As the events in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and surrounding areas unfolded, it got me thinking about disaster preparedness. The last 11 years I have been through a few emergency situations. . . most of them hurricane related. Although I handled some better than others, with each situation I have gained a little wisdom and knowledge which I have added to what I call our “hurricane manifesto.”
The trouble with most emergencies, including hurricanes, is that by definition they usually happen very quickly. This weekend’s flood went from a little rain to a catastrophe in a matter of 36 hours. Even with the advanced warning we get with hurricanes there is so much uncertainty in where they will actually end up making landfall. . . that makes it hard to make advanced decisions. These are the kind of situations where you find yourself running around in a semi-panic which is not how good decisions are usually made. Therefore, the more we can do ahead of time the better it will be as it will be less thinking you have to do when you are in that distressed frame of mind.
I think that you will see from this list that there are many things that can be taken care of well in advance:
Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute
There is no reason you should be buying supplies when a storm is approaching. Most things you need like canned food, water, batteries, etc are items that you are already using in your home. It’s just that you need more of them. We have a shelf in the garage that houses our food and supplies in case we need them during hurricane season. I keep enough canned food to feed my family plus an additional four people for 5 days. I also stockpile water for drinking and big gallons for things like brushing teeth. We also keep extra batteries on hand. Again, I try to make sure I have a one week supply of what I think we will need.
If we are lucky enough to not have to use these things during hurricane season I am happy to be able to donate to my local food pantry, save some for the next year or use it over the next few months.
Check Your Hurricane Items
I think that this is one step that most of us have down by now but if you aren’t from here and/or haven’t lived here very long you may not have ever been through a hurricane scare or evacuation. Take the time to make sure that your emergency supplies are in working order. Things like flashlights, weather radios and generators are obvious but also think about things like air mattresses as you could possibly have people evacuating to stay at your home. Now is a good time to check all of your emergency items out and see if they need to be replaced.
Take a Home Inventory
This one is important (and something that you should stop and do right now if you haven’t done so) which is to make a video or photo inventory your home. You never know what can happen. . . fire, flood, hurricane, levee breach. It’s the last thing on your mind now but will be the first thing you need if your home is destroyed.
Make a detailed account of the things you have and back it up with pictures or video. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART!!!! Put these photos or video someplace safe. . . like not in the home that may be destroyed. Think about getting a fireproof box or safe for your home to store important information. Also, storing them in the cloud or in Dropbox would be an excellent solution. But do not take pictures and leave them in your house or just put them on your iPhone. Back it up!
This was something that my time as a foster parent helped me to create. There were so many documents that you had to have on hand at any time, especially in an emergency. In the document binder we use in our home each family member has a page that has all of their important information on it. Name, birth date, adoption date, social security number, allergy list, medications list, etc. Behind each profile I keep a copy of that person’s birth certificate and latest medical record. I have similar profiles for our dogs and their shot records. We keep copies of our insurance papers, documents about the house and all of that in there as well as some cash. This binder is always located right by the exit of my house. The though is that in an emergency we can grab it and go. But when hurricane season begins I put all of the originals in the binder too. This eliminates me having to think about what I need to get out of the safe if we need to evacuate. It also makes me feel better knowing that I can grab it at a moment’s notice and get out of the door.
We all have our main plan. If it’s category ___ or above I’m out of here. If it’s not, I’m staying. Okay, that’s great but if you go where are you going? Where will you stay? Have you thought about small towns off the beaten path that may have a small hotel and you won’t have to drive as far?
If you are staying. What is the plan if there are tornados? What if you house is damaged? Do you have things to make quick repairs if needed?
All of these are things that should be discussed in depth ahead of time and NOT while you are panicking.
Many people have a plan for themselves but not their animals. If you are evacuating, have you made sure that the place you are staying will allow you to bring them? Do you have the items they need to eat and for comfort? If you aren’t going to evacuate then do you have enough food for them if you can’t make it to the grocery for several days? What about when the storm comes–will it be safe for them to go outside and use the bathroom? Think about these things before you have to.
What do you take?
My plan is very simple. I will take only the most important things such as pictures that are not replaceable, jewelry that I am wanting to keep in our family, ect. We also allow for each family member to bring two items of their choice. Many things can be replaced or bought where you are going. Don’t weigh the car down with every single thing you have. Bring just the most important items to make travel as easy as possible.
Ok so this was a HUGE thing I learned after hurricane Katrina. Try to go through as much as you can before hurricane season and don’t make a plan to freeze a lot during hurricane season. I lost so much food after Katrina. SO MUCH. Although our insurance company covered most of the loss (thanks again USAA) I am a person who hates wasting food so it was really upsetting for me to have to get rid of so much.
Not to mention the cleanup. I’m sure we can all share stories of how fun it was to come home and clean out your fridge and freezer after your power had been off for five or six days. The smell was horrible and I had hundreds of ants inside my fridge and freezer. I use this time of year as an opportunity to purge and get rid of a few things. Wait until the night before trash pickup and tie it in trash bags. This minimizes the risk of developing a smell when you put it out.
We all know a hurricane is going to knock out your power but a strong tropical storm will likely do the same. Since most of us are likely not going to be evacuating for a tropical storm I’ll pass on a tip you will thank me for:
Keep a few toys hidden away for this very situation. My kids’ birthday is in July so after the initial glow of the new toys has worn off I stash several away in the attic or closet and I wait to use them. My plan has always been to break them out if we are without power to keep them entertained.
P.S. This works really well if you have a rotating play room like I do but that is a post that I will do another day.
Talk to Your Kids
I remember being a child and staying through a storm. Before any bad weather even began my dad sat me down and said that it could get loud and that I may hear things hit the house but that it was ok because we were together and he would never put me in a bad situation. I can remember that night and hearing the wind and rain and I slept ok because I kept remembering that he told me it was alright.
We all want to protect our kids from things that are scary and I get that. . . however, sometimes you need to address things upfront rather than when they are happening, so it’s easier to understand. If you are staying through a storm it’s better to set expectations up front. It could be very windy and loud but we are all together and you are going to be safe. The alternative is telling them they are ok during a storm (when they are likely already scared) is not going to be as effective.
Food and Water for the Car
Every time there is a natural disaster I hear about people who are stranded on the side of the road with no food, water or other provisions. If you are evacuating in your car it is imperative that you pack food and water and anything else you may need. Baby formula, diapers, and medicine just to name a few. Do not get in your car and think that you are going to make it to Dallas in 5 hours. It could take twice that if not longer. Expect to be in your car for a long time and bring the appropriate supplies. I would include a portable potty if you have kids.
My hope is that none of us will need to use any of these tips in a real life situation this year but for now lets all just pretend that there is a hurricane in the gulf and get prepared. I always say an ounce or prevention is worth a pound of cure.