Every year, June 1 – It’s official Hurricane Season.
This is an expensive piece of equipment, but I wouldn’t live in Florida without one. After Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne in 2004, we decide to invest in a portable generator. We wanted to be able to run our fridge, a window air conditioner, a few lights, charge our phones and have extra power if we wanted to run anything else.
You may not need a big generator. Determine what appliances you will need/want to run (at the same time) if you lose power. After that, you’ll need to figure out how many watts these appliances will require. Appliances with motors require more power to start but use less once they are running. You’ll need to account for the higher number. Here’s a link to help you figure out what size generator is right for you.
Hint: You don’t need to run power to your refrigerator or freezer all the time. They are insulated very well and as long as you don’t open them often, they’ll keep your food cold for at least 3-4 hours. A full freezer will stay cold for 24-48 hours. Knowing this, you can rotate appliances running off the generator. Run them until they get cold, then unplug them and run a different appliance until you need to plug that first one in again. With a generator on wheels, I can easily wheel it over to my neighbors’ house and run their fridge for them until it’s cold, then wheel it back to my house and plug our fridge back in.
We have several 100-foot heavy gauge extension cords to run from our generator outside to inside the house. We secure the generator to a column on our house with a heavy lock and chain, so it doesn’t disappear in the middle of the night. We have a funnel for easier fuel filling and keep extra oil. Make it a practice to start your generator a few times during the year. When it’s still running, shut off the fuel and let the carburetor run dry. Use fuel stabilizer if you plan on leaving gas in the generator tank while it is stored.
These are for fuel to run the generator and for our vehicles. Your generator will use more fuel if you are running a higher load and less fuel if you are only running a few small electric devices. After a few power outages, you’ll learn how much fuel you’ll use per day. I also have to be able to drive for my job, so I need gas for our vehicles.
I will start filling up a few gas cans very early, when the storm track looks like it MIGHT be headed our way. If I don’t end up needing them, I’ll just use them to fill up our vehicles. Either way, the gas gets used. But I’ll have all my cans filled by the time everyone else is freaking out. You don’t want to be that guy that wants to fill five gas cans when everyone else in line is just trying to fill their tank. We also have a long cable and lock to keep the gas cans from walking away in the middle of the night. Store them outside, NOT in your garage.
Window air conditioner
Yes, this is a luxury item and we actually use this camping occasionally (okay, “glamping”). Our family enjoys camping and since there’s usually electricity available at the campsites, having a small window air conditioner has extended our tent camping season by several months. It also makes power outages much more bearable. You don’t need to cool your entire house — in fact, you can’t with a small window unit. But you can close off parts of your house so you’re only trying to cool one or two rooms. That’s what we use the plastic drop cloths for. As Hurricane Irma approached, we lost power before the storm was even close. We taped up the plastic sheeting to enclose our living room and dining room. The small window unit did a great job keeping that space cool. We had a comfortable place to sit during the day and were able to put down air mattresses and sleep at night.
Emergency officials suggest you have at least one gallon of water daily, per person, for 3 to 7 days. You can buy bottles of water for convenience or store water in larger 5-gallon containers (fill these up before the storm). You can also put garbage cans beneath the eaves of your house so they get filled with rainwater. Then you’ll have a water supply you can use for flushing toilets.
You may be asking, “Why wouldn’t I be able to flush my toilet?” Trees uprooted by the storm or washed out roads could take out sewer lines. Or floodwaters could rise higher than your toilet or the nearest lift station. (see also: Sanitation)
Water filtration and purification
If your city or county water system loses power, water pressure or there is a water main break — all things that could easily happen during a major storm — it is possible that contamination could enter the system. This is why municipalities issue boil-water notices.
Some people say you can survive without water for a week, and without food for three weeks — but I sure wouldn’t want to try. That time is certainly shortened by Florida’s summertime heat. You should have a couple options for making water safe to drink if you don’t have electricity or a way to boil water.
Clorox provides some guidance for purifying water with bleach.
There are quite a few water filtration products and UV purifiers on the market so we have a few options here too. We also keep water purification tablets just in case.
The kinds of food you stock up on depends on your ability to cook and/or boil water, and if you have a way to keep food cold. In general, you should stock up on non-perishable, ready-to-eat food. FEMA suggests you have at least a three-day supply of food for each person. I prefer to have a few days more. If anyone in your house has special dietary needs, like an infant or an elderly person, you’ll need to stock up for them. What you don’t use can be donated to your local food pantry. Don’t forget a manual can opener.
Use a cooler and ice to keep perishable food cold.
Here’s one of the items we have for camping. The Coleman Dual Fuel stove burns white gas or unleaded gasoline. Also, if you have a barbecue grill with a side burner, you can use that for cooking and boiling a pot of water. If you are shopping for a new grill, consider one with this feature.
We have a portable grill for camping that uses the small propane canisters, but after a storm we’ll be using the barbecue grill in our backyard. Be sure to get at least one extra propane tank before the storm hits. Again, don’t store this inside your house or garage. I remember after Hurricane Irma, I walked outside and smelled my neighbor cooking steaks on his grill. Clearly, he wasn’t going to let his food spoil.
Paper plates, paper towels and plasticware
Who is going to feel like doing dishes after a storm? Make sure you have extra garbage bags as well for all the trash.
As mentioned earlier, you should have enough water set aside for flushing toilets. Hopefully, the floodwaters will not rise so high that you can’t flush your toilets. But in case that happens, you should have a plan for disposing of waste. A five-gallon bucket will come in handy. You’ll need some garbage bags for liners and possibly some cat litter (it ain’t for your cats). Have a container to keep your toilet paper dry. Make sure you have plenty of hand sanitizer as well.
Stuck in the summer heat without a shower? As convenient as they may be, you can only use moisture wipes for so long. At some point, the people around you are going to want you to take a shower. You can bathe with cold water from a bucket, but a solar shower is an inexpensive and refreshing solution for a warm water shower. Just fill it and hang it in the sun. You’ll be surprised how warm the water gets.
With only one air-conditioned space in the house, we moved furniture out and everyone camped on the floor.
Air mattresses, an air pump (manual or electric), sheets and pillows will ensure everyone can get a (relatively) good night’s rest.
Don’t forget earplugs so you don’t have to listen to the noisy generator.
Flashlights and batteries always seem to be among the first things to go at the store, so make sure you buy them early. Emergency officials discourage people from using candles because of the fire risk, but I do keep some on hand just in case. Inexpensive garden lights are a great solution for power outages. They usually run off one rechargeable AA battery that gets charged during the day by a small solar cell. Once it gets dark, they come on automatically. Use them inside your house or anywhere you need extra light. To turn them off, just remove the battery. Charge them back up by putting them outside during the day. After Irma, we added a battery-powered fan to our kit. A car battery can also be used to power lights, cell phones, etc., but don’t run it down so low that it won’t start your car.
First aid, medicine
Once sustained wind speeds exceed 45mph, emergency crews will no longer respond to your 911 call. If phones are still working, you can call 911 and speak to a person. They’ll record your call and emergency personnel will get to you as soon as they are able. Basically, you are on your own until the storm passes. Be ready to treat cuts, scrapes, puncture wounds, possibly even burns or broken bones. Consider taking a CPR class.
For this same reason, you should have a fire extinguisher.
Get your prescriptions refilled before the storm. Have an extra pair of glasses.
Personal documents, paper map
Whether you stay or go, make sure you save your important documents. We have our entire computer backed up on external hard drives. This includes all our family photos (digitized), important documents such as medical records, bank numbers and identification. Don’t store your backups in the same place as your computer. Be sure to take any paperwork you think you’ll need. Get a waterproof container to put it all in. If you’re not comfortable using an external hard drive, you can use a service like Google Drive to store your documents in the cloud — but remember you may not have access to the internet immediately after the storm.
Keep a paper map handy. Until wireless service is restored, the map on your phone won’t do you much good. I wouldn’t have thought of this on my own, but after Hurricane Charley, our photographers discovered most of the street signs had been blown away. Even those who knew the area were having trouble recognizing familiar places as the landscape had been completely changed by the storm.
Banks and ATMs will not be open if the power is out and may be slow to reopen once it is restored.
Bug spray and sunscreen
Duh! The Thermacell mosquito repellent is worth its weight in gold.
You may need to go out in the rain or floodwaters. Consider boots or waders, and a decent set of rain gear. An umbrella could help — but not while the wind is still blowing.
If you have pets, you’ll need this stuff whether you evacuate or not. You’ll need food and water for your pets — and bowls. A leash and plastic bags for picking up after your dog. Cat litter for your cats. I like having crates/carriers for our pets even if we are sheltering in place. If a tree were to fall on our house and the shell of the building was somehow compromised, we could still put the pets in their cages and keep them from getting out/running away.
Hand-held flares and a whistle may help you signal rescuers after the storm.
For cleaning up after the storm, you’ll want work gloves and dust masks.
I almost always find a use for tape and paracord.
I have a basic set of hand tools, plus yard tools like a saw and an ax.
If you need to retreat to your attic, like many people were forced to do after Katrina and Harvey, be sure to take an ax or hammer up there with you so you can get out. Once the water rises, you could be stuck up there.
You may want to have a chain saw for cutting down trees or branches that may have fallen on your house.
After a storm there will be nails and screws all over the place. After using your spare tire for the first flat, you’re done if you pick up another nail in a tire. Keep a couple cans of Fix-a-Flat or other tire sealant in your vehicle so you can keep driving.
A battery/hand-crank AM/FM/shortwave radio will let you stay in touch with the news. Handheld CB radios will work when cellphones don’t. Both also receive NOAA weather radio broadcasts. A small solar cell for charging mobile phones and a 12-volt inverter will let you run some 110-volt devices while your car is running.
This is a personal choice. We choose to keep a firearm on hand in case we have to defend ourselves or our property after a storm.
For after the storm, we keep some roof repair supplies, including tarps, screws and/or nails, roof tar and mesh. Also, you might find it handy to have a roll of screen and spline after the storm. If your window screens are damaged, you’ll want to be able to repair them or at least be able to screen off a couple rooms of your house to keep the mosquitoes out.
Garbage cans can be used for trash or filled with water for flushing toilets.
Don’t rush out and buy plywood to board up your windows, then just throw it away after the storm — only to have to repeat it for the next storm. If you can’t afford metal storm shutters, take some time and build a good set of inexpensive plywood shutters.
You don’t need fancy tools to build these and you can store them in a corner of your garage. They go up quickly with the carriage bolts and are very sturdy.
Sarasota Herald Tribune, May 29, 2018