The following practical suggestions and hints on Hurricane Emergency Preparedness were generated by myself and several other Troop 111 families both before and after Hurricane Isabel. An effort was made to avoid the usual hints that are are offered by the mass media, such as getting a stock of cash, gassing your vehicles, buying non-perishable foods and water, and having plenty of fresh batteries for flashlights and radios, etc. (for a good discussion of such, see the WTOP hints at: http://www.wtop.com/?sid=124588&nid=330 (this appears to be a permanent webpage). Arlington County also has a Hurricane Preparedness links page at: http://www.co.arlington.va.us/lib/sites/hurricanes.htm Remember, our list complements and supplements those lists; it does not replace them.
Note that this list was generated based on our experiences in the Arlington, Virginia area, and should be considered with that in mind (that is, we do not live on the coast, and are very unlikely to ever experience the full brunt of a hurricane).
* Freeze multiple gallon jugs of water in your freezer ahead of time, for placement in your refrigerator and freezer when the power fails for a couple of days. (It’s a Boy Scout thing.) Remember to leave the cap off and the water level down about 2 inches in the jug, to allow for expansion on freezing. Unless it’s really hot, each gallon jug in each compartment buys you an extra day, longer if you can get your kids to avoid opening the doors unless absolutely necessary. If the jugs were clean to start, or if you bought gallon jugs of spring water to freeze, they also represent fresh drinking water when they do finally thaw out.
IMPORTANT! – Avoid using dry ice to keep your refrigerators cold! Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide, and as it thaws it is venting carbon dioxide into your house. If your house is sealed tight, you could potentially build up a deadly concentration of carbon dioxide inside, especially in your basement areas. If you must use dry ice, make sure the house is well ventilated. Note that this caution is NEVER mentioned by the mass media!
* Charge your cell phone(s) up all the way, and keep them charged up. If you have a spare battery pack for your phone, charge it up as well. Alternately, if you don’t have one already, get a cell phone charger for your phone(s) that works off your car’s cigarette lighter.
* If you already have a “wet basement” and use a regular sump pump, consider getting either a manual pump as a backup or a battery backup for the electrical pump (available at hardware stores and computer stores), or both. Note that a battery backup for a sump pump can usually provide about 4 hours of service – that ain’t much if you have real water problems. If your basement is a hopeless case in heavy, sustained rain, get a small generator and adequate gas to run it for several days. Remember that any generators have to be set up OUTSIDE, and preferably downwind of your house, to avoid killing yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning (generators killed at least half-a-dozen people during Isabel). Remember that generators are also highly prized items during emergencies, so get a heavy chain and lock to secure yours, and keep your gas can secure too. If you know or suspect that you will have a water-filled basement, move items upstairs BEFORE you need to – don’t wait til it’s a an all-hands panic. Finally, note that’s it’s impossible to buy generators and battery backups when a hurricane approaches; plan accordingly.
* If your downspouts drain next to your house, get a few of those long black tubes and slide them onto the bottom of the spout, that will drain the water at least 10 feet away (and downhill if possible). These are fairly light, so also be sure to weigh them down on the free end (a couple of cinder blocks or flagstones teepee’d over the end works well).
These tubes are also hard to find when a hurricane approaches; plan accordingly.
* Because hurricanes usually cause lots of power fluctuations and/or off-on-off surges well before the power finally quits for good, turn your computer(s) off for the duration once the winds start to pick up (unless you have yours hooked into a battery backup, in which case you can wait til the power quits for good. If you do have a battery backup, disconnect everything except the CPU and the monitor (and if necessary, router) – that way, if the power is off but the internet is still up, you can turn your computer on briefly once a day to check on the world, without having all your ancillary equipment (printers, scanners, etc.) kill off your power-pack). Finally, if there are extensive thunderstorms, it’s also a good idea to remove the phone line or broadband cable from your computer, and also unplug the power strip, until things quiet down.
IMPORTANT! – (1) Do NOT assume that your smart phone will be able to connect to local cell phone towers! Those towers will likely be swamped with many hundreds or thousands of other users, and may also be out of power themselves (which puts even more stress on the next closest towers). (2) In an emergency situation, text messages are FAR MORE LIKELY TO GET THROUGH versus attempting to call, when cell towers are swamped.
* If you are in an area that might lose water supplies, fill the bathtub with water so you can flush the toilet. Ditto for the large sink/tub for your washing machine (after you do your last pre-storm load of laundry). Use a floppy rubber drain cover or a rubber stopper in the tubs/sinks – don’t rely on the mechanical drain stops (they all leak!) Note that if you have an ejector system for your sewage, you MUST have a generator! (and again, see above for cautionary notes on generators).
* If you have a tree or limbs that are clearly threatening, get them removed AHEAD OF TIME. You can probably get emergency tree service right up to the day before a hurricane – afterwards, you can spend weeks waiting for service, and rueing your decision to let a known bad situation go…. Also have some large, heavy-duty tarps available in case of roof or car damage from falling trees/limbs (also have a way to attach same in wet conditions). If you don’t have a large ladder, ask around your neighbors to see who has one in case you need one.
* Sign up for R-SAN (the Arlington Community Alert System – http://www.arlingtonalert.com ) [For those who aren’t familiar, this system sends messages to any text messaging devices — cell phones, blackberries, e-mail, pagers and palm pilots.] Alternately, get a small battery powered TV (but be very sparing in using it).
- Eat your perishable foods ahead of time! (Duh!) This also frees up room for your frozen water jugs.
- If you have any prescription medications that are about to run out, get them re-filled before the storm arrives.
- Survey your property and pull inside or secure all items that can be carried away or moved by the wind (e.g., lightweight lawn furniture). If your garbage can, lawn refuse can, and recycling can are empty, fill them with heavy items, move them inside your garage, or tie them down to a secure item such as a chain-link fence.
- If your house is in a flood-prone area (remember, small creeks can turn into raging rivers), take photos of everything in advance (or video the entire house, room by room, with closeups).
- Have one good LED flashlight with fresh batteries for EACH member of the family. A few LED lanterns pre-located in strategic places are also a very good idea. Be aware that it is REALLY, REALLY dark at night when there is a widespread power outage and the sky is completely clouded over. Note that a typical LED lantern on a low setting will run continuously for 10 days to 2 weeks. NOTE!: Do NOT use candles for lighting, especially if you have pets or small children!
- Similarly, have 2 or 3 battery powered radios, with fresh batteries installed, at pre-established locations and with local news stations (like WTOP) pre-loaded. One radio per floor is a good idea.
- If you haven’t backed up your computer files in forever, do so before the storm arrives.
- Do all your laundry in advance. Take showers as the storm approaches (it may be your last opportunity for awhile).
- Know where your camping gear is! – a lot of it is also excellent emergency gear. Organizing and laying out your wet-weather camping gear and boots in advance is a good idea.
- Pre-establish a relative or friends house to stay at if you lose power for an extended period.
- Consider where to park your vehicles – not so far that it would be difficult to get to them, but also not next to large trees or telephone poles, or in areas prone to flooding.
- And afterwards, BEWARE OF FRAUD! See the Arlington County website for extensive hints and warnings on this topic, at: https://www.co.arlington.va.us/cmo/consumer/hurricane_fraud.htm
Finally, a cautionary note: Those of us who have lived for awhile in the Washington area are well familiar with the combination of semi-panic and frantic nuttiness that accompanies the “S” word every winter. We saw lots of similar behavior as Isabel approached, especially on the roads. If we are faced with another Isabel, remember to be careful out there, even as you prepare. It is highly unlikely that a hurricane will kill or even injure any of us here in Arlington – but our fellow man (or woman) in a Suburban Assault Vehicle, now there’s another story!