Friday, July 13, 2012

Guest Blogger for Friday, July 13, 2012

Paul's note - I asked Jordan to share some of his thoughts on hurricane preparedness, having lived in South Florida for essentially all of his life.  He and I did time together at the University of Miami School of Law many years ago.  This isn't your traditional "get some bottled water and a battery radio" guidance.  This is far more in depth; you won't read many of these things on the basic preparedness websites.  I appreciate his contribution to the body of literature on this subject.
Jordan From The 305 On Hurricane Preparedness

Paul asked me to pen a guest column about preparing for hurricanes.  I have a little experience in the area, having spent virtually my entire life in the suburbs just south of Miami, Florida, having lived through three direct hits (Andrew in 1992, Katrina and Wilma in 2005) and having gone through the drill many other times only thankfully to see the storms veer away at the last moment.  My hurricane plan is the product of 13 years of thought and practice.  This column is NOT a recitation of that plan.  Rather, I will try to hit some highlights, which hopefully are not new to you, but if they are, hopefully will augment your already-robust hurricane preparation plan.

First, two very general, but important, concepts about storm prep:

Make certain you have sufficient quantities of the necessary supplies (batteries, food, water, etc.) before any watches and warnings are posted.  This especially applies to any needed medications; always make sure you have a week or more supply at hand.  Fill up at least one automobile’s tank with gas when a watch is issued for your area. Also, well in advance of any storm make sure needed equipment (drills for installing or removing shutters, lanterns, etc.) works and is charged or has sufficient batteries to run for an extended period.  If like me you are stay prepared throughout the year, hurricane season involves no big gearing up, except maybe for a few extra bags of ice in the freezer.  If not, make sure your list is all checked off by the beginning of the season and that you keep an eye on the level of needed consumables. The absolute last place you want to be right before the storm hits is out the streets fighting the crowds for the scarce supplies left.  We’ve all seen those images on TV; don’t be one of those people. 

Have in place a methodical, organized plan for prepping your house, inside and out.  Order your activities to conserve time and effort.  If you have the manpower, divide up the activities.  For example, my general plan is as follows: (i) plug in all needed devices (phones, laptops, etc.) to charge; (ii) close the accordion and colonial shutters that cover most of our windows first, securing the majority of the openings, (iii) clean off the patio and clean out the yard, placing the items inside the house, (iv) install the panels over the windows and doors on our patio; (v) put up the panels over the other doors (always leave two exits, one of which can be a garage door you can manually open); (vi) do one last sweep of the outside and (vii) help with the inside prep my wife and kids have already started.  Naturally, the order of your house prep needs to fit your situation, including manpower available, size and complexity of your living arrangements, and time available before the storm approaches.  Start your prep as far in advance as practicable; we usually start once the storm warning is posted.  You want to be fully completed, inside and out, at least an hour or two before the first outer bands reach your area. 

Here are a few things I highly recommend you either add to your storm prep plan if they’re not part of it already:

  • Take photos of your house, inside and out, AFTER you have completed your preparations.  You now have a record of your property’s condition right before landfall and proof that you put up your shutters and did all other things required by your windstorm policy.  Keep the camera charged and ready for the “after” photos, in the event your house or any of your property sustains damage.  Take photos of the damage as soon it is safe to go outside, to help preserve your claim.  I would also take photos of any emergency repairs you need to make as well.
  • Keep PDFs of all important documents (insurance policies, etc.) in an easy-to-find folder on your PC. Before the storm hits, place that folder on portable storage media (CD, DVD, SD card, flash drive) and store it safely (preferably in a waterproof container in your “go bag”).  This involves scanning and properly filing the docs as they come in; I scan all important documents because I’m more likely to find the PDF on my PC than the paper original in the stack in the corner of my office.
  • Clean up your house.  Run the dishwasher.  Run the washing machine.  Pick up stuff off of the floors.  A clean house is easier and safer to navigate in the dark (you don’t want to trip on a toy left out and turn your ankle while the storm is raging; been there, done that).  Most likely you will be without power for several days; piles of dirty dishes and dirty clothes begin to stink pretty quickly in a hot and shuttered house (trust me on this one). 
  • Charge up all needed electronic devices (phones, tablets, laptops) and leave them plugged in as long as possible before the storm hits.  Make sure all battery-powered devices (radios, lanterns, fans) have good batteries and work after being in storage for months.  Keep an old corded phone handset and plug it in the phone jack in or close to the room where you intend to ride out the storm; our modern cordless phones stop working once the power goes out.
  • Pick out the few plug-in devices you will use during the storm while you have power (we use one TV and one laptop) and unplug all the rest from their wall sockets.  As soon as power goes out, unplug those you were using as well.  TVs, computers, etc. can’t fried by a surge if they aren’t plugged in.
  • Turn your AC down really low and run it constantly for several hours before the storm hits.  Getting the temperature inside as low as possible will keep things comfortable for a bit longer once the power goes out.  Don’t worry about the added electrical usage; you’ll probably recoup it and more for the few days you’ll be without power.
  • Keep a “rabbit ears” TV antenna in storage.  Most of us get our TV programming through either satellite or cable services, both of which are susceptible to disruption by a storm.  While you may not be able to watch your favorite premium-tier programs over the air, you will be able to keep informed about recovery efforts, local alerts, etc. after the storm until your provider gets things back online (which could take weeks if you have a downed dish or cable line).  You don’t need a special antenna for the recently-mandated digital standard; just make certain your TV has a digital tuner (I believe most TVs made in the last 5 years or so do).  The antenna also helps out if, as recently happened to us, your provider and a local station get in a contractual squabble (we lost our local FOX affiliate for a week on DirecTV during the NFL playoffs but I saw the games in beautiful HD using my antenna). 
  • Once the lights go out, don’t use an electric lantern in each room.  Find the place in your house (usually a hallway) where one decent lantern will provide ample light to safely guide the way for the areas where you need to be (mostly the bedrooms).  Have everyone carry a flashlight, just in case they need to go off the lighted path or the primary lantern fails.  Have a backup lantern ready. Using one lantern at a time stretches your battery supply, which, given the current state of our electric grid, you may need to last for a while after a storm of any strength.
  • Put a cooler with ice, bottled water, sports drinks, etc. in a convenient spot in the house and use it once the power goes out instead of opening and closing your now-dead fridge and freezer.  You’ll have to ditch everything anyways (leading to a really interesting post-storm smorgasbord meal cooked on the gas grill), but keeping the doors closed helps preserve the food a bit longer.  We also keep many frozen water bottles of different sizes, which we stick in the fridge to help keep it cold once the power goes out.  They also work really well cooling you down when applied to the back of your neck, a welcome feeling after hours of cutting up and moving downed tree limbs and other debris the day after the storm.

Here are a few things I recommend not doing:
  • Don’t throw your patio furniture in the pool.  It sounds like a good idea but it is a massive bitch to drag it out of the deep end a few days later in the pounding sun.  Find a spot for it in your garage or elsewhere in your house where it will fit.
  • Don’t tape up your windows.  You should have hurricane shutters and/or impact windows.  Making pretty patterns with tape on your windows offers no protection and makes an utter mess of your windows that is very hard to remove, especially after being baked on by the sun for a few weeks or months. 
  • Don’t have a “hurricane party.”  Once you’re hunkered down, waiting for the inevitable, do not give in to temptation to get plastered.  So much can (and very well may) happen during a storm that you will need your full faculties.  A hurricane is not the time for poor decision-making due to alcohol.  I’m not saying you can’t have a post-prep beer or drink, but keep it light, for yourself and your family.

The news folks prattle on as to whether this year will be a good or bad hurricane season; I always say that “a bad hurricane season is when a storm hits you.”  So, I wish everyone a good hurricane season and hope you don’t have to put any of the above into action.  However, it is always important to be prepared, because odds are it will be a bad season for at least some of us.

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