Names like Hugo and Katrina have taken on a sinister connotation in modern times. The loss of life and livelihood caused by these natural disasters is staggering. The human suffering is almost unimaginable.
Government agencies cannot always be depended upon to make correct decisions, deliver swift responses or even uphold the law. In the end, as with all emergency situations, the primary responsibility for your safety, security and survival rests in your own hands.
The primary areas of concern in the United States are the Atlantic states and Gulf coast regions. Hurricanes are primarily tropical storms. If you live in one of these areas then you must have a plan of action and preparation in place.
FEMA and state emergency preparedness agencies have good guidelines and recommendations for surviving a hurricane. Study this information thoroughly to be prepared for this type of emergency. An advantage in planning is that the hurricane, unlike wildfires and earthquakes, is usually predictable. When the tropical depressions form and then become a hurricane, weather satellites and government agencies are tracking the hurricane and giving citizens updates and warnings.
A hurricane is a tropical storm with high wind, powerful surges and dense rain that causes flooding. The initial storm is horrific enough, but the aftermath is often just as bad. Floods and the ensuing problems will continue to affect the areas hit by the hurricane for weeks. It isn’t unusual for a hurricane to scourge the entire length of the eastern seaboard. Coastal towns are often hit hard. Islands may be particularly vulnerable.
Secure Your Home
The guidelines for hurricane survival are not a lot different from surviving other disasters. The single greatest predictor of survival during any emergency is prior planning and training.
A great concern is the preservation of property. Hurricanes are hard on structures. When the home is hit and glass becomes debris, parts of the home may become deadly missiles. It is important to obtain permanent storm shutters if you live in one of the likely areas that a hurricane will hit.
If you do not have storm shutters improvisation works well. The windows may be boarded up with properly cut and sized boards. If you live near the coast, the proper 5/8-inch marine plywood should be in ready supply if purchased before the storm warnings.
Remember, there are always shortages as we scramble to obtain our needs during a storm. Marine plywood probably won’t last long in the stores once the first warning goes up, so purchase ahead. Those living in the most dangerous regions should also add extra bracings to their roofs.
When preparing for a storm and doing a security assessment, look hard at trees and shrubs near your home. During a storm they may become missiles. Having been in a home wrecked by tree fall when I was very young, I can state this is a harrowing experience. The stately oak ended up in the kitchen of our modest home. Such dangers may be avoided by preparation.
Police your yard for objects that are friendly and benign at the present but which will become deadly missiles during a hurricane. Cast iron lawn furniture will be blown like a toothpick. Plants, trash cans, even lawn mowers will be flung about. Better to have them in a storage room or tied together.
Another concern is clogged rain gutters. These drains should be functioning properly when pummeled by hurricane-force winds and possible flooding. Obstructions in the drain pipes will cause unnecessary damage.
Vehicles should be secured away from the home. If you own a boat and live on the coastline, make plans on how you will secure this vessel.
I have experienced flooding from a combination of heavy rains just on the outskirts of a storm. I was far removed from the worst of the storm but, just the same, my home suffered some damage. There was flooding in the storage room, just off the carport, and considerable damage to contents.
A safe room, according to FEMA, is a hardened structure designed to protect the occupants. In this context, the safe room is intended to protect the occupant against extreme weather events. Protection is provided by design parameters, so when you build a house, it is a good idea to look ahead rather than go back and modify.
Winds and wind pressure as well as airborne debris at high velocity are a real concern during a hurricane. The stronger the safe room the better. FEMA offers guidelines under FEMA P 361. A safe room may be a simple structure in the basement or a special order structure designed by professionals. A fortified safe room is a comforting thing to have.
For the do-it-yourself type of safe room, the interior walls are fortified with plywood or even steel. The greatest concern, according to Texas Tech University Wind Science and Engineering Research Center, is that the safe room is properly fastened together.
Store Food And Gear
Emergency gear and food that is stored for emergency should be elevated slightly off of the ground of the basement or storage room. Even light flooding will severely damage your belongings.
A well-stocked, complete disaster kit is always necessary. You are going to lose power and injury is likely during a natural disaster. Food is important and so is a well-stocked first aid kit with plenty of gear. Consider your day-to-day needs and the fact that you may be without any type of assistance for days. Government resources are badly taxed during a storm.
My son is a captain in the National Guard, and his last emergency call-out involved a far-reaching storm. He spent many sleepless nights and saw many rescues. But there are only so many national guardsmen and millions
of impacted citizens. Have the means to survive close at hand.
When a hurricane is approaching, it is vital that you stay informed by consulting the television, radio, and weather channels. Keep the radio handy and be certain you have plenty of batteries. Your Internet and television connections will crash; radio will not.
There are times when the authorities will recommend that you turn your power off. Quite a few fires are caused by downed power lines. Turn the refrigerator to its coldest setting. Once the power is off, keep the doors shut to preserve the food as long as possible. Turn off propane gas tanks. These tanks have set fires on many occasions. They are safe in normal conditions but when ripped loose by hurricane force winds, anything can happen.
While moving in a vehicle during a storm isn’t the safest bet, you may have to evacuate the area. Keep vehicles fully fueled in anticipation of the event. If you need to make a trip to the ATM, do so before the power is interrupted or ATMs are damaged. It is unlikely that there will be merchants taking plastic during a storm, as they will have no way of processing a credit card transaction without electricity.
Water preserves life and you should have a good supply of it properly stored. In anticipation of the storm, fill the bathtub with water. Have containers of water on hand for sanitary use.
Resist the urge to observe the storm. Hurricanes move quickly. Stay inside and away from windows and glass. Doors should be locked. It is a good idea to close the interior doors as well, and you should consider bracing external doors to avoid their being forced open and allowing driving rain and debris to enter the home.
During a hurricane, you might have to decide if it is best to leave your home or ride out the storm—and it’s a tough decision. Sometimes it is made for us. When the authorities direct us to evacuate, they have sound reason.
If you live in a hazardous structure such as a mobile home, evacuation is indicated. A high rise apartment is particularly dangerous as hurricanes have greater velocity at higher elevations. If you live on a coast near a river, you should evacuate to less dangerous areas. Learn your terrain and understand the meaning of floodplain and if the local topography fits that description.
Weathering The Storm
Hurricane survivors tell us not to become complacent due to a lull in the storm. There may be a lull but the storm will pick up in ferocity very shortly. You may even be riding the eye of the storm.
Hurricanes are horrific storms. By careful study and preparation, your chances of survival are greatly increased. Do not ignore the warnings and stock up for the worst case scenario.
Texas Tech Hurricane Research
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the Doomsday 2016 print issue of American Survival Guide Magazine.