Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Disaster preparation from the frontline

Jane of Chilly Hollow has often asked me to talk about what I do to prepare for an approaching hurricane.  I really don't like to think too much about that, but reluctantly I will give the following suggestions.

Some things you do weeks in advance, just general preparation.  Other things you do when the threat is imminent.  

Unlike other natural disasters (like derechos), you have time to prepare.  

General preparation falls into three categories.  Are you leaving the area totally, are you moving to a shelter or are you staying in your home. 
    If you are evacuating, there are steps you must go through.  You must close your home (condominium/house) with hurricane shutters or plywood on the windows. Forget taping windows.  It just means they break in large pieces and removing sunbaked tape is a real pain.   You must also put all lawn furniture and other loose items inside your home.  Be sure to have all prescriptions with you.  Also, have your car full of gas and have at least 400 to 1000 dollars with you because the electricity goes off and you cannot pump gas or get money from ATMs.  If you have a gas barbecue, put it in your garage. You can't leave it outside because it could become a projectile. Leave early enough that you aren't caught in miles and miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic.  And if you're in Vero Beach, don't go to Orlando (in 2004, 4 hurricanes went over Orlando, two  from each coast and two that had gone over Vero).  Try to leave early enough that you can get to Jacksonville or Atlanta or Charlotte.  Have your important papers with you, like your insurance papers, checkbook and anything else you might need if your house is totally gone (remember Hurricane Andrew where the only thing for blocks was the concrete slab on which houses had been built.  No street signs, no nothing.)  Plan for the worst and pray for the best.

    Moving to a shelter--you must still make your home hurricane-ready.  See instructions for evacuating.  You must bring with you to the shelter your medicines and bedding.  They provide a physical cot and some food, but everything else is up to you.  You only go to a shelter as a last resort. And often, you must  check if you can bring any pets.  Usually only a last resort if you live in a trailer or are physically impaired.  It isn't a lot of fun to try to sleep in a gymnasium with gobs of strangers.

     Staying at home--I have always stayed in my home because of Needle Nicely.  If you evacuate, there is often a time-lapse before you can come home--usually they won't let you 'in' until the power is back on.   I need to be here to check immediately (a relative term--immediately after the authorities say you can check on your property.  Which may be several days after the end of the hurricane).  I have learned to always have a supply of various types of batteries.  I also have lantern-types of flashlights (better than regular flashlights because they give light over a larger area).  And I have candles.  I also have an extra propane tank for my grill (this is for my husband and myself--if I had a larger family I would have 4 or more extra tanks).  I have a radio with batteries so I can listen to reports while the power is out.  I also have a landline telephone that plugs in (not a a cordless) that will work when the power is off.  Often, after a hurricane the authorities commandeer cell phone towers for emergency use and cell phones don't work.  Buy ice.  Have a cooler.  Don't open your refrigerator or freezer unless absolutely necessary.  The food will last for at least 3 or 4 or more days in your freezer.  Cook some food ahead that tastes good cold--I always barbecue chicken wings and thighs  Also, buy things that can be eaten without cooking.  It's amazing how long it takes water to boil on a gas grill.  Things like canned meats such as sardines  or tuna fish and pop-tarts are good (although I personally have never tasted a pop-tart, supposedly it was a top-selling item in the 2005 and 2004 hurricanes in Florida).  I just realized that hard-boiled eggs would be a good idea (you can eat them as-is or make egg salad or any number of things). 

    Since our 2004-5 spate of hurricanes, Florida has mandated that many businesses have generators (like grocery chains and gas stations).  If you get out early in the morning, you can buy ice if you know where to go.  Sometimes the authorities announce it.  I prefer to buy my own early in the morning (like at 7am) before lines form. It's amazing that people aren't working, but very few can get out early to obtain supplies.   Certainly ice, water, and some food can be free from certain agencies if you stand in line for them.   I leave the free ice or the "meals ready to eat" for the people who cannot pay for them.

So many traffic lights were blown away in our 2004-5 hurricanes, now when one is coming, the authorities take them down at least a day in advance.  I don't remember how much the traffic lights and stop sign replacements cost, but it took several months to obtain supplies to replace all of them.  There is a curfew in place when the electricity is out.  That includes no sales of alcoholic beverages. Bummer.

In the shop, as I've mentioned, I already have packed the rug canvases into 6 large plastic bins (I usually sell a lot of rugs).  I have other plastic bins for the Christmas stockings and Christmas ornaments, but I don't pack them away until a storm is imminent.  I put all of the pillow models in large black trash bags, the tops tied shut.  I tape trash bags to the canvas racks so they hang down over the edges of the canvas hangers.  That way if there is a leak, the water will run down the trash bags without hitting the canvases.  I also do a last-minute look at the hanging canvases to be sure none are touching the floor or that no canvas threads are close to the floor (to prevent wicking).  I write up all of customers' finishing and get it shipped to finishers, trying to get it safe before the storm.  I also call finishers to warn them not to ship to me.  It amazes me that people in California or New York are often unaware that a hurricane is poised to hit Florida, so I've learned to make the phone calls.  When Katrina was imminent I sent belts to my belt finisher, not realizing that UPS would route them through New Orleans.  They sat in a warehouse for over 3 weeks before UPS managed to send them on to the finisher.  But at least the warehouse wasn't damaged.

There was a program on television the other night talking up hurricane preparedness.  One statistic that will stay with me for a long time is that only 25% of the businesses that are damaged in hurricanes ever reopen.  That is horrifying to a small business owner.

So keep your fingers crossed for all of us.  May we all dodge the weather bullet this year and for years to come.


  1. You're reminding me of my time in Los Angeles. We had to be ready *always*. Life is an adventure!

    1. Anna, sometimes life is definitely more of an adventure than I prefer. This morning the weather people started talking about a tropical depression and I started twitching. I'm one of the world's worriers (my husband is more philosophical--he slept through much of Hurricane Jeanne and fortunately I didn't murder him for it!).

  2. Thank you, Mary Agnes. I've always wondered just how things are different in Florida when a disaster is coming than they are in CH. We never bother with cash as going anywhere is usually not in the cards. (Our disasters are floods, ice storms and heavy snow.) Flooding isn't an issue with our house although we have tarps ready in case of roof damage. The flooding or fallen trees cut the road but our house is way up above the road. Medications and enough canned food and dog food for at least two weeks is mandatory as is a cord (at least) of wood for the wood stove. Matches, batteries and bottled water are always stockpiled here and we have a crank radio but it is pretty useless since getting a signal is chancy at the best of times. We have two old stye plug in phones since cordless phones don't work when the power goes out and cell phones don't work here. And of course there are no emergency shelters or any other government services here so if I can get out to buy ice, I do. I also know where to get water to flush the toilets and have drywall buckets especially for hauling water.. Gas for the chain saw, diesel for the tractor and propane for the furnace are kept topped up as much as possible. I also fill the gas tank of the cars when bad weather is predicted. But I don't have a business to worry about. Here's to decent weather for decades to come!

  3. Jane, your comment reminded me that I always fill the bathtubs (2) with water because that's what I was taught when I was young in MD. In FL we have never lost water even without power for over a week. My husband from NYC laughs at me every time he hears the water running into the tubs. Old habits die hard! Mary Agnes

  4. My husband is not fond of the water in the bathrub routine, so I often don't do that when we know a disaster is on the way. Of course when the power was out from Friday to Monday last month we had no warning (the weather here was just a few thunderstorms but it knocked out power all over the Shenandoah Valley) and I had to drive 8 miles to the fairgrounds and fill buckets with water from their well, then drive them home and lug them up the stairs so I could flush the toilets! You can be sure the next time we have warning, that bathrub will be full!