Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hurricane Lessons: How to prepare for hurricane season

This is not intended to be a substitute for advice from FEMA, your state and local government, or the Red Cross. These are hints that other people have discovered, sometimes the hard way. The intention is to make you think while there is time to prepare. There is no mention in this list of such essentials as taking your important papers with you, including picture I.D.'s of your children. You have all seen on TV where law enforcement will not let people back into an area without proof that they live there, etc. No mention of what you should pack in the way of first aid. You know what you use. No mention of babies. No mention of packing your family treasures in case your house is destroyed.

This is the "common sense" that you might not think of while trying to prepare.

Vehicles: Fill vehicle gasoline tanks before the storm hits. Many service stations may not be able to reopen after the storm. And many may not have their credit/debit card systems working. After the announcement of a hurricane warning, if you're staying put and your car is on low ground, disconnect your battery or remove the fuse box. If you evacuate, take water with you for your radiator. Invest in an emergency tire inflator. Make sure your car has a spare tire, fully inflated. Keep your car tuned up.

Communications: Make sure you can charge your cel phone in your car using the cigarette lighter or have a portable charger. Make sure you have at least one phone that will work without electricity. Designate one member of the family outside the threatened area to be the "go to" person for communications. Invest in a radio that recharges with a hand crank. A few minutes of cranking will last for two hours. Grundig makes a good one. (There are many brands now, as of 2009.) Invest in a radio that will receive NOAA (weather) reports. Have fresh batteries on hand (or rechargeable batteries and a recharger. However, consider that most rechargers require electricity.)

Preparing your home: Fill empty gallon jugs (that have had drinks or vinegar in them) with water and fill all empty spaces in your refrigerator and freezer. The frozen or cold water will keep your refrigerator and freezer cool longer. And, you can drink the water as it thaws. Fill freezer with ice bags or freeze ice in a Bundt pan and turn the thermostat down in the freezer. This will buy time when/if the electricity goes out. Put all freezer items (especially raw meat like chicken) in large plastic garbage bags in the freezer. If the electricity is out for a while then when you come back you refrigerator is not ruined from the stench. Just simply lift garbage bags and throw out.

Have tarps in case your house loses shingles or part of the roof blows off. Keep limbs trimmed back from power lines. When unplugging and turning off items, turn off pool filters (do not drain pool). Clean your yard up of possible "flying missiles." Toss lawn/pool furniture into the pool to keep them from getting blown around.

**Have plywood around before the panic hits. Ideally, have it already cut and numbered to put up quickly. Have nails and screws as well as plywood.

Staying at home: If you choose to stay at home, visualize yourself and your family in the woods for a month, in a cabin without any facilities. What would you need, a typical day from start to finish, etc. Have plenty of bottled water to drink. Wells can become contaminated by floodwater and city water supplies may get shut off. Be sure your bathtubs will hold water. Fill your bathtubs and use the water for bathing and for flushing. If city water is off, you may not be able to flush but once without adding water. Remember, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down,” and conserve your water. If it's "yellow," you can add a small amount of bleach to take care of the odor.

**If you are careful to use the water for washing and toilet flushing, bleach bottles are good for storing that water and the water helps keep things “cleaner.”

Food: Make sure you have a week's supply of food that does not have to be refrigerated. If you grind your own coffee, grind some ahead of time in case you cannot run the grinder. Know how you’re going to brew coffee without electricity. Make sure you have a manual can opener. Make a list of foods your family will eat for several days that won’t spoil, such as bread, saltines, other crackers and cookies, peanut butter, jelly, cheese, small cans of meat or fish, etc, fruit. When you shop before a hurricane, the list will help you shop wisely. “Lunchables” kinds of meals work well, too. Fruit juice is good on cereal. Since fruit juice lasts longer without refrigeration, it is a good alternative to milk for breakfast. Milk in shelf-stable cardboard boxes is good. The milk doesn’t have to be refrigerated until the carton is opened. Keep an ice chest for emergencies. Refrigerators are not good at keeping foods cool for long periods without electricity. Cities and grocery stores may give out free ice after a devastating storm. Some ice chests are rated by the number of days they will stay cold.

Health: Make sure you have adequate prescription medication before the storm. If you must refrigerate medication, have a good cooler just for that.

Living without electricity: Have flashlights and batteries. For some uses, fluorescent lanterns using batteries are very good. (Coleman has some good ones). LED flashlights that get charged by shaking them are good to have.

**Candles (and matches) also come in handy for other ways than just light, including warming water – and the battery powered lights start becoming expensive when the power is off for a month or more! If you have a gas powered grill or stove, or a charcoal grill, you should have adequate fuel for a week (or more). If your neighbors cannot cook, offer to let them cook on your grill. There are grills that use gas, charcoal or electricity which gives you the best of all worlds – here's a good one:

If you have a generator, do not plug it into your home’s electrical system. It could put electricity onto the local grid and injure or kill a repairman. (No longer as true as it used to be. Repair people now "work smarter.") If you have a generator, be considerate of your neighbors as to the hours you run it. Be considerate with chain saws, too. Do not try to refill a generator with fuel while it is running or hot. Gasoline fires are very dangerous. If you ran your generator to prepare for Y2K and didn’t run all the gasoline out of it, you will not be able to start it. The shellac causes the same problem it causes in cars. Fix it now, before a hurricane hits. Consider what you can and cannot run with a generator. A microwave that’s wired straight into the wall cannot be plugged into a generator. (Incomplete information. It depends on how you configure your electricity going to the generator. You can get a panel with a switch to run selected circuits on the generator and not go outside the home on the utility wires.)

A solar-powered motion-detector outside security light can be placed in the house, with the solar charger in a south-facing window. The charger will charge during the day and turn on at night when someone is moving around. Especially good for stairways in the home with no lights.

Have water purification tablets, a disposable camera, plastic trash bags, insect repellent, a windup or battery clock. Put small boats in the garage, or tie down to trailer and then anchor trailer (some recommend letting air out of trailer tires). Unplug electrical stuff. Power spikes can wreak havoc with TVs, monitors, computers, etc, when the power is restored. Power may be restored for a few minutes and then cut off again. Be prepared for that.

Have a deck of cards, light reading matter, and simple games to amuse the household without electricity.

Have a big umbrella that the wind can’t turn inside out. It may be raining like cats and dogs, or it may be extremely hot, and you might be waiting in long lines for hours for ice and you will need the shade! Sunscreen and sunglasses are helpful, too.

Have cash on hand. ATMs may not be working for a long time. Stores might not take credit cards, etc. The "cash" should include a good supply of coins, quarters and dimes, for laundry, vending machines, or (if you can find one) a pay phone, etc.

**Open a window on the windward side and on the leeward side of your house. This will keep the air pressure the same and prevent windows from blowing out. Open the windows just a little, not enough to let rain in. (This is currently disputed by scientists, but many people still believe in it.)

Evacuating: Have a plan about where you will go. Don't just get in your car and start driving. (That happened during Katrina and there were people who just drove from town to town, sometimes backtracking, looking for a motel room.)

Have cash on hand. ATMs may not be working for a long time. Stores might not take credit cards, etc. The "cash" should include a good supply of coins, quarters and dimes, for laundry, vending machines, a pay phone, highway tolls. Take a sewing kit. Remember to pack the first aid items you use.

If you have "special needs" or are responsible for someone with "special needs," plan carefully and well in advance and consider evacuating before being ordered to. Know how you will recharge or replace oxygen tank batteries.

If you have pets, be prepared to take their food, water bowl, water, carriers, bedding, etc., with you when you evacuate, and find out beforehand what motels, etc., will accept pets. (Motels, campgrounds, etc., have gotten better about publicizing whether or not they accept pets.) If you have large animals, like horses, or a large boat, if you don't already have a plan, you're way behind!

Be prepared to have to spend a night in your car in a shopping center parking lot weathering the hurricane. Think of how you would plan and pack to "camp out" for a week.

Consider local shelters to be your last option.

And a suggestion about what to do with all those canned goods when the season is over: Consider the Thanksgiving food drives. If you buy a lot of single-serving stuff, give them to a friend who works with AIDS patients who still live at home.

If all else fails, move to Phoenix, Arizona, where dangerous weather is unheard of.

Great quote:

He said, "Man, we're over here eating vienna sausage and crackers and our neighbors invite us over for shrimp etouffee the first night, crawfish bisque the second night, gumbo the third night, spaghetti and meatballs the next night.... and I'm thinkin'.... damn.... we're barely survivin' and they're feastin' like kings. How can they afford to do this? Then it dawns on me.... they're eating from their freezer before it spoils!"


Everything with two asterisks carries risks or are of questionable value. Read up on them and make your decisions.

Be very, very careful to make sure there are no gas leaks before you strike a match.

Candles and oil lamps can, and do, cause house fires. Protect the candles with hurricane globes.

Plywood put over the windows is considered by some people to be a waste of time and money. Read up on the subject and make your decision. They're called "poor man's shutters." They do keep flying "missiles" from breaking your windows.

Opening windows on the windward side and leeward side is now considered to be dangerous. Read up on the subject and make your decision.

Storing water in bleach bottles is risky. Only you can decide whether or not your family will understand the risk and be careful.