Prepare For The Worst, Hope For The Best
Living in the Mid Atlantic means we've had more than our share of hurricane encounters. Most were nothing more than a reason to throw a hurricane party. But a few deserved more attention and preparation. Over the years, we've lost dozens of trees. Had minor flooding and kayaked through the front yard afterward. We've gone without power for almost two weeks. And have been unable to leave our home for days because of downed trees on primary roads. And it seems like recently there have been a lot more tornado warnings, whereas ten years ago there were none.
FEMA recommends that you be prepared to fend for yourself for 3-4 days following a disaster if you shelter in place. If you've paid attention to the aftermath of the 2017 hurricane season, you'll know you'll need to prepare for much longer. If you've lost power, most likely so did the grocery stores, gas stations, pump stations, etc. If there are downed trees in roadways, emergency services can't reach you; worse yet, communication towers may also be down. You may have to take care of a medical emergency alone. After we went without power for almost two weeks, we made two weeks our baseline for preparedness. We've fine-tuned how we prepare for a hurricane (which includes other disaster scenarios as well) and have made some small changes that benefit those preparations.
Around The House
- Faux Wood Blinds - These replaced all our mini-blinds. We installed them on all our windows as extra protection should strong winds or an object break a window. The blinds are fairly thick and would minimize the distribution of any shattered glass should the window break. We close all the blinds when there are tornado watches and as a hurricane passes over. The best prices I could find were on ebay. Here's a link to the ones we purchased => Faux Wood Window Blinds
- Outdoor Solar Lights = Indoor Lighing - In case of power outages we have hurricane lamps and oil, flashlights, and candles. They're all good in a pinch, but the flashlights need batteries if used continuously, and the lamps and candles can be a fire hazard. Now, our preferred source of indoor lighting, especially during the long, dark evenings without power, are solar lights. Not the special kind you buy just for power outages; just the regular outdoor solar lights used along walkways and as feature spotlights. They take up no storage room because they are already outside and in use. During a power outage, we just pull them off their posts and bring them inside. Three to four are plenty to keep a house nicely lit for several hours. The ones we bought have 8 LEDs and are 300 lumen strong, and ridiculously bright. We're definitely buying 2 more. Got them at Amazon if you're interested => Link
- Gas Grill With A Spare Propane Tank - If you don't already have a grill, here's another reason why you should buy one. If your gas grill is directly connected to your gas line, get a spare tank just in case the gas lines are turned off. The gas grill is such a nice convenience for cooking meals and boiling water during power outages. If you are preparing 3 meals a day, you'll need one tank per week.
- Organize The Backyard - This is probably the most mundane part of preparing around the house with which you'll receive the least amount of help, but it is also one of the most important things to do. When a tornado watch is issued out of the blue, the last thing you should be doing is running around outside trying to put away and secure loose objects (furniture, umbrellas, bikes, garden tools, flip the trampoline upside down, etc). And if a hurricane watch is issued, you already have a crazy list of things you need to do. Know in advance where everything should go if you had to prepare on short notice.
- Alternate Transportation - This is really for worst case scenario, and for doing things like getting to a water/food distribution location if you've run out of gas.
- Kayaks or canoes (if you can't drive due to flooding)
In The Pantry
As a hurricane passes through our region, we initially get high winds and torrential rains. A few hours later, the clouds part and there's nothing but calm, sunshine...and humidity. Lots and lots of humidity. It's humid outside but, without power, it's ten times worse inside. Any food not in a vaccum sealed bag or in a can doesn't stand a chance for long. So, if it's late August and you're preparing for a possible hurricane, please don't run to the grocery store (like you see everyone on TV doing) and stock up on milk, bread, meats and other perishables unless you plan to eat all of it right away.
Plan on buying things that you and your family already like (very important!), won't perish (think canned foods), is easy to prepare (fewer dishes to clean - doesn't require a lot of water to cook), and doesn't require a lot of cleanup (conserve your water). Don't buy 10 cans of beef stew unless you already know everyone likes it. If everyone hates it you'll be left with 9 cans of the stuff sitting on your shelves forever. Just buy extra cans of what everyone already likes, or test out new food items or recipes using canned goods before a storm hits.
Here are some additional tips and considerations:
- Canned Goods - I usually always stock up on two of everything I normally buy. But if a storm is approaching, I add a few things I don't normally buy. This includes canned fruits that eveyone normally prefers fresh (pineapple and pear are great), canned chicken, hearty soups and other canned items I can combine to make a decent meal. If you don't have a manual can opener, now is the time to get one. My favorite can opener => Zyliss Can Opener
- Coffee - With no power, the coffee maker won't work. But rather than suffering without, or buying a whole bag of instant coffee, buy individual instant coffee packets.
- Milk - Powdered milk is the best choice for us because I also use it when a recipe calls for milk but I'm out. Another option is boxed milk (milk in tetra packs) which doesn't need to be refrigerated while stored and has a fairly long shelf life.
- Eggs - We have chickens, so eggs are never an issue. If you have the option, buy local eggs that have not been refrigerated or washed (washing removes the protective cuticle of the egg). These eggs can be stored at room temperature for up to a week. Just be sure to give the egg shells a rinse with 10% bleach before handling, and thoroughly cook the eggs before serving.
- Bread - Bread is nice for the first day without power for making sandwiches out of all the lunch meats and cheeses in the fridge, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches later. But if it's super hot and humid, it tends to get that "smell"; you know, the one that means you'll be seeing mold soon. Instead, we buy pita bread, flour (or corn) tortillas, and crackers. They have a much longer shelf life.
- Favorite Beverages - Stock up. They'll get used whether or not there's a storm.
- Fast Food Condiment Packets - These are awesome. We use them for camping, picnics, boating, and whenever we run out of something. So instead of throwing out the extras, keep a variety on hand. We don't eat out often, but when we do ask for extras so that we can stock up on condiment packets. Our most used packets include:
- Coffee Creamer
- Jelly (for making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or pitas)
- Pancake syrup (somebody likes syrup on their scrambled eggs)
- Parmesan cheese (makes Spaghettios taste way better)
- Taco Seasoning packets (make chicken burritos or fajitas out of canned chicken, refried beans and tortillas)
Water really only became an issue once. We have city water, and that has rarely been impacted by hurricanes or other storms, except once. The city's sewage treatment plants and pump stations failed. Having fresh running water, bathing, and flushing toilets seem like a luxury once they're gone. FEMA recommends storing at least a gallon per person/per day. That doesn't include water for pets, cleaning, washing/bathing, or flushing. At just one gallon per day/per person, we would need 63 gallons of water. Since I've already stocked up on everyone's favorite juices and other beverages, I estimated we'd need half that (31 gallons). I add an 1/8 teaspoon of bleach per gallon just to make myself feel better.
To calculate how much water you'd need, based on FEMA's recommendations, you can use the How Much Water To Store For A Hurricane Calculator by Calculate-This.com.
So for water storage, we do the following:
- For flushing toilets if sewage systems fail - Bathtub filled with water and a one gallon bucket with which to pour and flush.
- For cleaning/hygiene/cooking - Two 50 quart coolers filled with water (25 gallons)
- For drinking (in addition to other beverages) - Eight 1-1/4 Collapsible Water Storage Jugs (eBay link to the type purchased) These are nice because they fold up and are stored in our disaster kit when not in use. I wash them with 10% bleach and let them fully dry before storing them away in the disaster kit.
Other Household Essentials
- Bleach, bleach and more bleach (to purify water, clean surfaces, kill mold if items get water damaged)
- Toilet paper
- Paper plates
- Paper cups and plastic utensils
- Dish detergent (can also be used to wash clothes if necessary)
- Disposable Wipes (These are a "must-have" item. Great for washing up when a shower isn't an option and also an alternative for toilet paper if you run out)
- Mosquito spray (Lots and lots of mosquito spray)
- You get the idea...
So What's In Your Wallet...Disaster Kit?
We actually have a disaster kit and individual "To Go Bags". The disaster kit is a permanent fixture in our hallway closet. The "To Go Bags" are more of a backup in case things get really bad and we can't stay in the house. We put those together a few days before a storm arrives. Should we have to leave the house our tentative plan would be to head further inland taking all our vehicles, supplies and pets, and return after the storm has passed. The "To Go Bags" would also make staying in a shelter more comfortable, if we had to do that. In addition to the primary "To Go Bag" everyone has their own backpack in which they put 2 changes of clothes and 5 days of undergarments, other essentials, and items they want to take. The primary "To Go Bag" (we use 2 bags) is put together with the following items:
Primary To Go Bag
- Originals and/or copies of all important documents (mortgage, bills, passports, pet vaccination records, etc). These are always in a ziplock so I can just grab it and toss it in on short notice.
- Medications - prescriptions, antibotics, topical antibiotics, allergy meds, OTC pain killer, anti-diarrhea, antacid
- Hygiene items - especially disposable wipes which are a blessing when you can't shower
- Mosquito spray
- First aid kit
- Rain ponchos (the clear kind in the tiny packaging) => Amazon Link
- Pillows and Blankets (compressed inside space bags)
- Manual Can opener
- Scissors and/or knife
- Paracord bracelet (just in case you need some rope) => Amazon
- Small Tarp (if you're in a shelter, you can make a privacy barrier; make a tent using the paracord etc).
- Camping air mattress with foot pump
- Beach or lawn chairs
- Three cans of food per person for 3 days
- Ziplock bags of dog food for 3 days
- Jar of peanut butter, pita bread, and jelly packets
- If you have personal protection, it would probably be a good idea to bring that along as well
- AM FM Radio
- Landline analog telephone (still works even if power is out)
- Collapsible Water Storage Jugs
- Small tarp
- Duct tape (fix anything or anyone)
- Solar phone charger - get one that's at least 10,000 mah.
- Basic tools
- Empty sandbags (enough to put in front of crawlspace openings and doors; we fill them later with sand or dirt if water levels rise near the house)
Why Not Just Get A Generator?
We have a generator, and even though we only used it to keep the refrigorator running during the worst hurricane, we went through 40 gallons of gas faster than expected. With no remaining gas and all the gas stations closed because of the power outage, the generator was only useful for a short time. Conserving gas for the cars was more important. The generator was great for the period of time we could use it, but now our focus is on not relying on it. We've actually started researching solar power as an alternative.
Family Communication Planning
We have a pretty hectic household, so getting everyone on the same page takes some planning. If something bad were to unexpectedly happen in the middle of a weekday, we would all be miles apart. The primary goal would be for everyone to make their way home from work or school. Communication is the key. First method to try to reach everyone would be cell phones, then texts. Social media if the internet still works. If all communications fail (phone lines and cell towers down), and getting home isn't an option due to road conditions, etc, everyone is told to go to the nearest shelter or school until things settle down. From there, we'll work on getting everyone home where we're ready to ride things out.
The more prepared we are, the better we can help those that aren't.