My family used to vacation in the Outer Banks when I was growing up. We spent several weeks in August there each year. It was a wonderful place for vacationing however August was the beginning of hurricane season down there. We never evacuated for a hurricane, never. Never. At the hint of a hurricane my aunt, uncle and family would leave. We would tease them, but they always left. I don't remember a Category 3, 4 or 5 ever hitting while we were there but I do remember Category 1s and 2s all the time. We survived them all unscathed and never had any real damage. Yes there was lots of wind, rain, and flooding, but no damage.
My family isn't scared of hurricanes. We typically don't evacuate unless absolutely necessary. I suspect that those who live in Florida and even on the coast of Texas have a similar experience and similar thought processes when it comes to hurricanes.
Harvey wasn't as massive, nor a higher wind storm but it stuck around in the same spot for days on end. Massive flooding occurred. Most hurricanes move through, albeit slowly sometimes but they move on. Harvey didn't follow those guidelines. It just stayed and stayed and stayed!
Irma was "impressive" to say the least. It was a cat 5 storm. It was HUGE, over 400 miles in diameter, and it was tracking to cover all of Florida. Many residents decided to evacuate because of the enormity of the storm. Some chose to stay and hunker down and ride it out. Houses down there are built for storms.
Last week the track of Irma looked like it would turn and go up the east coast. This gave those on the west coast a bit of relief and they relaxed a bit. However just before the storm hit the track changed and those on the west coast would be hit instead of east coast. This was a major change and required a quick decision as to what those on the west coast would do. Stay and ride it out or evacuate if they could.
Those who chose to go didn't have time to do much more than "grab and go". This was a big real life lesson.
Lesson #1: Bug out Bags
When prepping for a storm in which you plan to remain and shelter in place, one still must pack a Bug Out Bag.
This should be done during the prep stage of the storm. There may be no time to pack when it comes down to evacuating. I have listed some items that you will need to pack.
All members of the household must have their own bag or back pack. Even pack one for the pets.
- 3 days worth of clothing, don't worry about pjs - just the bare basics
- 3 days worth of water,
- 3 days worth of food,
- toiletries including toilet paper, a trash bag, first aid kit
- electronics, cords, batteries, and chargers (charge up all chargers and electronics and keep them charged until the time comes to bug out or no power) flashlights
- emergency info, numbers, papers, etc. thumb drives with back-up files, photos, etc
- Any additional special items that you can't live without.
- Rain gear (ponchos are awesome and easy to pack) plus you can put your backpack under it to keep it dry, use as a ground cover, or a drop cloth.
- for pets, leash and a spare, papers to prove shots and health info, food, water, bowls, blanket or towel for them to sleep on, a crate or cage.
- for kids, ask them what two or three toys or items that they must have with them (stuffed animal, toy or game to keep them busy)
These packs should be packed and ready to go in a moment's notice, all in one place. Put your shoes on or keep them next to the packs so you don't have to go look for anything in case you have to leave quickly. Some of these items can even be put in the car ahead of time so you don't have to worry about packing it when the times comes to "bug out".
Lesson #2: Emergency Shelters
Prior to the storm contact emergency officials and ask where the local shelters are and what requirements they have. If you have pets, ask what requirements they need for pets. Many shelters in Florida required proof of shots and the pets all had to be in a cage/carrier that you had to bring with you. Many residents didn't have cages and couldn't bring their pets. It would be horrible to get there and be turned away because your pet doesn't meet the requirements.
Lesson #3: Weather Updates
Prior to the storm contact a friend or family member and let them know your plans and options if you need to leave or move to another place. Also ask them to keep you informed of weather updates once your power goes out. Also have an emergency weather radio or battery powered radio where you can get up to the minute weather information for the locality where you are. If you have a weather radio know how to reprogram it for the locality you have to move to if you have to move locations. A friend can text you information from far away as now most major news channels run towards the major severe storm. This can also be a very important connection to help you weather the storm and keep your sanity about you. You can be very scared and make poor decisions in the midst of a severe storm and bouncing your ideas off a friend who may be able to help you sort through your fears is helpful.
Lesson #4: Never too many battery chargers
Your cell phone may be your only lifeline to the outside world. You can burn through your battery power quickly in an emergency. So have LOTS of battery chargers available and ready to use. Your kids may feel comfort using their tech to play a game and keep their minds off being scared and your batteries will wear down quickly. Texting uses less battery power than an actual phone call or video chatting or playing a game. Reserve your power as best you can by turning off all apps that run in the background other than the ones you need, like weather apps, texting ability, etc. Quicker charging can be done if you turn your phone off to charge or if you turn your phone to "airplane mode". If you don't know how to turn off apps, take some time prior to the storm to learn or have someone teach you. Once the storm is over you may not have the ability to recharge using electricity. Purchase a good quality solar battery charger.
Lesson #5: Evacuation
Florida is a unique place in many ways, but it is similar to other places in many ways. If you think about how you will evacuate your area most localities have one or two main highways heading into and leaving your area. Think about everyone in your locality leaving at the same time. Massive backups, traffic accidents, gas shortages. There is nothing worse than sitting in a 5 hour back up and running out of gas on the highway. Have a plan ahead of time and then if you are evacuating do it early. I can't preach this enough. A short 2 hour trip may take 3 or 4 times as long with massive traffic. Pack your patience and lots of snacks, drinks, and expect massive delays.
Lesson #6: Stocking Up
Most people do not have a store of emergency supplies, so when the time comes where a storm is predicted people run out to their local stores and start gathering the supplies they need. The stores don't have time to have shipments of emergency supplies come in prior to a storm so they run out of the supplies you need quickly. The first things off the shelves are flashlights, batteries, bread, milk, peanut butter, snack foods, tarps, generators, etc. Many of these items can be used over and over again like flashlights. Have a central location in your home where you store your emergency supplies and frequently check on your supplies for working ability so that these are things you don't need to worry about getting at the time of a storm. If you are going to need plywood to board up your windows then keep a stock of plywood somewhere in your garage or under a protective covering so that you don't need to run out to get that. Food is another situation however you can still stock up and keep a "stash" of foods that you can cook or eat without cooking when storms hit. One rule I use is that the first time I hear of a storm potentially impacting our area I hit the grocery store and purchase foods prior to the "panic" of the rest of my neighbors. Many times the storm doesn't impact us but we will still use the food I purchased. It won't go to waste. I don't buy "special" food for a storm.
For us, I try to do a review of my supplies a couple times a year and prepare for that season's needs. We use batteries all the time, so when I see that we are starting to get low I will stock up. Storm or no storm. If I find that a flashlight isn't working properly, I purchase a new one.
The big lesson here is stock up early. Fill all cars with gas. Be ready for the worst, hope for the best.
Lesson #7: The Aftermath
The storm is one thing. The impact can be major but you need to prepare for the aftermath also. Check on your neighbors, friends and family who were also impacted. Make sure they are safe and well. Make sure you have cleaning supplies, lots of towels, rags, bleach, trash bags, etc., for potential flooding or damage. Flooding can be many days. Have a plan for the trash, household goods that got ruined, and how you will deal with the clean up. Start making a list of all the ruined items to turn into your insurance company. Have a list of people you can contact to help you.
If you didn't have flooding but major damage to your home, you may need a long term plan for shelter while your home is being repaired.
At the very least you may have to deal with no electricity for days on end. Do you have an alternative cooking method, alternative lighting methods, alternative battery charging methods? Having no electricity can be quite frustrating. One of the first things most people do after the storm is go out and try to find a restaurant that is open. Don't expect it. Plan to be able to feed yourself for several days at least after the storm. If you live in a warm climate ICE may be tops on your list of items you need. Try to plan for that too. Make extra ice prior to the storm. Buy ice prior to the storm. Store it in coolers, your fridge and freezers. Having no power is a great way to clean out your fridge and freezer ;)
It is always good to look back and reflect. Every storm is slightly different and we can learn from them all so we are better prepared next time.
Have a great day. Be safe!