As I write this, Hurricane Florence is taunting us off the coast as we all think of every way possible to prepare.
As a Navy family, most of our time has been spent near the ocean in locations that are affected by hurricanes and tropical storm systems every year – and we had to figure it out with our family thousands of miles away.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Start by shopping early.
If you’re reading this and you haven’t gone out to buy water and supplies, you’ll want to go out as soon as possible to get some. What you need at the very least:
- Sandbags or Quick Dam Barriers. You can expect at LEAST 12-20 inches of rain in short period of time. Even if you’re not in a flood zone, you could still potentially see flooding.
- Ziplock bags. I personally purchase the freezer size bags and fill with water, so if we lose power, we can take the frozen bags and transfer them to the fridge or the cooler to keep our food cool. When the water melts, you have extra water for drinking or cooking.
- Propane and a camping stove. Initially, you won’t be able to go outside to cook, but once the storm passes, you may be able to cook on your porch. These are typically compact as well, which is great for storage.
- Disposable plates and utensils. You may not have water for a while.
- Batteries, flashlights, solar cell phone charges, candles, medications, toilet paper, etc. You’ll want to be able to power your devices in the event of a power outage. Many people also buy generators and gas as well to run them. Medications are also important – if you have a medication that will be needed to be refilled in the next two weeks, I recommend doing it now, just in case.
- Food. When you go shopping, you’ll want to pretend you’re going on an extended camping trip. Bread, peanut butter and jelly, protein bars, beef jerky, and other ready to eat foods are great. You can also buy some things that will be required to be warmed if you have plans for a camping stove. Our family always does a huge meal with everything that could go bad in our freezer on the hurricane eve, which cuts down on food waste as well.
- Water. If you don’t know how much water to buy, this calculator can help you figure out what you need to sustain your family. You may be without power for 10-14 days, so take that into consideration when buying supplies. You’ll also want to fill up your bathtub with water so that if you experience a water outage, you also have water to flush your toilets and such.
- Baby wipes. Even if you don’t have a baby, baby wipes are great for keeping you feeling a little fresh, even in the middle of a disaster. If you do have a baby, stock up on diapers, wipes, and formula (if you formula feed.)
2. Prepare your home.
You’ll want to head outside and pull in anything that cannot be secured down tight. This will mitigate damages due to the heavy winds that are coming our way – no one wants the surprise of a lawn chair coming through their window. If you have unhealthy trees in your yard, you may also want to consider tripping them down so that their branches aren’t flying around the neighborhood.
Make sure to also clear your gutters to prevent misdirected flooding around your home. If you’re in a flood zone and staying put, consider finding a safe place to park your car. (If you’re not sure if you’re in a flood zone, check the FEMA website.) Many areas will open parking garages to the public 48 hours before the storm and allow them to park their cars for free.
If you’re in the direct path or within the cone, board up your windows. The hurricane can change its path in the final inning of game, and this will protect your windows from wind damages, and it has an equal chance of landfall of anywhere within the cone. Put items on the floor up high that you don’t want to risk ruining if your home should flood, such as important documents or photos. Take important items down from attics or crawl spaces so that if you have damage to your roof, you won’t lose them. You can also get special straps to secure your roof to the frame structure of your home to prevent damage to it.
3. Consider evacuating early.
I know this is hard when you’re waiting for commands to give the authorization for your spouse to leave if he/she is not considered essential personnel, but if you can leave early, it will help you avoid traffic and flooding hazards. The commands typically will start putting out evacuation orders 72 hours in advance and you can expect them to give a designated location to evacuate to as well as per diem. You can choose to go elsewhere, but you will be paying a portion out of pocket to do so. If your spouse is attached to a ship or submarine, they will go out to sea to prevent damages to their ship or boat while in port. (This is completely safe, they do not cruise into the hurricane.) If you’re not sure you want to evacuate, book a hotel in a safe location inland in advance. If you choose not to go, simply cancel 24 hours prior. This way, you know you have a room, but hotels inland do start filling up quickly. If you wait to evacuate, know your area’s evacuation route for where you live so you’re not guessing on the road on where to go.
4. Take photos of your stuff.
Whether you decide to go or stay, take photos of your working electronics and jot down their serial numbers. Also take photos of your cars, home, and any other high value items.
5. Have a go bag ready in the car and make sure you fill up.
You may have to leave your home with very little notice. The farther you can drive until empty, the better. We also put our safe, guns, and other items we don’t want to store in the car during the storm near the door on our shelf so that if we have to go, we’re not running all over the house looking for the stuff we need to take with us.
6. Pull out cash.
Many stores will not have power, and those that do may not be able to accept cards.
7. If you need a loan, go to the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, Army Emergency Relief, or Air Force Aid Society.
If they can’t offer you a grant to cover your emergency expenses, they’ll offer you a no-interest loan that is paid back in small increments by allotment. If you already have a loan out with them, they may waive the “one loan at a time” requirement, but you may also be able to get a no or low-interest loan from Navy Federal Credit Union. They can help whether you’re planning to hunker down or evacuate.
8. Stay informed.
There are special NOAA radios that you can use to get emergency information during the storm. If you go through the direct hit, do not be fooled by a lull in the storm – stay inside, as it could be the eye of the storm and it could pick up again. Wait instead for the all-clear that it has passed.
9. If you have pets, write your number directly on their collar or body (if they’re short-haired.)
We need to keep our pets safe too, and many become displaced due to storms. Microchips are also great, but not everyone looks for a microchip when they see a lost dog (though every shelter and vet does scan for one.) If you’re evacuating with pets, try to find a La Quinta hotel, as they accept pets with no restrictions.
10. If you decide to hunker down at home, you may face a mandatory evacuation.
If this happens, you would either gather your supplies and hit the road (if that’s still possible), or take them and your family to the shelter. Many shelters do not accept pets, so you may find yourself scrambling to figure out which one you can go to. If you do not evacuate under mandatory evacuation orders, you are taking your life into your own hands – no one is coming for you if the worst happens until the storm is over.