  21. Consider putting old rags and towels on windowsills. Water can seep in because of rain and wind pressure.
  22. If you have shutters or need to take care of things outside the house, do so NOW. Bring things in, secure things down. The sooner you do this, the more time you have to handle it if things go wrong and/or if you need to get additional supplies.
  23. Do you have enough of any medications to get you through an extended period? If any medications need refrigeration, what steps can you take to ensure they will be alright?
  24. Ensure you have enough feminine hygiene products to get through.
  25. Don’t be afraid to leave, if that’s the best course of action. Trust your gut. Yes it’s hard to leave home, but it is just “stuff” — your life is more important. And again, the sooner you take this action the better, because if you leave when everyone else opts to leave then the roads will be jammed, gas will be harder to come by, etc..

Look at your life and lifestyle. Yes it will have to be abridged, but with some forethought and creative planning, you can make things work. For example, you may not use dry shampoo or take sponge baths, but that may be how you get through an extended period of no power and water.

Also, you may feel totally overwhelmed, like you can’t do it all and you need to do more. That’s ok, that’s normal. Do what you can. Every bit that you do improves your situation. After it’s over, you’ll see where you can improve and that will be the time to work on those areas so next time you’ll be even better prepared.

Consider as well, if you do all of these things and nothing comes of it? What was the harm? We braced ourselves for Hurricane Harvey because all forecasts were pointing to Austin getting hammered. But then as the storm grew closer, the track changed and Austin narrowly missed serious pain (but just 1 county to the east got hit hard). So we lucked out. Did preparation cause any pain or problem for my family? Not really. In fact, a lot of the additional food and water we just turned around and donated to the relief efforts. As well, some of the preps got us better situated for the next thing that may happen (e.g. I bought a new weather radio because the old one was dying, and this new one has a USB port).

Preparation doesn’t have to take a lot of work. The more you think about it, the more you do it, the more it just becomes part of your lifestyle and general mode of living. It brings a great deal of peace of mind, and that’s something we all appreciate. But the trick is that you can’t put this off — start now.

4 thoughts on “Getting prepared for a hurricane

  1. I really enjoy your Blog. This is a great list, the only things I might add would be diapers and baby wipes. The wipes can be used for alot more than diaper changes. If the diaper packs aren’t waterproof transfer to zip locks. I Love Zip Loc bags!

    • Good point! I actually picked up some during our Harvey prep — very handy for sure. Thanx for reminding me!

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