By Melissa Rivera
Every year, just before hurricane season begins, Roberta McPhie, of Spring, Texas, a Houston suburb, cranks up her ice maker to make extra ice. She freezes bottles of water. She’d already stocked up canned goods, but she buys a few more, along with plenty of bottled water and batteries.
“You have to make or buy ice ahead of time. You can’t wait until a hurricane, because everybody buys up all the ice,” she said.
Her preparation paid off last August, when Hurricane Harvey hit.
“I was totally ready, which is fine, because we couldn’t get out of our neighborhood for a couple of weeks,” she said.
Last year’s natural disasters were the most costly in United States history. If you haven’t started preparing for this year’s, now’s the time. Tornado season has already begun. California’s summer fire season starts in June. So does the Atlantic hurricane season.
“When something unexpected happens, the time to prepare is not then. It’s too late,” said Eric Smith, from West Jordan, who lived through the 1994 Northridge, Calif. earthquake.
Start with a plan. Ready.gov, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s site, suggests you discuss these four questions with family members:
- How will I receive emergency alerts and warnings?
- What is my shelter plan?
- What is my evacuation route?
- What is my family communication plan?
Karen LuBean, of East Wenatchee, Wash., witnessed the rapid destruction of the Sleepy Hollow fire in June 2015.
Her evacuation plan includes escape routes and emergency prescription medication. She scanned legal documents and family history and sent backup copies to other family members.
McPhie plans for a long-term power outage every hurricane. She keeps cold food that she uses every day, like milk, in an ice-filled cooler so she doesn’t have to open her fridge. She fills her freezer with food, ice and the prepared frozen water bottles. She even covers the freezer with blankets and towels.
“If the power goes out, things will stay cold for two weeks, if you’ve got enough ice prepared,” she said.
Her family also constantly keeps their cars fueled.
“You may not be able to get gas for a couple of weeks,” she said.
Even though she has a natural gas stove, she keeps charcoal around, in case the fuel supply gets cut. And right before the storm, though she keeps plenty of bottled water on hand, she fills up the bathtubs with water to flush the toilet.
“It’s the little things you don’t think about,” she said.
She’s an advanced prepper. If you’re not, or if you are and are feeling intimidated, beprepared.com has useful education resources.
Be ready to change plans as you learn.
Adam Wood, of Richmond, Texas, a Houston suburb, waded through a mile and a half of fetid flood water during Hurricane Harvey with his wife, pulling his children and dog on an inflatable raft and inflatable air mattress. Once the water receded, he spent days returning to his home to tear out its interior, where two feet of water had destroyed carpets and anything he and his wife didn’t place above water level.
He thought he had a plan for clean water: two 50-gallon water drums, full of bleached water, at his home. They’re both still there, still untouched.
“It would have been nice having water that could be more mobile, because we could have used it,” he said. He wants to get gallon containers that he can just grab on the run.
He also wants to keep fuel, because he faced gas shortages after Hurricane Harvey.
If you store fuel, use it or replace it frequently, Smith said, because octane breaks down and can damage engines.
So, you’ve got a plan. Now, start thinking about short-term needs.
Smith had emergency kits for his family. Then, the Northridge earthquake struck at 4:30 a.m.
“We had a flashlight, but we weren’t sure where it was,” said Smith, whose family lived through the earthquake. “Now we have a flashlight in every bedroom and a couple in our room.”
The day of the earthquake, he still went to work. That’s when he realized he’d forgotten emergency supplies for his office or car.
“I could have had a problem if there was another earthquake and the roads broke up,” he said. “I would have had to walk 12 miles home in work shoes, and they were not good for walking.”
Short-term emergency kits are fairly easy to make or acquire. Ready.gov has a checklist. Or, beprepared.com offers basic 3-day emergency kits that gives you three days’ worth of food and supplies for less than the cost of three fast-casual meals.
Ruth Lezcano-Bonilla and Jerry Rivera lived in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, when Hurricane Maria flattened the island. Rivera said one of their struggles was keeping expenses down, because for weeks on end they had to dine out, because they had no power or running water to cook anything.
Whether you make an emergency kit or buy one, customize it to fit your family’s needs. If you have pets, include a carrying crate, food and a water dish. McPhie’s son, Joshua, a reserve firefighter, brought his dog to the fire station but had to keep it in its carrier. The dog may have been uncomfortable for a few days, but it was still fortunate – Joshua’s home flooded with 8 feet of water, and he lost everything.
So, you’ve got a plan. You’ve got a kit. Now comes the big push, and the one that stymies people: a long-term food and water supply.
“It takes time to prepare,” Smith said. “We’ve been able to, over time, build up to having a year’s supply of food, but it wasn’t something we did all at once.”
Smith suggested you set a goal to build up your long-term storage. Then, break it down into manageable chunks.
Plan space for it. One family I know, who lives in a townhome with limited space, curtained off shelves across one wall of the living room for long-term food storage.
Buy what you want to eat, Smith said, and the means to prepare it. It does no good to buy canned wheat if you don’t know how to use or grind it. And buying food you’re not accustomed to can be a recipe for going hungry, especially with picky children. Cycle through your food storage, Smith said.
If this all sounds too onerous, beprepared.com can make it a little easier with PrepAsYouGo food storage plans. You pick your plan then food comes to you every month. The cost is automatically deducted from your account, and shipping is free.
Lest you think you don’t need to prepare for the long term, remember that power didn’t return to Lezcano-Bonilla’s Puerto Rico home for five months. McPhie said FEMA trailers to house Hurricane Harvey evacuees arrived in her area at the end of March. And on April 4, Daniel Kaniewski, FEMA’s deputy administrator, said FEMA would support, but not lead, emergency response efforts for smaller disasters.
“FEMA is not a first responder,” Kaniewski said in a speech April 4 at George Washington University. “Individuals in the impacted communities are the first responders.”