Hurricanes can be some of the most destructive forces on earth. Intense winds along with flooding can cause multiple damage vectors. Getting prepared ahead of time is critical since Hurricane warnings will only come a few days in advance.
There are a few key issues to plan for:
- Home Fortification: Wind & Water Mitigation
- Long Term Power Outage: Food Storage / Lighting / Hygiene
- Preparing for Evacuation
In the Northern Atlantic Ocean, a distinct hurricane season occurs from June 1 to November 30, sharply peaking from late August through September; the season's climatological peak of activity occurs around September 10 each season. Wikipedia.
If you live on the Eastern North Pacific or the East Coast of the US then you need to bookmark NOAA's National Hurricane Center website and check it often during the season: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov
It lists all the tropical cyclones and disturbances in real time, and provides wind and trajectory models. It's good to keep an eye on these things: it can help you plan in well in advance. Maybe you want to postpone that camping trip next week if you notice a storm in the Carribbean modeled to make a direct hit where you'll be. Maybe it won't but at least you can keep it in mind.
Accuweather has a good explainer of the 2018 season here. It is predicted to be a normal season.
Preparing Your Bug Out Bags
The bulk of your emergency kit will stay the same for Hurricanes as it would for any other type of disaster, the key differences being: long-term power outages, flooding, access to clean drinking water, keeping your gear and yourself dry.
It is very unlikely (if you're smart) that you would be evacuating during a hurricane. You should be hunkered down during the storm; moving about outside is a very, very bad idea. Even First Responders will be sheltering so they will not be available to help you if you get into trouble, you'll be on your own.
That said, should your house be suffering catastrophic failure during a hurricane, and should you be in it at the time, you wouldn't have much of a choice. But be smart: if you have any concerns about your home withstanding the brunt of a storm then get your family to a shelter ahead of time. It's not worth the risk and only a minor inconvenience.
If your plan is to be in a shelter, then your Bug Out Bag should be trimmed down some. Lose any heavy survival gear (i.e.. knives, cooking gear) in favor for the items that would help you more during an extended stay in a shared living area. You will hopefully have access to a cot or cots for you and your family.
Pillows and blankets will be in high demand so having items like that which can supplement any which you might get from Emergency Services will be very useful. Sleeping masks and ear plugs will make the nights more restful, by mitigating any lights going on and off in the middle of the night or anyone snoring or being loud.
Sitting around in a shelter for a week or two can certainly get boring after a while, especially for kids or young adults who aren't assisting in any clean-up. Make sure you have things along to help them entertain themselves: games, books, Kindles, iPads with movies, coloring books.
WARNING: Don't rely solely on electronic distractions! Remember, power might not be available for days or more, so charging up the iPad might be impossible. A backup battery should be kept for use with a phone - you will need to make calls or book hotels or make plans to leave, don't waste it all on Minecraft!
The pre-assembled BOB in our Custom Bag Builder Tool will give you a good base to start from. Add those items from the list above as you deem necessary based on your families individual needs. Take a look at our $20 Bug Out Bag Build list if you want to make a quick kit with items you probably already have around the house.
If things go really south and you don't have access to shelter than you're going to be facing an extremely difficult situation. The area are around you will likely be completely devastated and soaking wet. Starting fires for cooking/drying could be nearly impossible. Finding a dry area to make camp is going be a nightmare.
There will probably be water everywhere but most if not all of it will likely be contaminated so you would need a really good purification system if you wanted to drink any of it. Insects and animals will have been displaced from their hiding places, so expect them to be a greater nuisance than usual.
That list only scratches the surface. It should be pretty obvious that staying outside or in the wild won't be your first choice. If you want to prepare yourself for it, by all means do, but you must do so ahead of time (of course) and you'd need to make it a realistic experiment. Spend some days in the woods after a good week of rain and see what issues come up and learn from them. The days after a hurricane will probably be calm and in many cases sunny and dry, but don't count on that for lasting too long.
In regards to the specific items you would want in your BOB: it will be a broader kit of course, one that includes a shelter, water protection clothing, additional changes of clothes, food, and a portable cooking kit and gas stove.
Most people will be sheltering in their homes during a storm, unless ordered to evacuate by local authorities, or due to unexpected and overwhelming crisis such as fire or flooding. If an evacuation order is issued, everyone in the immediate area will be hitting the road at the same time. This could be a gigantic nightmare; ask anyone whose been through it or read about Hurricane Rita, where 3 million people had to evacuate areas in Texas all at the same time.
I recently had an opportunity to sit down with the director of the Palm Beach County Emergency Operations Center, and ask him a few questions about how South Florida prepares for hurricanes and the messaging they put out to their communities.
On the subject of evacuation he was clearly not in favor of people traveling great distances. In fact he suggested that only those people in mandatory evacuation flood areas should leave their homes, and even then should stay locally, either in a shelter or with friends or family. He wanted all families to stay within a few miles of where they live.
His reasoning was several-fold: first and foremost, long distance evacuations can turn deadly if people get trapped in their vehicles in traffic when the storm hits. Secondly, it can be very expensive once you factor in hotels, food, fuel, etc. Thirdly, travel back to the affected area may be extremely difficult for a long period after the storm, making it likely that residents will not be able to attend to their homes and any damages in a timely manner.
Palm Beach has several hardened schools which act as shelters during storms and when activated by the local government. If you happen to live in Palm Beach County, check out their website.
If a significant storm is heading your way and you have the opportunity and the resources to evacuate ahead of everyone else: do it. Especially if you have small children or elderly folks to care for, since both require more effort to get prepare and move. Hotel rooms book up quickly, gas stations run out of gas, roads become flooded, traffic can become unbearable when the order finally comes down.
In the past we've used our pre-evacuation plan and made a mini-vacation out of it. We left 2 days before the storm was set to hit. We actually wound up finding communities and areas we loved that we've returned to later that we never would have found had we not been forced to do so. It actually was a blast! Luckily the storms didn't impact our home during that time and that was OK, we made the most out of it.
However a coupe of years ago we got stuck for over 8 days when we were out of town and a hurricane hit our area. It took that long for flights to resume services. Luckily for us we were staying with family but had we been in a hotel the costs would have been a real strain. So take heed! Getting as far away as possible might not always turn out so well.
Something extremely important to know ahead of time, is how long it takes you to get your home ready ahead of the storm. Do you have to hang shutters or board up the windows? Do you have to move all the patio furniture and potted plants inside? Where is your car going to be, will it fit in the garage if you have one? Will you have help or do you have to do it all on your own? We have a small home but it takes me a full 8 hours of physical labor to get it buckled down tight. I have to factor that time into our evacuation plans and so should you.
If you haven't had to prep your home before then my suggestion is to to a trial-run. You don't have to do 100% but really try to give yourself an idea what you'll be up against.
If you live in an area that has seen Hurricane activity either in years past or sees it annually then making sure your home is protected against their damaging effects is a prudent choice. This is complex subject and specific to each particular home and structure but there are some basics we can briefly cover here. Retrofitting can be a process that takes months or years and have significant costs associated with it. It all depends on when and how your home was built and what the codes were at that time.
Most damage to structures begin with water & wind. Intense wind speeds can push water horizontally and into poorly sealed windows and doors, soffits, and gable ends. Wind looks for any weakness it can find to enter the home and create upward pressure on roofs. Once there is a failure point there the rest of the house becomes perilously exposed. The University of Rhode Island has a great website discussing Hurricanes, and an interesting article about Differential Pressure and how it can affect a home.
As hurricane winds blows against a vertical surface of a home, such as a wall or steeply pitched roof, it exerts a positive force or “pressure” against that surface. As the wind flows over or around the home, it exerts a negative force or “suction” on the walls or roof planes parallel to or away from the direction of the wind (the leeward side). The combination of these pressure and suction forces can cause uplift (forces may strip roof coverings and sheathing or, in extreme cases, destroy the entire roof), sliding (a house may be blown straight off its foundation), overturning (and entire structure may rotate off its foundation resulting in the complete destruction of a home), and/or racking (horizontal forces cause walls to tilt and/or collapse). Image credit: My Safe Florida Home
The good news is that stoping most wind damage is not extremely difficult to do. It takes time and resources but even low-budget fixes like boarding up windows with plywood can have a dramatic effect. Clear your yard of potential projectiles: furniture, potted plants, those sorts of things. Make sure any large trees have been pruned and maintained. Many trees need to be pruned every 3 years to keep them hurricane resistant; the wind needs to be able to pass through them with little resistance.
Keeping water out of your home can be extremely difficult if not impossible in some situations. If you are at or below the water level there is very likely nothing you can do but evacuate and hope for the best. For more details about preparing yourself and home against flooding check out our article about it.
Sandbags can help but they are physically demanding and require tremendous physical effort and a lot of sand! Have that lying around?
Use a product like the Aquadam or Hydrabarrier to keep water out of the structure. Stop sewer water from coming back into the house via shower / tub drains and toilets by either installing a sewer backwater valve or inserting a Test Ball into your outgoing sewer pipe cleanout (many homes have a way to get into the pipe, look for a round PVC circle about 6" wide in the front of your home.)
After the Storm
It should come as no surprise that large storms have the potential to leave millions without power for weeks (or in some cases months) afterwards. Power lines will be down in large areas and could take crews a long time to repair them. Luckily there are several things you can do ahead of time to lessen the problem at home.
In these cases refrigeration becomes impossible for most. Those with permanent backup gas generators will probably be OK, assuming they have large enough reserves and allocate them wisely. However your standard refrigerator will require a huge amount of power, especially when the compressor first kicks in, and is not portable. Engle coolers make portable fridge/freezer coolers that can run on 12 volt (car) or 110 (home) power systems.
Our article about Medium Term Food Storage (6 - 12 Months) will give you some ideas on how to build up your food supplies.
Our article about Power Outages is fairly comprehensive and should give you a strong foundation to dealing without power for extended periods of time.