Should I Stay or Should I Go – Hurricane Irma

We were here in central Florida during three back-to-back hurricanes Charlie, Francis and Ivan, not to mention the more recent, Matthew. We were very glad that we stayed. A tree branch pierced our roof during Francis and being here enabled us to move the furniture and block the hole, minimizing the damage. If we had evacuated, rain would have been able to pour into our home for the hours or days it may have taken to return.

Preparing for a hurricane is very similar to preparing to go camping. Just plan to glamp in your own home. If you approach preparation as an adventure and protect children from over dramatized news reports, your family will learn to prepare without stress.

We have always encouraged our four children not to panic. A person can be respectful and awed by storms without being afraid. That is probably why all of them naturally gravitated to jobs as first responders. Firefighter, EMT, Paramedic and RN abilities make them the people you want to have in your corner during an emergency.

So here are my top ten suggestions for how to prepare for Hurricane Irma:

  1. Water. If you have a tub, fill it. This is toilet water, to flush the toilet. If you don’t have a tub, grab some containers – 5 gal pail, several gallon jugs, whatever you can find. Before the storm you can buy containers if necessary. Fill them and leave them on the floor by the toilet. You will NOT flush every single time during this camping experience, save the water to flush when necessary. Also, fill drinking/cooking water containers. Some people will want to buy bottled water, but remember that if you drink your household water, you can also just fill containers with this water. A gal per person per day for three to four days worth is recommended. Freeze water in your deep freeze or refrigerator freezer and this will help the appliance stay cool when electricity goes out AND provide more water when it thaws. Remember that stores will reopen after the winds calm down. Life will return to normal and roads will eventually clear.

  2. Light. Solar lights, flashlights, batteries, candles. Whatever you are comfortable using, just have it easily accessible. That’s the key. You don’t want to be asking, “Where is the flashlight?” in the dark. You have plenty of time to check your light sources and place them in a convenient place.

  3. Clear debris. Walk around your house before the bad weather arrives and stow things that could fly – children’s outdoor toys, lawn furniture, your gas grill, trash cans, potted plants, etc. Bring them into the garage, or secure them so they will not become projectiles.

  4. Safe zone. Identify the safest spot in the house – an interior hall, bathroom, or place without windows. If the hurricane comes in the middle of the night when you should be sleeping, drag your mattresses and/or comforters to that spot and have a cozy camp out. Read aloud or play a board game with your kids. Parents should model how to remain calm in a storm.

  5. Shoes. Know where your shoes are. Just like a firefighter keeps his boots ready, you want to know where your shoes are. It is hard to run outside or address an emergency in flip flops.

  6. Food. Storms rarely last longer than 24 hours, so food during the storm is not all that important. Fun foods, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bagged popcorn or cookies can lighten the mood for children. If the electricity goes out, it’s a good time to eat the ice-cream! After the storm, however, more nutritious food will be desired. Think about camping foods for three to four days. If you are prepared to camp at home, this will help you stay off the roads and not add to the public chaos as clearing the storm debris begins. We have a camp stove and several propane tanks that allow us to cook right on the porch. It’s a great time to cook any freezer foods in danger of thawing!

  7. Cash. When the storm is over, stores may open, but restoring electricity takes time and ATM’s and store card readers may not work. Having some cash may help.

  8. Luxuries: These are not necessary for survival, but they help make glamping at home more fun. Wet-wipes- makes life easier and cleaner without using up your water. Books! Fully charged electronics – they might last until the electricity comes back on if you fully charge them beforehand! Games – especially nice with kids. Extra trash bags for when the clean-up starts.

  9. Gas. Again, you can live without gas, but it’s hard to go help someone else if you can’t get there. Top off your car’s tank if possible. We keep a gas can to be used with a generator as well. A generator is not a necessity for hurricane survival. Generators are great if you have a fridge full of food to try and save, someone with medical needs like oxygen, or if you need to run fans to cool frustrated tempers. For the most part, happily surviving without electricity is a learning experience that can benefit everyone. Generations of people grew up in Florida without electricity or AC – and thrived!

  10. Safety instructions:  When you exit your home for the first time after the storm, do so slowly and cautiously. LOOK around, be aware of leaning trees, downed electrical lines and potential dangers. Our older children loved this part of the adventure. They went out with tools and a chainsaw, rescuing people trapped inside their homes, or blocked from leaving their streets. This is when we get to see the best of humanity, people helping people.

We wish everyone a safe experience. If you must evacuate because you live below storm surge predictions or your home is surrounded by dangerous trees, than by all means go and be safe. If you live in an inland, higher elevation area, with newer trees that stand barely taller than your home, you may want to consider staying put and out of the way of those who truly have no other option than to leave. You may have to endure no electricity or AC for a time, but knowing that you let another in a more urgent situation (like the Keys or Miami) exit ahead of you, may turn your sacrifice into a blessing.