Should You Evacuate?
When it becomes clear that your area is going to be affected by a hurricane people will start talking about evacuations. Should you evacuate? When should you leave? How long will you be gone? These are all important questions.
You should listen to your local government officials. If they are advising that you evacuate, you should head their warnings. Perhaps your area is prone to flooding. Maybe they are expecting extended power outages. Or maybe the hurricane heading your way is strong enough to be life threatening. No matter the case if you can leave you should. Think about it, you won't be able to leave once the storm hits. And do you really expect the first responders to come out and risk their lives to come and get you out of your flooded house, when you were told to leave before the storm hit? I can tell you right now, if the storm is bad enough they won't go out. You will be all alone.
I know that not everyone wants to leave their home. They want to be with their property. They feel that the officials are just being overly proactive. In most cases I am sure that the officials would rather error on the side of caution that is to be expected. They want to prevent any loss of life that they can. But, ordering an evacuation is a major decision. It will cause panic. Traffic. Stores will run out of food. Gas stations will run dry. It is not something your local government will do lightly. Ordering an evacuation will be a last ditch effort in order to prevent loss of life.
Family with multiple cars? If possible take them with you. Have one person pack up their car with as much as you can and the other person can have the children/pets and whatever else will fit in theirs. This will ensure that you are able to bring as much with you as you can, and you won't have to worry about coming home to a damaged car.
Make sure that both cars are fully gassed and ready for the trip before you go. You will most likely run into traffic and a full tank will prevent you from having to stop for gas before you get out of town. Not too mention there could be a chance that gas stations in your area could run out of gas the longer you wait.
What Should You Bring?
If you are order to evacuate and you decide to head that warning you are going to need to bring some things with you. So, what will you need? For starters you will need clothes. Everyone in your group will need clothes for several days. Make sure that you are packed appropriately for the weather, don't bring shorts when its going to drop into the 60's. When the hurricane is first forecasted to hit your area start to think about packing a couple of bags. Think about where you will go. Will you shoot for a hotel a few hours inland? Do you have any friends or family that are a few hours away that won't be as badly effected by the storm? Even if the order to evacuate never comes or the storm doesn't hit it doesn't hurt to be prepared. You can always just unpack the bag, but its a lot better than scrabbling at the last minute.
You will want to make sure that you have any important documents with you. Birth certificates, social security cards, and any medical information you might need. Today, many people are able to access their insurance information online or on their smartphones, but if you are unable to do so make sure that you bring those documents as well. If you can have a bag, like a tote bag, that you can put all the important information in so that it is easy to grab and go.
Make sure that you have some bottled water in your car. Chances are pretty good that you will be stuck in traffic at some point in the evacuation. Have some non-perishable foods on hand as well. You won't want to stop unless you have to and the drive will most likely take longer than anticipated. If you will be traveling with young children make sure that you have something to entertain them as well. Some toys and a couple books can go a long way.
If you have the room in your vehicle take as many of the valuable items from your home as you can. This doesn't just mean monetary value. Is there a framed picture with your great grandmother that you wouldn't want to be lost in the storm? Do you have a wedding candle that you would never be able to replace? Do you have a collection of jewelry that you wouldn't want to leave at home? Laptops? A betta fish? Your college textbooks? Whatever is important to you, if you can safely fit it in your car bring it with you. This way you won't worry about it while you are safe from the storm.
What if You Don't Evacuate?
Lets face it, not everyone can evacuate, or will evacuate for that matter. Maybe you work at a hospital and are on call. Maybe you work at your local zoo and are a part of the recovery team for after the storm. Maybe you work at a vet clinic or boarding facility and will need to take care of the boarded pets. Or maybe you are a Waffle House employee and your establishment is never allowed to close. Or perhaps you feel the storm won't be that bad and decide to stay against the advice of your local government. Either way, you will need to make sure that you are safe and properly prepared.
You should start by letting your friends and family know that you will be riding out the storm. Once the storm has passed you should let these people know that you are safe. This will ensure that someone knows your plan and will be able to notify the proper authorities to check on you if they do not hear from you.
Before the storm his you will want to make sure that your hurricane survival kit is fully stocked. You will also want to make sure that you have all important documents protected in water safe bags. Ziplock bags work great for this. You will also want to make sure that you go over your survival plan with anyone that you will be riding out the storm with. You will also want to make sure that you are familiar with the local shelter locations and their policies should you need to leave your home to find a safe place during the storm.
Remember, if you have pets you will need to account for them as well. Make sure that you have enough food and water for them. If they need any medications make sure to have them on hand. Get a copy of your pet's most recent vaccinations from your veterinarian's office. Make sure that you have an up to date picture of them just in case you become separated. It is also a good idea to have your pet microchipped. If your pet is already microchipped take then in to your vet to have them scan for the microchip, this will ensure that it is still working properly. And make sure that the microchip company has the most up to date contact information for you on file.
If you need to leave your pet behind when you evacuate make sure that they will be cared for. Book boarding with your kennel or vet office as soon as you can to make sure that there is room for them. Ideally, you should have your pet stay with you if you can. Even vet offices and boarding facilities can sustain catastrophic damage in the storm.
If you plan on riding the storm out at a local shelter check with your government to see what their polices are. Some of the ones in my area require that you bring your own supplies (food, water, bedding, etc) and do not allow pets. During the most recent hurricane there was one shelter that opened its doors to pets as well as people.
Please, do not leave your pets to fend for themselves in your home or outside.
Hurricane Survival Kits
Make sure that you know where you can go to ride out the storm in your house should it start to flood or the roof become compromised. This can be tricky as stronger hurricanes can completely remove the roof from your house and if you are close enough to the shore you might have to deal with tidal flooding. For example, I live in a three story apartment on the third floor. The only completely interior room is our guest bathroom, so that would be the place we would retreat to if we absolutely needed to. We will be safe from flooding because we are on the third floor, but we would be in trouble if the roof is damaged.
Once you have established a safe room set up your kit. Make sure that you have enough food and water for all members of your party. FEMA recommends that you have enough supplies for three days, but I recommend that you use some common sense. If a strong hurricane is heading your way you could be without food or safe drinking water for longer than three days. I would plan based upon your situation. You will want to make sure that you have warm blankets and pillows if possible. This will make the ride out more conformable. Again, think about needing to stay on a bathroom floor for nearly 12 hours.
You will want to make sure that you have flashlights and extra batteries. If you are going to use candles make sure that you only use them while you are in the room with them and put them out before you go to sleep. The last thing you need is a fire. A hand crank weather radio will help keep you up to date on the latest weather forecasts as the storm closes in and moves away from your area. It will also be a good way to tell if it is safe to go outside.
Books and games will make it easier to pass the time as the storm goes on. They can also distract children from the noise of the storm. Hand sanitizer will also be useful, as you might not be able to waste water on washing your hands. And you will need a well stocked first aid kit, complete with any and all prescriptions that you or the other members of your group will need. Make sure you have a can opener in your kit so you will be able to open canned foods.
- Peanutbutter or almond butter (add a little honey and you have a great sand which)
- Canned meats (tuna, chicken, salmon, and turkey)
- Granola bars
- Protein bars
- Fresh fruit (apples and citrus fruits like oranges have long shelf lives)
- Canned vegetables (they can be eaten right out of the can and don't need to be heated up)
- Canned soups or chili (they can be eaten right out of the can as well, just make sure to get soups that do not need to be diluted with water. Progresso is a great example)
- Cereals and powdered milk (just add water and you have breakfast!)
- Dried fruits (they are great to satisfy a sweet tooth)
- Nuts (lightly salted it possible. The more salt you take in the more you will want to drink, and you will want to conserve all resources in an emergency)
Food and Water
The biggest thing to prepare for the the potential loss of power for an extended period of time and the lack of safe drinking water. buying bottled water is the easiest way to ensure that you will have a safe supply of water. But, what if the store is picked over and there are no bottles or jugs left? You will need to get creative. If you drink milk or juice you can reuse the empty jugs. Simply make sure that the containers are fully cleaned and fill them up with water before the storm. Fill any pitchers you have with water. If you are able to fill a clean bathtub with water do so. The more you have the better off you will be. Remember, depending on where you are you might not be able to flush your toilet without adding water. And you will need water for basic hygiene purposes as well as drinking.
You will need to make sure that you have plenty of non-perishable food on hand. I know that the first time I had to go to the store to stock up I blanked out. I had no idea what all to get aside from bread and peanut butter. But, I can assure you, there are many different options available to you beyond peanut butter sandwiches.
Fire, Generators, and Camp Stoves
Try to avoid lighting candles as much as you can. Only use them if you will be able to supervise them at all times. If you are going to be lighting a fire in your fireplace make sure that it is attended at al times. A fire place and greatly increase you ability to cook food, make safer water, and provide comfort but they can also be dangerous.
Generators and camp stoves should not be used inside. They produce carbon monoxide which can be deadly. Generators belong outside. End of story. If you need help setting one up consult with a professional at your local hardware store.
Camp stoves are a great tool for people that don't have a fireplace or gas stove. If you are going to use one inside you need to make sure that the area in which you use it is properly ventilated. Opening a window in a hurricane is not partially advisable, just think about it for a moment. My boyfriend and I are lucky in that our apartment complex is oddly shaped. We would be able to open our front door or balcony door and not get much effect from the winds, since they hit the back and other side of the unit for the most part. So, we would be able to sit in front of our door and use the stove in an absolute emergency. Ideally we would go on the balcony to use the stove, but the wind would need to be coming from the back in order for them to not effect us there. If you are going to use the camp stove make sure you are smart about it and have a plan.
When You Lose Power
If you lose power during the storm, which you most likely will, you will want to make sure that you have plenty of food that doesn't require cooking. The list above has a lot of great items that do not require cooking. I know cold soup and veggies aren't very appetizing, but in an emergency you really can't be picky.
If you have a gas stove and are able to use it safely you will be able to expand upon this list. You can boil water for many other non-perishable foods: instant ramen, oatmeal, and pastas. I would avoid cooking too much as you will need to use water to clean, and that could become contaminated during or after the storm. And you don't want to use your own safe water supply to wash out a pot or pan.
You can make some great tasting meals with very limited ingredients. Pasta with canned tuna, olive oil and Italian seasonings will make a great dinner. Just don't make too much as you will want to avoid opening your refrigerator as much as possible. Freezing a glass of water and putting a coin on top will help to let you know if it is safe to consume the food in the fridge and freezer after you get power back. If the coin is at the bottom of the glass when you get power back it is not safe to consume the foods.
Make sure that you unplug as many electronic devices as you can when the power is out. This will help to protect your electronic devices from power surges when the power is restored. If you leave one light turned on during the power outage you will know when you have power back.
In An Emergency
If you do lose part of your roof and need to retreat yo your safe location, most likely a bathroom, take a mattress with you. You will want to get in the tub, with as much of your provisions as you can, and cover yourself with the mattress. It is not an ideal situation to be in, but it is a heck of a lot better than no shelter from the rain and winds.
If you have lost power make sure you send a message to your friends and family and let them know that you will be turning off your phone to conserve battery power. Once the storm has passed you can turn your phone back on and call for help if you needed it and alert your family and friends to your situation. But, keeping the battery conserved ensures that you will have it in an emergency if you needed.
Understanding Hurricane Ranking
A Few Last Things
The weathermen and women don't always get it right. They may say that it will be the storm of the century heading your way and call for every one to leave and head for the hills. Or they could say that you won't get much but a little rain and you get slammed with a hurricane unexpectedly. The point is you need to hope for the best but plan for the worst.
In 2016 Hurricane Matthew was an unpredictable storm. By the time it was on its way up the East coast of the US the local news stations were saying the storm was going to stay well off shore and the most the Hamptons Roads area in Virginia would get was a 1/2 of rain and less that 20mph wind. Well, come Saturday night we had gotten several inches of rain and tropical storm force winds. There was no warning. We had been told that we would get nothing from the storm and it slammed right into us.
All night the weatherman apologized for missing this and not warning people with enough time to get out of low lying areas or prepare for power outages. Of course, weather can be unpredictable, but this was a major error. My boyfriend and I had mad the decision not to get a camp stove (to use with our widow or door open) and extra provisions. We did not stock up on water. We were not ready. I had been at a conference all day and by the time I got home it was bad out. The wind and rain were picking up in intensity and we decided that it was now or never and we would need to get some extra supplies. But, our neighborhood had flooded in. We couldn't get out. This had not happened the tropical storm a month prior or the nor'easter we had three weeks prior. We couldn't get out. We had nothing to do but go home, ride it out, and wait for the power to go.
We never lost power that night or the next day. But, when we woke up the entire neighborhood was impassable with floodwater and downed branches. We were lucky. Friends in the area had damage to their houses and cars from fallen trees. And there were many areas that were also subjected to intense tidal flooding. In the end we had winds that gusted over 60mph and got around 8 inches of rain. None of which was forecasted when I left that morning. Since we never lost power we didn't have to worry about dipping in to our small collection of non-perishable foods. So, the moral is to make sure that you are ready just in case.
Remember: you can replace items. That is why you have insurance. You cannot replace your family or yourself.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.