Advice on Hurricane Preparedness From a Houstonian
I have lived on the Gulf Coast of Texas for almost all of my life, and Houston for the past fifteen years, so I have run the gamut of hurricanes, tropical storms, and floods. In addition, I spent a lot of time camping in areas near the coast, so I have a seasoned perspective that I want to share, particularly with non-native Gulf Coast residents.
Refer to these links first, particularly if you are short on time to prepare:
- National Hurricane Center
- Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Hurricane Preparedness
- National Weather Service
- Emergency Disinfection of Drinking Water
And for everyone with pets:
Before the Storm
If you are in a mandatory evacuation area or within close driving distance of the beach please do yourself, your family, your friends, and all the heroic first responders a favor and LEAVE. Evacuate. EVACUATE. Do not be like this man who said that staying in Port Aransas during Hurricane Harvey was the, “The dumbest thing I’ve ever done.” You do not have the right to get volunteer firefighters killed risking their lives to save you, just because you were too stubborn to evacuate when you had the chance. And if you are really stupid enough to try to ride out the direct hit of a powerful hurricane on or near the beach, please do not waste time reading my article, go make out your Last Will and Testament instead — at least you will be doing something constructive.
Now — about people further inland. Maybe you are not under a mandatory or voluntary evacuation. You do not live someplace that floods and the building you are in is sturdy and up to code. Even then, do not get cocky. Even under the best conditions a hurricane can be incredibly dangerous. Is it going to bring down that tree in your backyard and punch a hole through your roof? Is flying debris going to come through your window? Are you really okay with the possibility of being stuck in a large city for weeks without power and fresh water? (e.g. Hurricane Ike) You need to sit down and have an honest risk-assessment with yourself and your family and decide whether or not it is worth sticking around. And, if in doubt, assuming you can do so safely — in other words, you will not be stuck in a car on a freeway — when the storm hits, the right answer is always to leave. In the worst-case scenario, you are one less family first responders will need to rescue off a roof, and in the best-case scenario you are only out the cost of a night or two in a hotel room crashing at a friend or relative’s house. Yes, evacuating can be expensive, but unless you have a really low deductible it is probably still cheaper than replacing your vehicle if the engine gets flooded or a tree falls on it. And yes, cars get flattened all the time by trees during hurricanes. It happened to one of my neighbors when I was a kid.
Pro Tip —Do NOT try to fight rush hour traffic to get out of your city. If possible, and you have sufficient time, either wait until traffic dies down, or leave at a really odd time of night. For example, when I left Houston prior to Hurricane Rita, my roommates and I left late at night, after 10pm. So, instead of being stuck in traffic for six to eight hours, we were only stuck in outgoing traffic for a little over two hours. Time of day or night makes an immense difference. Load up on caffeine and energy drinks if you need to, and catch up on sleep when you reach your destination. — Bonus points for your sanity: if it is late enough that any children in your vehicle will sleep the whole time. Win/win.
- Do not do anything that could hurt you or someone else – think rescue workers, lineman and other professionals.
- BLEACH — Regular, unscented chlorine bleach. You can disinfect A LOT of water with a single jug of bleach. Reference this site for instructions: https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/emergency-disinfection-drinking-water
- Organization — A word about organizing, this is the 21st century and most of you have smartphones. USE THEM. Make use of an app like Google Notes or the equivalent to share checklists among family/friends to help coordinate preparation and shopping.
- Pets — Have your pet carriers / leashes ready to go at a moment’s notice. Make plans to secure Fido and Fluffy in a safe part of the house (bathroom/closet) and pack them up fast in an emergency if you need to leave. http://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/pet-disaster-preparedness#Pet-Emergency-Kit
- Circuit breakers — Know where your circuit breakers are located and how to safely reset & turn them off. If your house starts flooding more than a few inches, TURN OFF YOUR BREAKERS. You will not be doing anyone any good if you have been electrocuted — being electrocuted during floods does happen. Also, if you end up using a generator during an outage you must TURN OFF YOUR MAIN BREAKER to avoid backfeed along power lines. Please do not fry any line repairman because you do not know what you are doing. (See #1)
- Photograph/inventory your stuff and upload the pics to a cloud server such as Google Photos or the equivalent) so if your phone/camera/computer gets destroyed you will still have a record of everything that was lost.
- Identification/Prescriptions — Gather together important things that can help you rebuild your life in a worst-case scene, i.e., photo ID, passport, birth certificate, insurance information, Social Security card, etc. Double protect those items that can be damaged by water in re-sealable plastic zip lock bags placed in a small waterproof container or ‘double’ zip lock bag them. Same applies to essential prescription meds & inhalers!
- Small, portable bag/backpack — Have a ‘bug-out’ bag ready to go — preferably something lightweight & easy to carry with everything from #5 safely stowed. Do not forget a first aid kit!
- Hurricane kit container — In addition to your bug-out bag, if you are putting together a hurricane kit, I suggest picking up a heavy-duty plastic container with a lid, that you can put non-perishable food and supplies into. Make sure that the bin is a size that can easily fit in the trunk or back of your vehicle, in case you need to pack it up and take it. Be sure to pack a spare can opener in your hurricane kit — or you might end up being both frustrated and hungry.
- Rubber boots/waders — particularly if flooding is a concern.
- Insect repellent!!!
- Tarpaulin /rope/stakes— Get a tarp if you do not have one — the type with metal grommets. And some rope (like paracord) that is thin enough that you can thread it through those grommets. Tarps have many uses — You can cover a hole in your roof or a shattered window, or you can cook underneath it outside when it is raining. Camping stakes will be useful too, if you think you might need to rig it up as a dining fly to cook underneath.
- Duct tape is always useful.
- Cooking — Do NOT waste time with “Sterno”. The stuff is mostly useless for proper cooking. (Too slow. Too cool a flame.) Purchase a well-rated camp stove & the proper fuel, or if you already have a propane or charcoal grill, be sure you have fuel available for it. Do NOT cook inside your house using your camp stove. Burning down your house/apartment complex are real possibilities; and carbon monoxide killing you and your family are real possibilities. The fire department will be busy saving everyone else and does not need to deal with you setting yourself on fire. (See #1) So cook outside — you are ‘camping’. If it is raining hard, rig up a tarp to cook under. (See #9)
- Generators — I have never used a generator post-hurricane, but there are two safety issues that need to be emphasized. If you use one, make sure it is outside and/or properly ventilated (the garage door is fully open.) Just as with car exhaust, carbon monoxide from a generator can easily KILL you and your family. Also see #3 and understand the concept of backfeed before you start your generator up. And finally, before you rush out and purchase one, be aware that they are typically very LOUD and fairly obnoxious. Be conscious of your neighbors, because they will probably not appreciate you running the generator at 1am just to recharge your Ipad. Generator safety: https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/elecgenerators.html
- Bow rake — This suggestion is not a priority but can prove useful. A sturdy metal bow rake. (Not a springy, fan-shaped lawn rake, mind you.) This tool can help you clear the storm drains in your street of debris — when it is safe to do so — possibly helping you save the entire neighborhood from flooding. In a pinch, you can use your bow rake to extend your reach by another ~5 feet to help someone out. But do not leave it or anything else outside where it can become a hazard during the storm. (See #1)
- Boarding up windows — I am not going to get into the mechanics of boarding up windows with plywood, suffice to say that waiting until a day or two before the hurricane hits is NOT the time to be panicking about that. Everyone has made a run on the hardware stores by then, and odds are very good that the stores will be sold out of plywood. Call the stores in advance to see if they have any in stock before you waste your time driving around in a vain quest for it. A better plan is to buy what you need and cut it to fit your windows properly at the beginning of hurricane season. Once you have it — assuming you store the wood someplace the bugs will not eat it — it should last many years.
Best of luck to all of you weathering storms this hurricane season. Stay safe. Be responsible.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is solely the author’s opinion and does not take into account your personal situation. You should consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs, and where appropriate, seek advice from the appropriate government officials or agencies. I do not accept liability for this article being accurate, complete or up-to-date or for the contents of external links. I distance myself expressly from the contents of the linked pages, over the structure of which I have no control. The author is known to randomly meow like a cat and blink into alternate dimensions without warning, and thus should probably not be taken seriously by anyone.
This article originally appeared on Medium and is republished here with permission.