Hurricane Preparedness Lessons
Lessons from the Eye of Irma
Written by Ralph Bagnell
Hurricane Irma made landfall on the southwest Florida coast, with the eye of the storm passing directly over our house. We decided to ride out the storm, and while we were well prepared and suffered very little property damage, there were a number of interesting lessons to be learned that I wanted to pass along. I cannot add much to the wealth of general preparedness information out there already, but I can pass along the unexpected things I learned during this storm, those things that surprised me.
Evacuate or No?
The very first item is to decide about evacuation early and act on the decision as soon as possible. The path of storms are hard to predict. By the time it became clear that we were in the direct path, it was simply too late to leave.
Decide Early, Act Early
Days early. If you are at all unprepared or live in an area prone to flooding or damage, better to leave early and risk the storm missing than to suffer a direct hit unprepared.
I was surprised by how many folks did not store or secure loose items around their yards. 120 plus mile per hour winds are much stronger than you think. Anything that can be moved, assume that the wind will move them. The number of items I saw blowing down our street was larger than it should have been. Keeping trees and shrubs pruned will also go a long way toward protecting your property and other’s.
Screen houses and pool enclosures tend to flex a lot more than expected. The doors on my pool yard were latched and locked, but the frame began flexing early in the storm, and the catches slipped off the strikers. I ended up removing the doors, and neighbors that did not had damage to doors and frames.
We lost power for 5 days. Our generator was great to have but there were surprises here too. I had it set up to run my well pump and refrigerator, so we had water and kept food fresh. But I found that my 7000 watt generator could have powered a lot more if I had had the house wired properly. It is not big enough for my A/C system or stove, but can run most of the 110 volt circuits in the house.
I will be having an electrician install a disconnect switch and line to feed the house off the generator. Being able to run the lights and ceiling fans would have made our experience a lot more pleasant. Fuel
My generator runs about 11 hours on it’s 5 gallon fuel tank. Even though I left it off at night, my two 5-gallon gas cans were not nearly enough. More gas cans will be purchased. With power outages and delivery issues, supplies at gas stations were spotty and the lines were quite long.
We had two cars on hand with full tanks which could provide an additional 20-odd gallons, but only if you can siphon them. Modern cars are designed to resist siphoning, and there were certainly no siphon kits to be bought as the storm approached.
While siphon kits were sold out, the local auto parts stores did have brake bleeding pumps in stock. These are hand operated vacuum pumps that easily drew fuel up from the tanks of my cars when I tried one. Be sure you have enough tubing on hand, some cars have very long filler necks. And while on the subject of fuel, refill your outdoor grill tank, local supplies of propane will disappear early too.
Water is critical, but AFTER the storm there can be issues with contamination with wells and even public supplies. Most filters will NOT remove biological contaminants. We have a small Reverse Osmosis System that is effective against coliform bacteria and E. coli, but it has limited capacity. We have since installed a whole house UV purifier that kills all biological contaminants before they enter the house. For less than $1000.00 installed, it is inexpensive protection and can be run off the generator with the well pump.
Batteries turned out to be one of the bigger surprises of our experience. We stocked up on the various sizes we needed, but used none of them! Having grown up with old school flashlights, I expected to go through a number of batteries. But modern LED devices are remarkably bright and efficient. We literally did not need to change a single battery in 5 days without power. Stock some batteries, but you probably will need fewer than you think.
Common wisdom is that you need a land line phone because cell phone services are easily interrupted. We never lost cell signal even at the height of the storm, and at least in our neighborhood, the land lines were down right along with the power. They share the same poles after all. Texting is believed to reduce traffic on the cell networks, and I guess everyone took that to heart because many text messages were delayed or simply did not send. But we never lost the ability to make voice calls. Turns out cellular networks are far more robust than expected.
Dont fail to Prepare
Every storm situation is different, and you need to be serious about preparation. Hopefully, our experiences can help you be better prepared the next time you find the weather closing in.
Ralph Bagnall is a woodworking author and host of Amazon’s Woodcademy TV. His website is www.woodcademy.com