Hurricane Irma, already a powerful storm, is steaming its way towards the Caribbean and the U.S. East Coast. With Texas and Louisiana still reeling in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, it’s just one more reason to always be prepared for disasters.
You only have to read the news to know that hurricanes are dangerous, but they don’t have to be life-threatening for those who prepare. Unlike tornadoes, which can pop up suddenly, hurricanes are first identified when they are hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. We can watch their development and have a good idea of how bad the situation might become and how much time we have to get ready.
Even before it’s clear that your area is in danger of being hit by the storm, you should have considered factors like food, water, power, and shelter. Here are a few (actually, 28!) tips to help those preparing for the worst, while hoping for the best:
GETTING OUT OF DODGE
Make a G.O.O.D. (Get Out Of Dodge) decision: Rugged individualists may want to ride out the storm, but as we learned from Harvey, coastal residents would be best served by hitting the road. When the authorities say it’s time to evacuate, you should be ready to go. Don’t forget to turn off the power, gas, and water before you leave.
Head Inland: Hurricanes gain their strength over warm ocean waters, and lose strength quickly as they get further into the interior. Therefore, the further inland you go, the safer you’ll be.
Have a “GO” bag: Always have a set of supplies ready to take with you on short notice. Non-perishable food, bottled water, extra clothing, flashlights and batteries, a NOAA weather radio, medicines, and a first aid kit are just a few of the items you should have ready at all times.
(you might see recommendations online to have a 72-hour supply, but this figure is arbitrary. A week’s worth would be even better.)
Have a portable cell phone charger: Communication is important, so have a car charger or other mobile method to power up the phone. Consider a small solar charger kit, like Goal Zero Venture 30 Solar Recharging Kit.
Have cash on hand: One power shortage you don’t want to experience is the loss of purchasing power. Power for credit card verification could be down after a hurricane; keep some cash on hand. Have small bills to prevent needing cash back that the store may not have available.
Let’s say you haven’t received an evacuation order, and you’re going to ride out the storm in place. Here are some considerations you want to take into account:
Without shelter, you’re at greater risk for a bad outcome in a hurricane. If you can’t leave the area, find a sturdy haven from the storm. Most buildings are required to withstand at least 90 mph winds (125 mph in South Florida), but for the strongest hurricanes, it’s best to find the nearest municipal shelter. f there isn’t time, most coastal municipalities will have designated a sturdy building as a hurricane shelter.
Put Up The Shutters: If you have hurricane shutters, put them up at least 24 hours before hurricane landfall. It’s no fun to have to stand on a ladder in gale force winds and pouring rain to install them. Been there, done that.
Move Furniture/Plants Inside: Move the patio furniture and potted plants indoors. If you can’t, chain them together against an outer wall downwind from the direction of the storm.
Prune Trees: Prune all trees near your home so that wind can easily flow through the crowns. Otherwise, expect some to be downed by the storm. Branches, fruit (in South Florida, coconuts!), and other debris can act as missiles in high winds.
Pick a “Safe Room”: If you have a basement, good for you. If not, choose a room in the interior of the home, preferably one without windows. Get the storm supplies into this area for safe keeping. Put a sharp axe in this room in case you must get out through the roof in a severe flooding.
Place candles in pans: Candles are handy, but they can be knocked over by winds and cause fires. If you must use them, stick them in a pan with shiny sides that would be deep enough to cover the flame.
Have Tarps at the Ready: Large tarps can be used to cover windows and, after the storm, to cover any areas of the roof that might have been damaged. Keep extra rolls of plastic sheeting and duct tape to secure broken windows or doors.
Come to the local municipal shelter with a full stomach, blankets, and a favorite pillow: Meals and other comforts may be limited in supply. Supplies for that infant or toddler, like diapers and formula, will likely be scarce. Also, inquire as to whether the county shelter accepts and has supplies for pets.
Keep it Cold: Have the refrigerator and freezer down to their coldest settings so that food will stay fresh longer. Go shopping as early as possible and get non-perishable food items as staples for long-term.
Collect Ice: Collect ice in plastic bags or empty plastic containers and place them among refrigerated foods to prolong freshness. Empty plastic soda bottles/milk jugs will do in a pinch. The fuller the fridge is with ice, the longer the items in it will stay cool.
Wrap It in Foil: Wrap food items in aluminum foil, eliminating air pockets, and cram the foil packs together as closely as possible.
Cook ‘Em and Freeze ‘Em: Cook meats before the hurricane gets close and freeze them. As cooking requires fuel, have some full propane tanks or charcoal briquettes in your supplies for when the power goes out.
Eat the Perishables Now: Eat the perishable food first, canned foods later. Make sure to have a manual can opener, paper plates, cups and plastic utensils. Have a plan so you can cook food and boil water after the storm and the electricity is out. Fuel (as mentioned above), a small portable stove or grill and appropriate pans will be needed.
Keep It Closed: Don’t leave the refrigerator door open while deciding what food to take out. Visualize where a particular item is and then open the door. Close it as quickly as possible.
Water, Water everywhere: Have a stockpile of 5-gallon bottles of water or a plentiful supply of smaller bottles. After the storm, don’t expect that flood waters will be clean enough to drink.
Fill the Tub: Fill all bathtubs with water. You might think this is overkill, but every member of your family needs 1 gallon of water per day. It goes fast, even faster if you use it to keep clean.
Drink the Melted Ice: As the ice you refrigerated in containers melts, don’t waste it. Use it as an additional source of drinking water.
Hot Water Heaters Hold…Water!: Hot water heaters have gallons and gallons of drinkable water; don’t hesitate to raid them if you get low. First, turn off the electricity or gas. Attach a hose to the drain valve and release the vacuum in the tank by opening a hot water faucet. There might be some sediment at the bottom that should be filtered or drained out first.
Purify It: Have some household bleach available to purify questionable water (like from the water heater). 12-16 drops per gallon should do the job. It takes a while, so wait 30 minutes before drinking, shaking the water container to aerate will make the water taste better.
Have A Water Filter: Handheld filters like the Lifestraw or Sawyer Mini, or larger ones like the Berkey can be useful to deal with cloudy water. Using a cotton cloth will help get out the dirt and debris before using the commercial filter.
OTHER IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS
The Kids: Have board games, toys, and books to keep the children’s minds off scary winds. If you’re evacuating, let kids bring their favorite stuffed animals, blanket, or pillow to keep them calm. Give each child their own flashlight to use.
Your Other Kids: Don’t forget to take into account the needs of your pets. Have food, water, and their favorite toy available, whether you leave or stay at home.
Your Other, Other Kid: Make sure your car is in good working order and filled with gas. Already, there’s a run on gas at South Florida gas stations in advance of Hurricane Irma. An extra supply in gas cans will be useful in case of a shortage at the pumps, and can be used to run generators (although never inside).
Important Documents: Place important papers like birth certificates, passports, insurance documents, and others in waterproof containers. Scan them and send them in an email to yourself and keep a few memory sticks in waterproof bags in different areas of the house, a safe and/or on yourself.
Keep The Radio On: A NOAA weather radio, battery-powered, solar powered or hand-cranked, will be an important source of information on the progress of the storm, and for community updates. Have solar or battery powered flashlights (and extra batteries) and lanterns (inflatable ones are very safe).
No Outside Selfies During The Storm! A number of preventable deaths occur during or in the early aftermath of a hurricane due to foolish choices. Flood waters, downed power lines, and high winds are just some of the ways that lives end unnecessarily.
Being prepared for a hurricane can make sure that a hurricane is just a bump in the road, and not the end of the road for you and your family. Have a plan of action, get some supplies, use your common sense, and you’ll weather the storm.
Joe Alton MD
Find out more about disasters (natural and man-made) with the 700 page Third Edition of the Survival Medicine Handbook: The Essential Guide for When Medical Help is Not on the Way. And don’t forget to fill those holes in your medical supplies by checking out Nurse Amy’s entire line of kits and supplies at store.doomandbloom.net.