Friday, August 1, 2014

Hurricane Preparedness: Riding it Out

Not actually Erin.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission. 
This is Part 3 of my "Hurricane Survival" series. Part 1 may be found here, and part 2 here

Today I talk about what you can do to maximize your chances while staying and riding out the storm -- which, let's be honest, is probably the best example of "bugging in" that exists without the corresponding SHTF that follows.

(I phrase it like that because if, post-hurricane, the feces really has hit the oscillator, you ought to have evacuated in the first place *coughKatrinacough*. Remember, the First Rule of surviving any crisis is "Don't be where the crisis is.")

Make Sure Your Home Is Not In a Flood Zone
Good news:  It's very easy to do this. Go to, enter your street address, and see what zone you're in based on the map.  Ideally, you want to be in Zone X, which means you have 0.2% or less chance of annual flooding, and if it does flood there will be less than 1 foot of water. Now, please note that a hurricane is not a flood, but it will give you an excellent idea of whether or not your home is in danger of water damage (either from storm surge or from the tons of rain that is being dumped) based upon the drainage conditions. 

Bad news: If your home is in a flood zone, you're kinda screwed. If you're lucky, you'll have access to earth-moving equipment and enough dirt to make a levee....

... but even then, that's not a guarantee it will work. Fortunately for you, the above picture is from the Mississippi River flood of 2011 and not a hurricane.  Depending on where you live, you may only need a few feet of sandbags to protect your property, in which case I recommend the EZ Bagger -- it takes a slow, back-breaking 2-person job and turns it into a fast, 1-person operation.  I've used it before (to prevent excess rain from flooding our porch) and it WORKS. 

I can't speak for other states, or even for other counties, but where I live the local Dept. of Public Works provides mountains of sand and free bags during the wet season -- all you have to do is go over there and fill them yourself. To be safe, investigate what your county does for hurricane season before one starts to roll in. 

If you live in a flood zone that's deeper than can be handled by mere sandbags, you should not be bugging in. GET OUT. 

Prepare For Rain - Lots and Lots of Rain
No, I mean LOTS. Think "Noah and the Flood" amounts of rain. Think "I can no longer see where I'm driving because the water is hitting the windshield so hard that everything whites out and the wipers can't keep up" lots. (Another good reason not to drive during a storm.)

Even if you're not in a flood plain, you can easily expect feet of water to be dumped on you during the course of a storm, and so sandbags are again a good idea to keep the water from getting onto your porch or creeping up under your door. If you have low points on your property -- ideally, some kind of drainage ditch or canal nearby -- you can dig trenches leading toward them and away from your home, but be careful that you aren't instead making a highway for rising water right up to your door.  Remember that with enough rain, sewers can back up and canals can rise.

Water will also find a way in through your roof and windows if possible. 
  • Inspect the caulk around windows and doors to see if the seal is still good. 
  • If you have drains or sump pumps, make sure they're in good working order. 
  • Read this article from DisasterSafety.Org titled "5 Ways to Protect Your Home From Water Damage During Hurricane Season" for more information.  (Heck, I'm going to be linking to this site a lot, so if you have the time, it's worth a read -- especially if you're handy with DIY.)

Protect Your Home Against Wind
There are two checklists here:  what to do before there's a storm (i.e. NOW) and what to do when it's bearing down on you.

Before a Storm
These are good things to do regardless of whether or not you intend to evacuate. The more of them you have done, the greater the likelihood that your home will survive the storm. You do want to come back, right?

When a Storm is Approaching
  1. Get all of the loose objects out of the yard and put them indoors if possible. Lawn furniture, backyard toys, and even cars can be picked up by the wind and slammed into your house. 
  2. Cover your windows. Ideally this should be done with metal shutters, but if you have to use plywood then follow these guidelines. This will help protect your home against the things you can't secure, like rocks or your neighbor's crap. 
  3. Windows that can't be shuttered (like decorative windowlets on doors) should be secured on both sides with the strongest duct tape possible. They might break, but hopefully the tape will keep them from falling apart. 
  4. I've never progressed past this point, having never actually experienced a hurricane strike. If any of my readers have, please let me know if there is more here that I should add. 

Inspect Your Bug-In Gear and Provisions
If you are extremely lucky, you'll only lose power for a few days and then life will return to normal. If you aren't, there's no telling when power and water will come back, so have at least a week's worth of food and water per person (including pets!) if you intend to bug in. 
  • Make sure you have enough water.  I recommend filling a WaterBOB before the storm hits as there is no telling how long it will take before water service resumes. 
  • Have a means of filtering or boiling water. There will likely be contamination of the water supply by the storm surge. Pairing a water filter (like a Katadyn Base Camp) with a means to heat it (like the Kelly Kettle) would be ideal for this. 
  • Have food you can open. Canned food does you no good if you have no can opener!
  • Have food you can prepare. A barbecue grill or a camp stove (I've reviewed several) will serve you well in this regard. 
  • If you have a dedicated freezer, here are two useful tricks:
    • Take some gallon jugs (like for milk), fill them nearly to the top (to give the water room to expand), and freeze them. Not only will these large ice cubes help keep your food cold for longer, but they will also be a handy source of water once they melt. 
    • Take frozen food and put it into heavy-duty trash bags.  That way if the food spoils, cleaning it up will be as simple as throwing the bag away. 
  • If you plan to use a generator, get fresh gas for it well before the storm hits. The day before is NOT the time to be gassing up!
  • Put fresh batteries into your flashlights and radios.  A radio that can pick up Weather Band as well as local AM/FM is ideal. 
  • Charge your cellphones that are text-capable. If you still have cell service after a disaster, the circuits are going to be crazy busy, and texts are more likely to go through than phone calls. Text your loved ones to let them know you're all right; save the actual phone frequencies for 911 calls. 
  • Keep a flashlight on your person at all times, or have flashlights or lanterns in every room (especially the bathrooms). 
  • Make sure your family knows where in the house to shelter if the roof comes loose or wind and water start to get into the house. If you have a room set up as a tornado shelter, use that. A bathroom without an external window is idea. 
  • Have your first-aid kit out and ready to use, but still protected from any wind or rain that might get in. Ideally, keep it in a centralized, safe location. 
  • Know where your electrical cut-offs are. 

Remember That You WILL Forget Things
I'm certain that I have forgotten a critical piece of advice. There's just so much to remember when it comes to riding out mother nature's fury. That's why I've provided you with these checklists -- so that you can look at them instead of having to remember it all.

But still, odds are good you'll forget something. Don't kick yourself over it; what's important is keeping a clear head through the crisis. Adapt, improvise, and overcome, and then learn from your mistake so you won't make it again the next time.

Now, everyone be safe this hurricane season, and let me know if there's anything I need to add!

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