Lifelong Miami resident and friend from my law school days at The U, Jordan is an attorney in the Miami area. He's previously penned hurricane preparedness advice based on the various storms he's endured since his childhood. This is his 2014 message to the Suburban Dad Survivalist Nation. We thank Jordan for his contributions to preparedness.
Paul asked me to pen a guest column about preparing your home and family for the arrival of a hurricane. I can claim a little personal experience in the area, having spent virtually my entire life in the suburbs just south of Miami, Florida, having lived through four direct hits (Andrew in 1992, Irene in 1999, and 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 many years of thought, trial and error, some research, and liberal borrowing from others’ plans. This column is NOT a recitation of my plan. Instead, I will try to hit some highlights, which hopefully are not new to you; if they are, hopefully they 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. Also make certain is that you have the appropriate charging attachments for your current phones, tablets, laptops, and other portable devices and that you have sufficient battery-powered chargers or the like for them. We tend to get new phones and tablets at frequent intervals but do not keep our battery-powered charger and backup devices updated to what we currently have. I recently went through ours and pulled out most of the adapters, which were for devices we long ago stopped using, and replaced them with ones for our current phones and tablets. Also, well in advance of any storm make sure all required equipment (drills for installing or removing shutters, lanterns, fans, etc.) works and is charged or has sufficient batteries to run for an extended period. If you stay prepared throughout the year, hurricane season involves no big gearing up, except maybe for throwing a few extra bags of ice in the freezer. If you do not, make sure your list is all checked off by the beginning of the season and ensure that you keep an eye on the level of needed consumables (replace what you use). The absolute last place you want to be right before the storm hits is out on the streets fighting the crowds for the scarce supplies left. We’ve all seen those images on TV and they are never pretty; don’t be one of those poor, unfortunate souls shown to the world on CNN.
- Create and have in place a methodical, organized plan for prepping your house, both 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, tablets, laptops, chargers, etc.) to charge; (ii) close the accordion shutters that cover most of our windows first, quickly 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 so you have a bit of time to address any unexpected issues.
Here are a few things I highly recommend you add to your storm prep plan if they’re not part of it already:
- Fill up at least one automobile’s tank with gas when a watch is issued for your area. Most people wait until a storm warning is issued before jumping into action. The lines at the gas stations once a warning is issued are long and the patience of those in the lines is short.
- 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 (read your policy to be informed as to your obligations). 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 (very few) plug-in devices you will use during the storm while you have power (we use one TV and one laptop) and then unplug all the rest from their wall sockets. As soon as power goes out, unplug the few you were using as well. TVs, computers, etc. can’t fried by a power 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). Having the antenna handy also helps out if, as once 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 in your fridge and freezer anyways (leading to a really interesting post-storm smorgasbord meal cooked on the 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 longer 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 that you do not do as part of your storm preparation activities:
- Don’t throw your patio furniture in the pool. It may sound like a good idea but really it is not at all. Just think about having to drag it all out of the deep end of your pool a few days later in the pounding sun only to find a bunch of it was damaged by the pool chemicals or the actual fall into the pool (or debris landing in the pool on top of it). Find a spot for your patio furniture in your garage or elsewhere in your house where it will fit and store it there.
- Don’t tape up your windows. You should have hurricane shutters and/or impact windows (every inspector I have talked with recommends shutters over impact windows because the windows will break and are usually harder and more expensive to replace). Making pretty patterns with tape on your windows offers absolutely no protection and makes a complete mess of your windows that is very hard to remove, especially after being baked on by the sun for a few weeks or months (because we all know first thing after the storm you won’t be out scraping the tape off your windows).
- 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 or other impairing substances. 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 firmly believe that the definition of 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.