Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hurricane Preparedness

Excellent email by Matt on observations and hurricane preparedness.
I really appreciate these type of emails where you share your experiences and lessons learned. If you have gone through some disaster or emergency situation, dealing with anything from storms, rioting, crime, earthquakes, social or political unrest in your country, stranded on the road, surprised by unemployment, etc and you'd like to share your experiences, email me with your story and lessons learned. 
After reading it I emailed him and asked Matt some of the typical questions. 
Enjoy and take notes.  ;-)
Hey FerFal,

Love your blog and the book. I have been meaning to write this for some time but wanted to finish reading everything on the blog. Thought I could provide some info on what I have seen as I live in Louisiana and have gone through several hurricanes that have caused massive disruption to everyday life.
For Katrina I only lost power for 5 days, but the population of my city doubled from all the refugees fleeing from New Orleans. (That was very interesting with all the traffic going nowhere for hours). I had filled up my gas tank before the storm hit so it wasn't a problem in the beginning. After power had largely been restored in my area life pretty much returned to usual except that my city was at least twice as big and that it was hard to find gas. The petrochemical facilities had been damaged or were still without power so gasoline was not being refined at the rate it was before the storm.
Now that I have to compete with twice as many people for gasoline, almost every gas station is empty. (I did have 10 gallons in my shed if I would ever get that desperate but didn't really want to tap into it). I found that if I woke up around 5:30 in the morning I could find a gas station that had been restocked earlier and could top off my tank. Even then I had to wait in line to get the gas! Another reason why gas was so hard to find was that people from New Orleans would come up to my city and fill multiple 55 gallon drums to bring back down because there were no working gas stations any closer. (I am 60 to 70 miles from New Orleans). Gas stations can be a scary place when everyone is trying to get gas. 
Once when I was filling up my tank, people were getting impatient and revving their engines, blowing their horns, cursing each other out, and some even made threats to others. During the aftermath of Gustav which cut power to most of the city for at least a week (I was out for 1 week and 1 day), I pretty much stayed at home because there was no power anywhere and driving around would be a waste of gas. My family and I had plenty of food stocked, so that wouldn't be a problem. We have a little propane stove used for camping that we used to cook our meals on. Definitely recommend getting one. Of course being Louisiana, it's hot and humid so with no air conditioning I mainly spent the days in shorts only. We at least had running water and I loved taking an ice cold shower at night (no hot water) because it would cool you down and help you fall asleep because you would feel more comfortable.
Only once did I go out in the car and that was with my dad to get a few roofing shingles to repair the minor damage to our roof because it was still raining lightly from the storm. A trip that would have normally taken 25-30 minutes round trip took two and a half hours because the traffic lights were out and it's supposed to be treated as a four way stop. The traffic was terrible, and I saw several accidents that happened right in front of my eyes because there were some geniuses who decided to blow through the traffic lights without stopping. There were power lines down in the roads(had to drive over some), downed trees sometimes blocked entire roads and we had to find alternate routes, and too many people out on the roads joyriding wasting gas. With power out to almost 100% of the city, it was the darkest I had ever seen it. Couldn't see my hand in front of my face. 
The local government also declared a curfew for 6 at night to 6 in the morning if I remember correctly. I heard on the radio about people who weren't bright enough to plan ahead to fill up their gas tanks or their food supplies and were panicking because they couldn't get them now. Also, something I forgot to mention about guns and ammo after Katrina (not sure if it happened for Gustav) is that many stores that sold guns and ammo stopped. I'm not sure if all did, just remember hearing about it because someone stole a gun and that sent everyone(stores and local government) into panic mode. I think ammo sales were stopped all together for a few weeks, someone might want to correct me on that but a large portion of stores did stop for some time. 
If you didn't have the guns or ammo already, then you weren't going to get it until the government said it was ok. A good book describing the gun confiscation in New Orleans is The Great New Orleans Gun Grab: Descent Into Anarchy. The only problem I have with the book is that it is about half good gun stories and half useless filler to make the book bigger. I forgot to mention that after Katrina I have never seen so many Blackhawk helicopters ever in my life. If you have any questions feel free to ask because I'm sure I left things out.


What preparations do you do to protect your home during these storms?(plywood shutters, etc)
Do you have a prearanged plan for the family so everyone knows what to do if caught by surprise?

The benefit of being able to prepare for hurricanes is the fact that I can start preparing for it for about a week before it hits. (I already have my food, water, weapons, and other preps ready year round. I am just talking about hurricane specific preps.) I pick up all loose objects on my property like flower pots, wind chimes, kids' toys, and other similar items and put them in the shed. I remove dead branches from the trees in my yard. I am about 80 miles from the coast and don't have to board up my windows like someone in New Orleans or closer to the coast would, but I do tape my windows in case they do break. I also make sure to have plenty of plastic tarps around to protect my house from rain if something were to be damaged. I do keep a few plywood boards around just in case more serious damage occurs. After Gustav I went to my friends house and saw that his neighbor's house was cut in half by a tall oak tree that fell down. Luckily no one was hurt, but when the family went to stay in a hotel until their home could be repaired, their house was looted by someone who saw an easy target. As for a prearranged plan, my family knows to go straight home if something happens, and if that is not possible then we have another meeting place.

What 10 things would you not go through a storm without?

The 10 things I would not go through a storm without would be: 1. Water, 2. Food, 3. Guns and healthy supply of ammo, 4. Flashlights and plenty of batteries, 5. Radio(battery powered and hand cranked), 6. Extra supply of gasoline, 7. Generator for keeping my fridge running to prolong my frozen goods, 8. Spare parts or even replacement items like your 3 is 2, 2 is 1 idea, 9. Board games/books(It gets really boring when there is no power or work for a week.) and 10. First aid kit/Medical supplies.

If you could go back in time, what prep would you have done differently?

If I could go back in time, I would have bought another 8 gallon container of gas because it goes faster than you think it would. The only thing I used the generator for was for the fridge and two lamps, and I would turn it off at night to save gas. The fridge kept cold enough at night to keep the food cold until morning. I also did not like leaving it on because it would make it harder to hear if someone was breaking into my house at night. Also I would have a chainsaw and more heavy duty garbage bags because clean up took two full days. Lots of downed trees, branches, and debris. I found a Molotov cocktail in my ditch after the water subsided (must have been the neighbor kids).

Did you use you weapons, when were you glad to be armed? Any particular incident or story you'd like to share?

I never had to use my weapons but there were several times I was glad that I was armed. At the gas stations it could get a little hairy because some people were acting a little crazy. During Katrina's aftermath, there were alot of government vehicles, tents, and temporary offices setup across the street from my house.(about 1 mile as the crow flies). I tried to contact several governmental agencies to see what was going to be there, but they would not tell me anything. My family and I figured it might be a refugee staging area for people from New Orleans. I had a Glock 19 and a shotgun at the time and was glad I did because I had heard about the looting in New Orleans over the radio. It turned out to not be for refugees but as an operational base for New Orleans rescue missions. There was an increase in crime in my city because many gang members fled before the storm and stayed in the area. Every hotel room was booked in my city and even others farther away were booked up as well. I talked to someone at a local drugstore that said he was driving to Shreveport(all the way in north Louisiana) because every hotel was booked already. I know I mentioned it already but the book The Great New Orleans Gun Grab is a good insight into how law enforcement and government can act after a disaster. Scary stuff.

Top two or three pieces of advice you'd like to share with someone that would go through the same thing you did soon?

Some advice I would give would be to have supplies(food, water, guns, etc.) because you can't get it easily or at all after the storm. Also, having the proper mindset will help you overcome what crosses your path.(A friend of mine, who is addicted to the internet, thought the world was over because she couldn't access her facebook. I don't think she could have made it if things really got bad. We only lost power for a week or so, not like the people on the coast and New Orleans who lost everything.) One thing I did forget to mention was that even though we had cell phones they didn't work at times either because of power loss to the cell towers or an overload of the system by everyone calling at once. I did have a land line(not cordless) at home that allowed me to make calls because it drew its power from the phone line.


Thanks a lot for your email!


Don Plata said...

Great post on hurricane preps!

Have a LED head lamp plus a small LED lamp or flashlight for each person in the house, plus a few spares. LED flashlights in the bathrooms as night lights are nice to have.

I rigged an extra 12v deep cycle battery and a couple of old car headlights for lighting in the kitchen and the hallway at - very helpful and lasted over a week without a re-charge.

An inflatable mattress on the floor will help you stay cooler at night.

Make extra ice blocks and fill a 5 gallon water cooler just before the storm hits. Ice water is heaven in the hot weather during the clean up.

Keep a good supply of plastic sheeting, 1x2' "furring strips" and roofing nails for hasty roof repairs, covering broken windows, etc.

Stay home or evacuate, but don't go out driving during or after the storm. Stay put, recover, help your neighbors.

A friend of mine was lucky enough to pick up a generator the day after a storm, but spent the rest of the week trying to buy enough gas to keep it going. Plan ahead if you are going to use a generator.

EN said...

Thanks Fer for presenting this and Matt for the info. Good stuff here.

John, great ideas, partiuclarly the water jugs and sleeping on the floor. Used to do that in El Centro and night and it was always about five degrees cooler down there.

Unknown said...

Nice to hear a Louisiana story. I want to second the concept that cell phones would not work in our area (I am in northern Louisiana) during the Katrina event. And no, text messages didn't work either.

Luckily, my area did not have gas shortages (only a sharp spike in prices for a few days). It is true, however, that while many refugees are well-meaning and good people, many of the refugees are not. My town expanded from about 10,000 to about 13,000 and had a gigantic increase in crime rate.

Even in my area where no serious disaster happened, every single store was sold out of pretty much everything. No food, no bottled water, no paper products, no flashlights, no batteries. And this is without my town even losing power.

Adventures in Self Reliance said...

Well I survived Mt St. Helens eruption and several Blizzards. I'm not sure I could add value to the discussion exept during a volcano driving on ash isn't like driving on glass. You are driving on glass. Plus nasty on filters and like inhaling concrete. We were lucky with Helen a very low sulfer content. Made for a great harvest 200 miles downrange just dusted with ash.

DaShui said...

Don't forget you need some cash on hand if the banks and atms are not working. My uncle runs a bank in Biloxi. He was open the day after Katrina, because people needed money. He formed a caravan from upstate to bring water and ice. The police told him that they were too busy retrieving dead bodies so the bank was on its own, everyone was armed. Now he prepositions supplies, including sat telephones, 40 miles north of the coast.

Anonymous said...

I saw this linked from your site awhile back: http://www.theplacewithnoname.com/blogs/klessons/

Anonymous said...

Here's a tip for everybody who says that they can't convince their spouse to prep for survival -- just tell them you are preparing for a hurricane or an ice storm or a blizzard. This will shift the other person's focus from wild flights of TEOTWAWKI to more sensible challenges of dealing with the unpredictability of Mother Nature. I live in Louisiana, too, and most people here are prepared because we have so many hunters and campers. Even if you are not a camper/RV'er in Louisiana, you have knowledge of that lifestyle and access to many of its tools.

Long time lurker, first time poster. Love your blog, Ferfal.