Hurricane Sandy wasn’t our first major storm but it was the first since we bought property in Sarasota, Florida. After five days without water, power or reliable phone service, we’ve discovered what many Floridians know: that while you can’t move your home out of harm’s way, you can mitigate the discomfort with a little planning. Here are 10 tips from a northerner who has learned about infrequent but damaging storms:
- Plan for the worst. Create two options, one for sheltering in place, the other for abandoning your home. Find a place to shelter before hurricane season. If you can’t stay with relatives or friends outside the disaster zone, investigate nearby motels and plug that contact information into your mobile phone. You can tough it out without hot food but not a shower: you don’t want to report for work with bat hair. Don’t assume your neighbors can shelter you. Chances are they won’t have electricity, either. Book lodgings at least two days before the storm hits or you’ll lose your place to other homeowners and utility crews.
- Everything runs on electricity, not just AC and the Internet. Even alternative-fuel systems with electric starters, like pellet stoves and some gas hot water heaters, won’t work. Credit card and ATM machines need power. So do gasoline pumps at service stations. Assume no one will have electricity, including the municipalities, and plan accordingly. That means bulking up on generators, manual appliances, and cash.
- Invest in battery backup. Power outages outlast computers, cell phones and smartphones. Consider universal power supplies and dedicated cell-phone chargers. Once a storm approaches, charge all devices every night you have power. And remember to check the batteries in flashlights. You don’t want to be one of the things that go bump in the night.
- Sign up for text alerts from the electric company so you’ll know when it restores power to your home. Create a neighborhood phone tree so when the electric company says it has restored power, you can verify, or challenge, that assessment.
- Store essential phone numbers on paper. Keep a copy in your house, car and pocket.
- Inventory your medications. Keep a list in your wallet or purse. As soon as the first storm forms, refill your prescriptions. Every time the weather service begins tracking a new storm, use those alerts as reminders to check your supply.
- Save plastic containers to fill with water for washing, drinking and flushing toilets.
- Fill your cars with gasoline as soon as the weather service says a storm will make landfall within a few days.
- Pack a crash bag and keep it in the trunk of your car. Include clothing, personal hygiene items, bottled water, flashlight, cell-phone chargers and over-the-counter and prescription medications. If you’re stranded on your way home, you’ll have a few essentials.
- Don’t overstock the refrigerator or freezer. Perishables perish. In addition to paper products and plastic utensils, stockpile liquids packaged in bricks, dry goods like pasta, peanut butter, bottled water, canned goods and a manual can opener.
If there’s one lesson Hurricane Sandy has taught us it’s this: hope for the best but plan for the worst. Your future self will thank you.
Learn about how to prepare for hurricanes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Ready.gov site.