After the devastating hit of Hurricane Harvey in Houston and the projected path of Irma, I’ve been receiving a lot of questions about what people can be doing to prepare and whether or not they should evacuate. It’s made me remember all of the hurricanes I’ve prepared for, helped my parents prepare for, and watched my parents prepare for when I was young. Hurricane Andrew included. I remember Andrew surprisingly well. I remember running from the pantry to my dad’s office when water started coming through the roof. I remember drinking cold milk because the generator could only power the fridge and not warm my glass. I remember other Hurricanes where we lost power for two weeks and sat in the front yard playing Taboo, seeing smoke, and running to find out that a neighborhood house had caught fire because someone left a candle lit near a closet. I also remember storms like Hurricane Matthew last year when I prepared my home with a 3 year old and six-week old and my husband who was in and out of work, then the storm turned and missed us completely.
I’ll address the second question (whether to evacuate or not) with my favorite law school answer, “it depends”. The governor of Florida has declared a state of emergency but there’s no hurricane watch just yet. If you’re in a flood or surge zone, yes, you should have a plan to leave a few days before the storm is projected to hit to avoid bad traffic. You may not have to leave very far if you have a place to stay further inland in the city. If you’re not in a flood or surge zone, it’s up to your gut. Only you know how secure your home is, how new your roof is, and whether or not you have shutters or live in an area that loses power easily. If you haven’t decided yet, rent a refundable hotel room before the rates rise and the availability diminishes. Remember that the problem with leaving is your inability to outrun the storm or project where it is going. Sometimes it’s better to prepare for known dangers than the unknown so be mindful of that as you decide. If you’re going to leave town to avoid Irma, consider leaving Florida altogether as it is currently projected to go straight up the state. As for me, I bunker down and weather the storm for several reasons. So I prepare.
“If ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” -Gordon B. Hinckley
So here are some very basic things you can do to prepare.
1. Stock up.
Once a hurricane watch has been issued (typically 48 hours before a storm) stores start to empty out. If they’re empty, speak to the managers on duty to find out when they’re expecting a new shipment. Home Depot is usually a one-stop-shop for waters, wood to board your windows, flashlights, propane, batteries, and handheld radios. Be sure to stock up on water (at least one or two 24-packs per person in your household), canned food, a backup charger, flashlights, gasoline, batteries, first aid kit, an air mattress, toilet paper, paper towels, disposable plates and utensils (in the event you lose water, you won’t be able to wash dishes), trash bags, Clorox and baby wipes, feminine products, prescription medication, food for your animals, canned food and non perishables. Please remember you need enough water to brush your teeth, cook your food, and give to your animals as well. If you have children, hard candy is helpful to boost morale. If you find that stores are out of what you need, check Amazon prime. I currently have a solar powered charger on its way via Amazon. If you can’t find water in stores, order on Zephyrhillsdelivery.com, they’re providing 50% off your first order and will deliver to your door. Consider a generator, fans, and buying or preparing a 72-hour kit. Make sure you have a battery-powered radio in the event that the power goes out during the storm because you will likely not be able to access internet or television during that time. Many people confuse the eye of the storm for the end of the storm and they get caught going outside during that dangerous time because they aren’t receiving weather updates. If you have small children, peruse the dollar section at Target for little toys or activity books or get them a new book to read. Load your computer or tablet with movies for them to watch. It will help ease their nerves during the storm and relieve boredom when the storm passes and they can’t do much with no power or roaming free in a debris-filled yard.
2. Gather important documents and back up important photos.
Birth certificates, marriage certificates, licenses, passports, social security cards, and any important document that would be a complete pain to have to reorder or track down should be gathered and put into a waterproof document bag and slipped into an evacuation bag. Back up your computer, all photos (from your phone and computers) onto an external drive or some type of cloud, the most irreplaceable things are not things, they’re the 2398 pictures of your baby eating an apple for the first time or petting a puppy. Securing other documents in storage bags or containers is also helpful. If you want to thoroughly prepare, remove frames from your walls to avoid them crashing down or getting wet. Depending on your home, your walls may shake from the wind, causing frames to fall and glass to shatter. You can pack the frames into suitcases to secure them. I’ve never removed frames but that’s me. Be sure to also take videos and photographs of your home and belongings for insurance purposes.
3. Plan your evacuation route and pack an evacuation bag.
Whether or not you’re leaving before the storm, you absolutely need an evacuation plan if you need to leave from one room in your home to another during the storm. In ’92 when Hurricane Andrew hit, our neighbors lost their roof in the middle of the storm. They ran across the street and got into their neighbor’s home to weather the rest of the storm. If you lose your roof, get into a bathtub and cover yourself with a mattress. During Hurricane Andrew, we chose the safest room in the house, one with no windows or exterior walls, when the water began to come through the roof, we needed a back-up room. Luckily, we were able to get to my father’s office and spent the night in there on an air mattress. Once you have your main room and backup rooms, stock some diapers and wipes for your children, blankets, waters, and snacks so that you’re not separating from them to get them things during the storm. In your evacuation bag you should have your backup drive, important documents, water, snacks, $100 in cash, a first aid kit, diapers, wipes, a pocket knife, flashlight, and a change of shirt and underwear. Do NOT leave the city after the storm until the streets have been cleared.
4. Secure your home.
Make sure your trees are trimmed and that there are no low lying branches, debris around your yard should be cleaned up and taken to the dump, and your lawn should be mowed (it makes it much easier to clean up whatever has flown into your yard once the storm has passed). Bathe your dogs and bring them in, bring in all patio furniture, easily movable pots (they become flying projectiles), and bring your animals indoors. Drain water from your pool, put shutters on your windows and doors, and find a place to park your cars (city garages usually open up and provide free parking during hurricane warnings, 36 hours in advance of the storm). Unplug all computers and electronics. Lower the temperature on your refrigerators and AC to keep things cool and if you lose power, do not open your freezer. Things will slowly defrost and you can grill them when they do. It is especially helpful if you store bagels and bread in your freezer.
It may sound silly because what else are you going to do while stuck in your house but clean? If your laundry is done, your bed is clean, your floor is clean, it makes it a lot easier to stay stuck in your house AND you don’t have to worry about doing it when you’re out of power and running water. Clean your bathtub and fill it with water just before the storm so that you can use the water to brush your teeth and flush your toilets. Bathe your animals the day before landfall so you’re not sharing a small room for several hours with the smell of wet-dog. The LAST thing you want is to have no power, no AC, and no clean underwear.
I’m not afraid of Hurricanes, I prepare for them. If you prepare “ye shall not fear.” The most amazing thing that I have seen in my life is the relief effort following the storm. After Hurricane Andrew I remember waking up to a team of Mormon Helping Hands members from our ward, cleaning our yard. I remember the American Red Cross and the teams of people rebuilding roofs when contractors disappeared with people’s money. I remember my parents inviting our neighbors over to eat because they had run out of food. Storms are violent motivators for compassion. I continue to pray for the people of Houston and anyone in the way of Irma. Best of luck to anyone in the way of the storm. What are your best hurricane preparedness tips?