Living as I do in Florida, one of my most likely short-term disaster scenarios is a hurricane. I recall the first year that I moved to Florida, four hurricanes hit the State in one season. The fourth was hurricane Jeanne, the one that affected my home the most. It struck not too long after another hurricane has already damaged the area.
The first concern that I have when a hurricane is approaching is the decision to stay and ride it out, or evacuate.
The house has hurricane-proof windows due to a plastic film added to otherwise ordinary window panes. They can take a hit from a 2×4 at high speed and not lose their integrity. The type of windows that are purpose-built for hurricanes are even more secure. In addition, we have aluminum hurricane shutters to place over all the windows, especially over the large sliding glass doors. Given this protection, I’d stay put for almost any storm, except perhaps a direct hit from a category 5 (like Katrina).
If your house has neither reinforced window glass, nor hurricane shutters, you might want to board up the windows with plywood, or else bug-out. If you wait too long to buy the plywood, all the stores will be sold out. So, as Butch recommended in a previous article, you might want to keep some plywood in your garage in anticipation of storms, civil unrest, etc.
If instead you evacuate in advance of a storm, you’ll need to do so as soon as practical. This is a tricky decision, since the course of a storm is difficult to predict. Also, you absolutely do not want to be stuck on a highway, during the storm, especially if the highway has become a parking lot due to the number of persons evacuating at the same time. It is better to be in any house, than in any car, during a hurricane.
If I decide to ride out the storm, my second concern is power. Fortunately, in Florida during hurricane season, the weather is warm enough that freezing temperatures are not an issue. But it does mean that the air conditioning will be out with the power. It’s going to be hot and there is not much that can be done about that.
My tips on using computers and the internet during a power outage are here. I have a solar-powered recharger for my cell phone. I also have an inexpensive corded phone. Remember that your cordless landline phone won’t work without power. But phone lines often still work when the power is out.
Lighting is an issue when the power is out, especially for an extended period of time. The batteries in flashlights tend to run out of power after a few days. I have some of those chemical light sticks, which are useful to have some light at night to walk around the house. Candles are indispensable; save your batteries and use some candles. But beware of the fire hazard.
An olive oil lamp can provide many hours of lighting, and the oil is not very flammable. Lehmans has inexpensive olive oil lamps for sale. Or you can make your own. Here’s one set of instructions at Mother Earth News.
My third concern, after light/power and the decision to stay or go, is refrigeration. If I have plenty of warning about an approaching storm, I take several one gallon bottles of water, empty out a few ounces, and then freeze a couple at a time in the freezer. After a few days, I have enough ice to keep the refrigerator cool for several days during a power outage. I also have a refrigerator thermometer and a freezer thermometer, so I can monitor the temperatures. The result, in my experience, has been that I was able to eat food from the refrigerator during the power outage. And afterwards most of the food did not need to be thrown out.
My fourth concern: boredom. You don’t realize how much we all depend on electricity for entertainment. You can take a fully-charged laptop and play a DVD movie on it. But the battery will run out after one, or one and a half, movies, in my experience. So you might want to have several good books handy. It is also not a bad time to do some writing. Of course, you’ll have to use an old-fashioned device called “pen and paper” rather than a computer.
For more tips on hurricane preparedness, I suggest visiting your State’s emergency preparedness website or this U.S. government site: Ready.gov. The National Weather Service has a hurricane information site that tracks approaching storms. NOAA’s GOES website gives you a satellite’s eye view of any approaching storms. NOAA also has hurricane preparedness tips. And the State of Florida has some general disaster preparedness tips also.