Preparing for a Hurricane

I have first-hand experience of two destructive hurricanes in very different parts of the world: Hurricane Isabel in Virginia Beach in 2003, and Typhoon Milenyo (Xangsane) in the Philippines in 2007. Despite the vast differences between the two countries I’ve lived in and how they respond to disasters, there were many similarities in the problems faced by me and my family, and in the ways we prepared for and recovered from the storms.

The first decision that has to be made, and should be made as well in advance of the storm as possible, is whether you can stay in your home or should leave. Pay attention to the news and weather reports; if possible, try to get your information from the Weather Channel or the National Weather Service rather than the news networks who tend to make things more dramatic than they need to be. If evacuations in your area have been recommended or ordered, take that seriously; not only might you be putting yourself and your family in grave danger, rescuing you from the danger you were too stubborn to avoid might take emergency personnel away from another area where they’re needed and put them in harm’s way as well. Even if an evacuation hasn’t been ordered, consider leaving anyway.

If you’re going to stay and ride it out, there are a number of preparations you need to make, not only for the onslaught of the storm itself, but for the aftermath, which is actually worse. Pick up everything around the outside of your house that is not firmly attached to the Earth in some way and move it indoors. If you have a television antenna or a satellite dish, dismount it (call a serviceman if you need to) and move that indoors, too. Cover your windows; plywood is best, but heavy tarps or even old blankets are better than nothing. This is not only to protect the windows from breaking, but also helps stop rainwater from getting in – no window is weatherproof, no matter what the manufacturer claims, when a hundred mile an hour wind is driving torrential rain straight into it. If you do not have plywood to cover the windows and use something lighter instead, reinforce the glass by putting strips of tape across it. This will not keep it from breaking, but if it does break, the tape will at least prevent shards of glass from flying around inside your house. Inside, move your furniture and other items away from windows and doors, and get a couple buckets and some old rags ready, to deal with any stray water that gets in.

There are many websites and other sources that give good tips on preparing adequate water and food supplies for after the storm, and almost all of them are valid no matter what part of the world you’re in. Here are a few other tips on things that people usually don’t consider before the storm strikes:
MEDICINE AND PERSONAL CARE ITEMS – Make sure any prescriptions you need have been filled, and that the little things that matter – toothpaste, toilet tissue, feminine products – are in adequate supply. Finding out that Mom needs her blood pressure medicine or that you’re out of deodorant while you’re mopping up from the storm are things that turn a minor disaster into a catastrophe.
CASH – No electricity means no ATM or credit card machines; get some actual money before the storm arrives and keep it in a very safe place, like in your pocket.
PETS – Naturally you should bring them inside and have adequate food on hand for them, but the one thing people usually overlook is their pets’ mental health; most will go completely bonkers in a hurricane. Pay some attention to them and keep them as calm as possible. This is a good job for the kids, because it gives them something to keep them calm as well.
OTHER THINGS YOU WILL BE GLAD YOU DID BEFOREHAND – Do all your laundry; it will be a while until you can get to it again. Make sure everyone has a chance to bathe and put on clean clothes. Dress sensibly; you will be on your feet for a while, and might be caught in less-than-pleasant weather. Make sure all your cell phones and other rechargeable gadgets are fully-charged, and use them as sparingly as possible.
Most importantly, contact a friend or family member some distance away, outside the danger area, and agree on a prearranged time to contact them after the storm has passed. This will help relieve some of the worry they may have for your safety, and in a worst-case scenario, could help rescue you if things go terribly wrong; if they don’t hear from you by the appointed time, they can alert the authorities.

Hurricanes do not sneak up on people, so there is no reason why anyone should not be able to do something to prepare for one. Above all, the best choice is to get out of a hurricane’s way. If this is absolutely impossible, then taking some basic steps to keep yourself and family fed, sheltered, and reasonably comfortable will go a long way to making the experience pass more quickly.