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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hurricane Readiness, by T. in South Florida

I have lived in Florida all of my life. I was born here, went to school here, and my chosen profession is here. I have bugged in through every hit and near miss in my 30+ years of existence from North Florida to South Florida. I was never scared of hurricanes as a child because my parents made sure we were prepared. I do not have fear of a hurricanes now because I understand what can happen and what I need to do for myself and my family. Don't mistake lack of fear for lack of respect. A hurricane is an immense and powerful storm that will leave devastation, destruction, and death in its path.

If you are planning on riding out a hurricane you need to assess your personal situation. Is your home hurricane hardened, do you live in an area that is prone to floods with even a normal thunder shower, at what predicted category of hurricane do you stay or evacuate? My personal situation is high and dry during even the worst rain storms and torrential down pours, I am not in the storm surge zone and my home has been upgraded to the latest Miami-Dade County Building Code. I am comfortable staying and riding out a hurricane up to and including a Category 3, anything larger and I evacuate. If you decide to evacuate, this is when to activate your G.O.O.D. plan. I will focus on bugging in.
First and foremost monitor the activity throughout the hurricane season but don't ever fall into the hype of your local television station. Make your own formed opinions from all of the available information on the Television, Radio, and Internet. Deciphering all of this information can be overwhelming, but it is in your best interest to understand it.

The Week Before Hurricane Season
In the beginning of the season I go through my hurricane supply list (below the article) and make sure I haven't raided any of the items for projects. I also go through my pantry and restock (I do this quarterly). The government says you should have at least three days of nonperishable food and water. I would suggest a minimum of a week. I have substantially more than a week stored for my family's use. Downed trees, debris, and power poles can make roads impassable for much longer than the 3 days. Also make a video or picture documentation of all of your possessions including interior and exterior of your home. Know where your power, water, and gas shutoffs are and how to shut them off if you need to. I also slather silicon grease that I use for my SCUBA mask on all fridge and freezer seals (there may be a form of this at your hardware store). This saves you money during the rest of the year as well. Check with your family, friends, and neighbors to decide on how you will communicate before, during, and after the storm.

I check my generator. I get it running and put a load on it. I run a resistive item like a coffee pot or toaster and a high wattage device like a microwave for 10-15 minutes (I have an old working microwave in the shed). After this time, I turn off the fuel valve and run it dry. I store a minimal amount of gas in the generator tank with Sta-Bil.
Three Days Before a Storm Hits
I go fill my gas cans and top off my vehicles. I never let any of my vehicles go below a half tank. You can fill them earlier than three days just make sure you have enough Sta-Bil for all of the gas you plan to store. Don't wait till the day before or even the day of a hit to get fuel. Either nothing will be open, the line will be around several blocks, or everyone will be out of gas. I don't store more than 5-10 gallons at the house at any time. I don't have enough outside storage without taking up too much [floor] space in my shed for too long. I fill 14 5-6 gallon cans. This gives me approximately two full weeks of generator power based on the loads I have previously used for my house. If I am certain the effect of the storm will last longer, I can start cutting out creature comforts and extend that time by another week and maybe two. If the storm doesn't hit, I have the fuel available for the next storm or to transport to friends or family that do get hit. During Hurricane Wilma my brother drove down from Central Florida to me in South Florida with 14 gas cans. I got six, my neighbor got six and my brother kept two for the return trip. I was without grid power for a little over four weeks for Wilma. I also fill as many jugs of water as I can and put them in the deep freeze and the refrigerator freezer. This helps maintain the temperature for when the power is out during the storm and at night after the storm when I am I not running the generator. Turn all of your freezers and refrigerators to maximum cold setting. Wash all of your clothes, everything. You will be going through plenty of shirts, pants and underwear with all of the clean up and repair work you will be doing after the storm. Fill up your bath tubs and plug them closed.
The Day Before a Hit
I put up my shutters. Even if you have hurricane resistant windows I would suggest shutters on the large and expensive to replace windows. I have the wing nut type shutters. There is an adapter at home depot that lets you use a drill to put these on, definitely get a couple or three. Also make sure you have at least two egress points from your house in the event of an emergency. I have the front door, Garage door, and a side window that is protected by the neighbors house. When I put up my shutters I also leave a small gap in one panel of my front window shutters in front and a small gap in the back window so I can see outside. This helps with morale during a storm and keeps anybody from trying to open a door too see "what's going on." After this is done I call up my friends and see what help they need. If any of my friends are out of town I make sure their houses are battened down. I also get as much ice as I can. I fill every cooler I have with ice. I also put two block ice chunks (gallon or half gallon frozen jugs) per cooler so that it stays colder longer. Ice is cheap enough even better if you know someone with an industrial ice machine. Lube up your cooler hinges with silicon or petroleum jelly. This helps when someone opens the drink cooler in the middle of the night so you don't get that loud creaking.
Park your car/truck in the most sheltered position possible if you don't have a garage to put it in. I have an L shape on my house to do this. If you can, park between two houses if you are unfortunate enough to live in suburbia. If you have a concrete parking garage near your house park one of your cars there. Park it on at least the second level in case of flooding. Don't go to the top floor as that is usually open to the elements. Shelter your vehicle as best as possible. This gives you a better chance of at least having one vehicle that isn't destroyed in case you have to G.O.O.D.
During the Storm
Stay inside. Monitor the storm via any media means possible. Watch the weather radar on your computer. Listen to the radio or television. Know what is happening. Take bets with friends on which reporter gets hit with debris first it's inevitable and comical). Do not leave your house unless your structure has been compromised. Once you have lost power shut off your main breaker or switch to the house. I have one inside and one outside. This inside main gets switched off after power is lost during the storm. Power surges can occur periodically throughout the storm. I go out during the eye. Everybody says not to go outside and if you aren't comfortable going outside, then don't. Its a small window of opportunity to assess damage to your house and vehicles and an opportunity to move your vehicle to a more protected area depending on the wind direction. The wind after the eye will shift. Depending on where you end up in the hurricane will dictate where the wind will be coming form. The eye can last from minutes to a half an hour or more depending on if you end up [centered] in the eye and the size of the eye. Get inside before the rear wall gets you. Do not use candles, oil lamps, or any other open flame item in your house during the storm. If you have a structural failure the last thing you need is to have an open flame ready to burn down everything you have. Glow sticks, florescent lanterns and LED lights are your friends. Play games, read books together, pray together, stay calm, and monitor the media.

Pets During the Storm.
My pets are well trained and do not spook easily and are not afraid of strong storms. But, if your pets are easily spooked, you can go to the veterinarian and get a sedative [such as Acepromazine (ACP or "Ace")] for your pet during the storm. Many of my friends have to do this even during the Independence Day celebrations.
After the Storm
Assess the damage after the storm has passed. Document everything with pictures and video. Assuming your house is still livable and after you have documented all of the damage and all friends and family are safe, you need to set up your living conditions and assign tasks to family members. Stay clear of down power lines. Do not walk in puddles or standing pools of water unless absolutely necessary.
Posting a watch. If you end up doubling or tripling up with other friends and families posting a watch at all hours is an excellent idea. Posting a watch may be even more important if local government and law enforcement has broken down due to the effects of the storm. I'm sure many of you have seen the pictures after Hurricane Andrew of the guy on his lawn with a "Street Sweeper." There were no looters bothering him. I don't recommend sitting in a chair on your front lawn with a shotgun for all to see. But, having someone whose only job is to watch ingress and egress points of your property is cheap insurance. If you have the manpower, rotate shifts. If you are sticking it out in your neighborhood and are a lone family, work together with your neighbors to put an effective neighborhood watch together.
Set up your generator and get it running. After the generator is running begin to load it up. I have a 240 VAC outlet behind my house just for this. I shut of my main and turn on only the circuits that I want to run one at a time. I listen to the generator and let it settle before switching on another load. Before having the transfer switch setup, I ran extension cords to The Fridge, Deep Freeze, television, a couple lights and portable fans. Having the transfer switch allows me to run what I want just like I had grid power, but you need to only use what is necessary. Fuel is a hot commodity before and after a storm and burning through it on power you don't need is a waste. Protect your generator form the elements and from thieves. I set my generator under a fold up/down hurricane awning and chain/lock it to the house. I also set up a noise barrier between the generator and the house. Always run your generator outside and away from the entrances to your house. Make sure to have carbon monoxide detectors and fire alarms in every room as well as multiple ABC fire extinguishers.
Set up a cooking area outside. Even if you have a gas stove inside, the heat given off during cooking can be unbearable. Under normal conditions your air conditioner makes living indoors enjoyable, but after the power goes out you need to do everything possible to make the inside of your house hospitable. Also, cooking indoors can lead to a build up of carbon monoxide. Without the Air Conditioning running and proper ventilation this can be a deadly hazard. I use a propane gas grill and a Coleman propane two burner stove with a large tank adapter. This allows me to have a large reservoir of propane that has a shutoff valve that won't leak to the atmosphere like the little 1lb cans will. Make use of the items in your list set up the kitchen just like you would inside. Set it up under a tarp, tent, or porch. Even after the storm has passed rain bands and other storms are always a possibility. Set up one large cooler for items that are frequently accessed like drinks and condiments. This allows you to keep the fridge closed and use less power. Do not open your fridge or deep freeze unless you need to. I also put 10-20 lbs of stuff on top of my deep freeze to make sure the seal is good and tight.
Sleeping arrangements. I try to do everything in one room. My living room has cross flow which helps keep it cooler when the windows and doors are open. I usually set up the living room with air mattresses that I can move out of the way during the day. If you are running a portable air conditioning unit off of your generator close off all other rooms that you do not want to cool. Having a small quiet Honda generator chained down outside and running a portable AC can make sleeping at night much more bearable (sleeping at night in a closed up house in 90 degree heat is not sleeping it's passing out). This does two things. It allows you to completely close your house at night for security and you won't sweat to death. If you hook it up to your transfer switch you can also leave your home security system and outside lights on. I don't advocate running any generator at night that isn't quiet. Your neighbors will be much happier with you this way. Sleeping at night in the pitch dark can be unsettling. If you are not running a quiet generator at night, I have a few tips to help you be more comfortable. Cyalume or similar light sticks are excellent night lights and can be bought in bulk fairly inexpensively. I keep one in the main bathroom, one in the sleeping room, one inside the drink cooler (you remembered to lube the hinges right?). You can use low wattage LED lanterns, but the Cyalumes are much better for your night vision. I like green and blue as they last the longest and are the brightest. Battery operated fans will make sleeping in the heat much more comfortable. Sleeping on an air mattress as close to the ground as possible is much cooler than sleeping on a traditional mattress. My floors are terrazzo and are very cool in the summer. I have slept with my windows open to allow for a breeze to come through the house, but unless you post a watch you will not get much sleep worrying about looters/crime.
Showers, toilets, and water. Fortunately, I have never lost municipal water or gas where I live so I have had plenty of water and heat for showers. If you are on a well, you will need to know if your generator can power it and know how much load it will take to pump the water. My sister in law ran a separate smaller generator just for the well pump and one for the house. A five gallon bucket left out during the summer heat will be plenty hot for an evening shower. Also the black camp shower bags are excellent for this task as well. You can hang the bag on an eve on a pulley system (for ease of filling) and run the hose inside through the bathroom window if you don't want to set up an outside temporary shower. If you still have running water cold showers during the summer are a welcome treat. I store enough water for my family to drink for a month. This does not include the juices and Gatorade that I have as well. If I am under a boil water order, I use my stores until it is deemed safe. I also have two 55 gallon drums from a car wash, the bath tub, a hot tub and a canal for non-drinking water . The bath tub is not for drinking, it is for flushing the toilet if the water is out. I keep a small 1-2 gallon pail just for flushing. If it's yellow let it mellow, if its brown flush it down. Hopefully, the sewage or septic system is up and running and you will not have to worry about setting up a latrine outside or honey buckets.

Laundry. My washing machine is 120 VAC and my clothes dryer is 120VAC/Gas. So I can do laundry without much load on the generator. But why waste power if you don't need to. There are quite a few articles in Survival Blog on how to wash and dry clothes without power. I use two five gallon buckets. One bucket to wash and one to rinse. Once the clothes are washed hang them to dry. Make sure to have clothes pins. No point in having to re-wash clothes after they been blown down from the drying line.

Keep in mind that the storm may have greatly affected where you live but usually a 30-60 minute drive and you can find untouched areas to re-supply. If you decide to do a re-supply run, make sure to include family, friends, and neighbors. Make a caravan so you can bring back more than you would all by yourself. If your land line or cell phone is working let your fingers do the walking. This way you are not driving aimlessly. I stay in touch with family and friends throughout the state that can bring me supplies if it looks like I am going to be low or run out. Never leave your house unattended if it isn't absolutely necessary.

After you have your situation squared away, it's time to help friends, family, and neighbors. Tree removal is usually number one, roof repair number two, then windows, etc. I help where I can and within my abilities. I know most of my neighbors and usually have more than enough supplies to help and do when I can. I have given tools, food, water, ice, and labor. If you have not lost power at all or have everything squared away at home and have the opportunity to help at your local church, town government, or even the Red Cross do so. Helping others is good for the soul.

Once I have the opportunity, I follow my power line (assuming its safe) from my transformer in both directions to the main feeder and to the end of the line and note any trees on the lines, open switches, down lines, and down poles then call the power company with this information. They know you probably don't have power but this helps with their damage assessment and triage. The closer you are to a hospital or government building the faster you get power as well. If you see a power truck moving through your neighborhood or power crews working. Offer them a good meal and cold drinks. They have usually have come from around the country to help, work extremely long hours and welcome the small break and the food and drinks. Its not all bad if they get a chance to inspect the service to your house while you are distributing charity.

Eventually power will be restored. I have a light on the power pole outside my house to know if power has been restored at night. During the day you will notice your neighbors being excited because power has been restored. Most people leave their main breaker on, waiting for power to be restored. Do not do this!!! If you think power may be back to your home, turn off your generator and disconnect any items plugged into it. Switch all of your breakers to off, your main should already be off remember. Inspect your service line from the pole to your house. If it looks like there has been no damage, switch on the main. After the main is on I switch on one and only one circuit. I then measure the voltage with a voltmeter. It should be at 120VAC +/- 10% in Florida. It should also be fairly steady within 2-to-4 volts and not jumping around 5, 10 or 20 VAC. If your voltage is correct and steady, then start switching on breaker one at a time. Go to the room that is turned on. Look, Listen and Smell for a few minutes. If all seems good move to the next breaker and repeat Look, Listen, and Smell until all breakers are on.
Life will return to normal and usually resembles normality within a month. This is not always the case as some hurricanes can devastate a community and normalcy can take years to return.

My Hurricane Preparedness Checklist

Many SurvivalBlog readers will already have these items and much more, but this list represents a good collection of items that I have used and make certain I have available before every hurricane season. I am sure there may be more items to add to the list below that may be specific to your situation and some of these items you may not need. Just being aware and prepared will make living through a natural disaster more comfortable.
Portable Camp-Stove, Stove fuel, and large propane tank adapter
Grill and Propane
Charcoal and lighter fluid
Aluminum foil
Zipper bags
Oven mitts
Manual can opener
Disposable plates, cups & eating utensils
Napkins & paper towels
Matches and/or Lighters
Non-Perishable Foods - The idea is to have easy to make meals. I save the MREs to pass out to people that need a quick meal.
Canned meats, fruits, vegetables
Bread in moisture-proof packaging
Cookies, candy, dried fruit
Canned soups & milk
Powdered or single serve drinks
Cereal bars
Granola bars
Peanut butter & jelly
Instant coffee & tea
Equipment & Other Items
Flashlight (one per person LED preferred)
Cyalumes or Glow sticks (I use three to four a night)
Portable battery powered lanterns
Hurricane Lanterns and ultra pure oil (only for use after the storm)
Glass enclosed candles (only for use after the storm)
Battery powered radio or television
Battery operated alarm clock
Extra batteries, including hearing aids
Mosquito repellent (lots and lots I can't stress to have enough)
Sun screen (I use the Neutrogena SPF 70)
Waterproof matches/butane lighters
Bleach or water purification tablets
Maps of the area with landmarks (street signs will be gone and many landmarks as well)
Buckets and lids
Sewing Kit
Generator (Fuel, oil, spark plugs)
Home Owners Insurance
Car Insurance
Photo copies of prescriptions
Photo identification
Proof of residence (utility bills)
Medical history
Waterproof container for document storage
Back up discs of your home computer files
Camera & film or memory cards and batteries
Dry & canned food
Litter box supplies
Collars and Leashes
Muzzle (most shelters will not allow a dog without a muzzle)
Other Necessities
Tools: hammer, wrenches, screw drivers, nails, saw
Chainsaw : extra chains, chain sharpener, bar lube, two stroke oil, fuel
Work Gloves
Knife/Utility knife
Trash bags (lots of them)
Cleaning supplies
Plastic drop cloth
Mosquito netting
ABC rated fire extinguishers
Duct tape or strong masking tape
Outdoor heavy gage heady duty extension cords
Spray paint
Personal Supplies
Money (ATMs and Banks don't give out money without power)
Prescriptions (1 month supply)
Toilet paper
Soap, shampoo & detergent
Body Wipes
Glasses/Contacts and cleaning Solutions
Toiletries & feminine hygiene products
Changes of clothing
Extra glasses or contacts
Bedding: pillows, sleeping bag
Rain ponchos & work gloves
Entertainment: books, magazines, card games, etc.
Water, Ice Chest & Ice
One gallon of water per person per day
Block and Cube Ice
First Aid Kit
OTC Meds
Alcohol or Alcohol cleansing pads
Antibacterial ointment
Antiseptic cleansing wipes
Burn relief pack
Cotton-tipped applicator
Emergency blanket
Finger splint
First aid tape
Instant cold compress
Itch-relief cream
Latex-free exam quality vinyl gloves
Gauze and Various Bandages
Super Glue (the magic wound closer)

Land Line Phone that doesn't require wall power
Cell Phones, charged batteries, car chargers
FRS two way radios
I also have portable VHF marine radios that can monitor NOAA and coast guard activity since I am near the coast

This is an area that I am leaving blank. Not because it isn't important, but it is something that is very personal. I've prepared in this area, and so should you. - T. in South Florida

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