Thomas Miller: Preparing for the 2018 hurricane season


I remember how helpless I felt. We were told that it was imminent and we would be hit by the hurricane. There was nothing we could do but brace for the impact of the storm. The only question was how bad it was going to be.


Hopefully the steps that we had taken to prepare would be enough. This was an experience that my family and I lived through several times while living in Hawaii. Perhaps the most horrible part of it all was that there was no place to go. I always remember seeing evacuations on TV of people leaving Florida along the hurricane evacuation routes, traveling to safety, or at least making it to an area where the effects of the storm were less than if they had stayed in their homes. But when you’re on an island in the middle of a vast ocean, there is no highway to safety. Fortunately for us, we never had a catastrophic hurricane experience.


It seems a little hard to believe, but we are only a handful of weeks away from the start of the 2018 hurricane season. Following the storm systems of last year, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume that there is a good chance for some powerful hurricanes to hit again this year. In fact, there are many references that call last year’s hurricane season things like hyperactive and catastrophic. The 2017 hurricane season was ranked the fifth most active season since records started being kept in 1851.


The official hurricane season begins every year on June 1st and goes through November 30th. Of course, these are only guidelines as nature has a way of doing what it wants regardless of the plans made by us. Over the last several years, hurricanes producing weather systems formed much earlier than June 1st with the first formation coming on the 17th of April last year. Knowing that the greatest intentions of humankind have no bearing and that there will be hurricanes every year, it makes a great deal of sense to prepare for their impact if you live in a state that is impacted by hurricanes historically.


In the United States, every state along the Gulf of Mexico and the entire East Coast has been hit by a hurricane since records started being kept in 1851. The 10 states that have been hit the worst by direct hurricane hits (and the number of times they have been hit) are:


Florida — 117
Texas — 64
Louisiana — 54
North Carolina — 51
South Carolina — 32
Alabama — 23
Georgia — 21
Mississippi — 16
Virginia — 12
Connecticut and Massachusetts — 10


There is obviously a bias that Mother Nature has towards some states, but it is important to know the historical impact of these storm systems so that a reasonable assessment of the risk you face can be made. Just remember that, regardless of history, if you live along the East Coast or Gulf of Mexico you are at risk and have minimal preparations in place no matter what. It is also valuable to consider the effect these storms will have on other states as they travel inland and dissipate, leaving less severe damage in their wake. Residents of these inland states should also make proper plans to deal with and survive the impact that high winds and heavy rains will have on them.


In order to prepare for the 2018 hurricane season, there are several things that should be in place to make survivability and comfort the greatest possible.


Hurricane preparedness items


There are several items that are universal to preparedness that should be accounted for in preparing for a hurricane. Many of these items include:


Cash — It doesn’t matter if you stay or go, having cash on hand during an emergency is paramount. Everyone has their own opinion on how much a person should have, but a very common recommendation is $1,000.


Water — Having an abundance of clean, potable water is invaluable and mandatory for surviving a disaster. The common practice is to have bottled water on hand, but water can also be stored in food safe barrels and specialty containers that are manufactured for long term water storage.


Water purification — Even though you already set aside plenty of water for an emergency, this is an area where having a back-up plan is absolutely necessary. The way to accomplish this is to have a water purification system available. Every member of the family should have an individual water filter like a straw filter, and there should be an additional large filter for the family if possible.


Food — My emphasis is always on shelf-stable foods, particularly the type that can be eaten without additional cooking required. While eating cold beef stew is not always appealing, it beats going hungry or eating questionable foods that could make you ill.


Cooking — If you plan on being able to cook during a disaster or evacuation, there are a multitude of portable stoves available, and the barbeque can be a great option to use at home in a pinch. Other items that are an absolute must for eating in a disaster are:


-Manual can opener
-Disposable plates, plastic ware, cups, napkins, etc.


Lighting — There is no shortage of emergency lighting options available.


Flashlights — These are something that everyone should have, preferably in multiples. LED models are the best.


Solar lights — Having a solar-powered light is awesome. I have several and use them often as we are without power or have an active storm system in the area. Just don’t forget to maintain the available energy by charging them periodically.


Candles — This is the tried and true source for light during an emergency, but my thought is that there are too many other options available to justify the danger associated with using candles. If this is your chosen option, make sure to have plenty of lighters and matches available.


Batteries — This is self-explanatory, any item that will be relied on in an emergency should have plenty of extra batteries available to power it. To help protect equipment and maintain the life of batteries, do not store any equipment with the batteries already installed in it, unless that item is being actively carried or on standby for immediate use.


Emergency power — The most common form of emergency power is a gas-powered generator. This is invaluable when the power goes out and will go a long way to increase the level of comfort during a very uncomfortable time. Gas powered generators are not the only option. In addition to regular gas, there are generators that run on propane and even models that are run on solar energy.


Fuel — This is particularly important if you will rely on a generator for backup power or need to evacuate the area. Fuel should be stored properly for a generator or tools while any vehicle that may be used in an evacuation should be kept at least half full for the duration of the hurricane season.


Communications — Having the ability to communicate is very beneficial during a disaster, but, at an absolute minimum, the ability to hear radio broadcasts should be available.


-Battery-operated AM/FM radio
-Solar cell phone charger


Emergency medical supplies — This is a typical first aid kit or an enhanced kit that adds additional supplies and instruments to match the training of the person responsible for administering this care. Stick to the basics if there is any question.


Prescription medications — If you are prescribed chronic or emergency medications then you should have at least a one-week supply of these on hand in the event of a disaster. A longer period of time is obviously desirable. Keep these from going bad by constantly rotating them.


Hygiene — Staying clean and sanitary is important when normal systems of support are offline. In addition to the normal personal hygiene items, a plan should be made to deal with human waste. This can be by either storing enough additional water to help flush the toilet or by rigging up a “honey bucket” and lining it with garbage bags to contain the waste.


Cleaning — Garbage bags, bleach, disinfectant, etc. are all things that are vital to maintaining healthy living conditions during a disaster. Don’t forget to have a way to clean your clothes if the washer and dryer are not available.


Tarps — If leaks start to occur in the exterior of your home, especially the roof, it is not possible to have too many tarps. When it comes to tarps I believe in the idea that you get what you pay for and spending the money for heavy-duty tarps will pay dividends in the end.


Safety/Security — During the course of a disaster, emergency services can have extremely limited availability. This makes having the capability to manage your own safety and security paramount. There are plenty of options to do this but none are more convincing than a well-trained individual with a firearm.


“Other” — This is the catch-all for me and includes making preparations for pets, infants, the elderly and other potentially vulnerable populations like insulin-dependent diabetics. These preparations could be gathered and stored in a bag of their own, making it easy to identify them while also facilitating the ability to stay in place or leave in a hurry.


All of these items should be stored properly, and if there is even a remote possibility that the need to leave the area will arise, these items should be packed into bags that can be grabbed quickly and taken in the car with you. An internet search on bug-out bags will reveal a never ending string of ideas on how to best put this together.


Pre-hurricane preparation


This includes the tools and materials required to secure your housing, most specifically doors and windows.


-Plywood — If possible, this should be pre-cut to fit every window and if you plan on leaving, your exterior doors as well. Mark each piece of plywood to match the window or door that it matches up with to make things easier and faster.


-Battery operated drill/driver or impact driver to secure these plywood pieces to the house.


-Plenty of screws and some more screws just to be sure.


-A hammer and plenty of nails to serve as a backup to the drill and screws if adequate power is not available.


-Specialty hardware called hurricane clips can also be purchased online that allow plywood to be secured


In addition to tools and materials, prior to a hurricane steps should be taken to identify and become familiar with:


-A safe room or area that is best suited to protect everyone in the house during a storm. This should be a room that does not have windows and, if possible, should be on the interior of the house.


-Evacuation plans to get out of the area under fairly normal circumstances and if special circumstances exist.


-The evacuation routes available to the leave the area.


Additional steps should be taken to clean up around your house to remove dead tree limbs and other debris that could collapse on or be projected into your home. Additional efforts should be taken to minimize the things that are stored outside and secure the items that are.

As strange as it may sound, an axe should be stored in your attic if you have one. There have been historic accounts of people seeking shelter in their attic to escape rising floodwaters that end up being trapped there and drowning because they were not able to escape.

Post-hurricane preparation

Following a catastrophic storm, there is always plenty of cleanup and recovery work that must be done to get started on the road to full restoration. Dependent upon your individual situation, this may require additional cleaning supplies (especially bleach and heavy duty large trash bags) and extra tools like a chainsaw to remove debris and those necessary to remove damaged drywall, insulation, etc. Don’t forget the additional items needed to support these operations like safety equipment, fuel and oil.

Additionally, clean up can be a messy ordeal and require proper clothing to accomplish the task. Clothing that is useful include old clothes, coveralls and rubber boots or even waders. Other helpful items to aid in the clean up process should include facemasks (bandanas can also work well), work gloves, rubber gloves, as well as eye and ear protection.

The bottom line with hurricane preparedness, as it is with all types of preparedness, is to do the best you can and stick to your gut and what you know best. In the midst of a disaster is not the time to start experimenting. Sharpen your skills ahead of time and be familiar with the processed required to navigate a hurricane from the perspective of both staying home and evacuating to safety. If moderate efforts are made to have the supplies and knowledge in place, your chances of surviving the 2018 hurricane season are greatly increased.