Facing Hurricane Irma: 7 Powerful Lessons in Storm Survival

Palm tree uprooted by Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma is Coming! What Do I Do?

Real World SurvivalWhen you’re sitting comfortably in your living room, perhaps sipping a cup of coffee and catching up on the news, the last thing you want to hear is that a hurricane is hurtling toward your town. However, this was precisely the reality I faced in September 2017 when Hurricane Irma threatened my beloved Floridian community.

With a few days’ notice, courtesy of vigilant meteorologists, we were thrust into survival mode. Having lived through my fair share of storms, I knew the drill. But this time, the foreboding sense of impending doom was unnerving. The air was rife with a tangible sense of urgency, and I was grateful for the knowledge I had gathered over the years, much of which I discuss in my book, “Real World Survival”.

The first thing I did was consult my county’s website, a valuable resource brimming with crucial information. Each county or city website has unique instructions tailored for the specific area, detailing what residents should do during a hurricane. By entering my address, I confirmed that my home was not in an evacuation zone. However, it is crucial to familiarize oneself with evacuation routes and destinations even if your home is not in an immediate evacuation zone. The unpredictable nature of hurricanes makes this information invaluable.

Essential Steps in the Face of Catastrophe

Hurricane MatthewFollowing this, I ensured that the gas tanks in all my vehicles were filled to the brim. A pro tip I’ve always followed is to keep the gas tank at least three quarters full at all times, for you never know when an emergency might strike. Filling gas cans or other containers is ill-advised due to the risk of fires and explosions.

Next, I checked my Go-Bag, a duffel filled with survival supplies. I scanned through the items, replacing out-of-date food and medications. If you don’t already have a Go-Bag, I highly recommend creating one, especially if you live in a hurricane-prone area.

I promptly visited the local store, stocking up on food and water. I purchased enough supplies to last two weeks, anticipating that there would be no electricity for several days after the hurricane. Water bottles were stored on wooden shelves, not concrete floors, as concrete chemicals can leach into the water.

Additionally, I withdrew $100 in small bills (recommended for every adult family member and remember to give the kids had a few fives and ones as well.) With the possibility of ATMs going offline, it was prudent to have cash on hand.

Communication, Protection, and Caution

Communication with family and friends is essential during such crises. We devised a plan to ensure everyone’s safety and decided on a meeting spot if we were to get separated. I took special care to explain the situation to the kids so they would understand and feel involved.

To protect our electronic devices, I purchased a Universal Power Supply (UPS) and charged it up. This device comes in handy for recharging cell phones when the power goes out.

I then visited the local pharmacy to refill any prescriptions that had less than two weeks’ supply. By law, pharmacies allow early refills if a disaster has been declared, so take advantage of this policy if needed.

Finally, I conducted a thorough inspection of my home, removing any potential hazards. Any nearby trees were trimmed to reduce the risk of damage to the house.

Boarding up windows with plywood and taking other precautions are also advisable depending on your home’s vulnerability. Ultimately, the aim is to stay safe and follow authorities’ instructions, remaining in your home unless asked to evacuate or if you’re in immediate danger. In times of a hurricane, preparation and prudence are your best allies.

Stocking Up and Securing Vital Resources

As I continue my journey through the stressful period of preparing for Hurricane Irma, I’m documenting every step to share the lessons I’ve learned. In the first part of this series, I outlined initial preparations, focusing on understanding evacuation routes, packing a Go-Bag, and securing enough food and water for at least two weeks. Now, I delve deeper into other essential preparatory steps I’ve taken in anticipation of the storm.

To ensure I had ample water supply, a critical necessity during a crisis like this, I arranged for Sparkletts to deliver six 5-gallon jugs of water. Apart from this, I purchased large bottles and a case of small water bottles early in the week. If a disaster teaches you anything, it’s the vital importance of water for survival.

In terms of food, I stocked up on canned goods, crackers, and other non-perishable items, enough to last a few weeks. Each item was carefully selected with a long expiration date in mind, ensuring that I would have a reliable food source even six months down the line.

Powering Through the Storm

Understanding that gas and electricity would likely be in short supply post-hurricane, I made sure to fill up my car’s gas tank. Also, I ordered a 100-pack of AA batteries, along with 12-packs each of C and D batteries from Amazon. These would be crucial for powering flashlights and other devices during potential power outages.

Speaking of flashlights, I had eight rechargeable ones that were always plugged into wall sockets, ensuring they would be ready to go when needed. Additionally, I had a dozen flashlights strategically placed around my house, along with a couple of camping lanterns, to navigate through the dark times that Irma promised.

Ensuring Technological Continuity

Preparations for a disaster aren’t limited to just basic survival necessities. I had to ensure that my professional work and digital life would survive the storm as well. To do this, I relied on Livedrive (I’ve since changed to BackBlaze), a service that kept my computer files backed up over the internet. Nonetheless, as a safety measure, I also maintained a physical hard drive backup at home. Just before the hurricane, I made sure this backup was up to date and stored it in a waterproof bag.

While I continued to prepare for the hurricane, I knew that sharing this information could prove useful to those who find themselves in similar situations. Preparation is crucial in the face of a hurricane. And while the warnings provide some time to get ready, it’s essential to use that time wisely.

Stay tuned as I share further updates and preparations in the face of Hurricane Irma. As I’ve outlined in my book, “Real World Survival,” thorough disaster preparedness can mean the difference between life and death.

Surviving Irma – Observations and Learnings

A few days ago, Hurricane Irma tore through Florida, and I found myself in the midst of its fury. My preparation, guided by my book “Real World Survival,” had me armed with a well-stocked bug-out bag, enough food and water to last a fortnight, and a vehicle with a full tank of gas. Forecasts predicted a category 3 storm which could render the area incapacitated for a week or two. I had prepared accordingly, having done several grocery runs to ensure ample supplies.

After the storm, as life began to regain its normal rhythm, I had the opportunity to reflect on the aftermath and what I had learned from this experience.

The Unanticipated Challenges

One of the most significant takeaways was understanding the extent to which a hurricane can disrupt electricity. I had not anticipated that Irma could wipe out the entire Florida power grid. Our area was relatively fortunate, with power resuming after two days. However, in harder-hit regions, the power could be out for weeks, a severe inconvenience given Florida’s scorching temperatures and high humidity levels.

My assumption that the UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) would power a radio and recharge my cell phone proved inaccurate. The UPS units were depleted within an hour or two because they were designed to deliver full wall power, irrespective of the device. Consequently, I was left without cell service and radio for longer than expected.

Moreover, everything in my refrigerator and freezer was lost, except for the cheese and lunch meat that I had moved to the freezer before the power outage. Everything else spoiled due to the lack of refrigeration.

Lessons Learned

I learned the importance of parking safely, away from trees. A neighbor’s advice saved my car from potential damage caused by falling branches during the storm. This advice is all the more crucial if a stronger storm is anticipated, which could cause extensive destruction.

In the days leading up to and following the storm, supermarket shelves were empty. Essentials like canned foods, bread, crackers, and water were quickly sold out and remained so for days. This was a stark reminder that early and ample preparation is key during such events.

In the post-storm days without the internet, I was taken aback by the intense boredom. The lack of activity, coupled with the stifling heat and humidity, was overwhelming. To kill time, I read extensively on my Kindle until the battery died, then switched to paperback books.

On a positive note, the aftermath of the storm brought the community together. Neighbors, some of whom had never spoken to each other, started to interact, cook on grills, and support each other through these trying times.

However, the storm also brought out some alarming aspects. Cellphone services were disrupted due to the same power outage, and traffic became a nightmare with non-functional traffic lights and reckless drivers.

Acknowledgements

Despite the challenges, it is essential to acknowledge the heroes who emerge from such situations. Duke Energy, the local electric company, did an impressive job restoring power within 48 hours, despite over 80% of the county being without power after the storm.

Governor Rick Scott demonstrated commendable leadership during this crisis, a quality I value highly in elected officials. His handling of the crisis caused by Hurricane Irma earned my respect and gratitude.

These are just a few of the many insights I’ve gained through surviving Hurricane Irma. If you’ve experienced a disaster, I invite you to share your learnings in the comments below. It’s through these shared experiences that we can all become better prepared for future emergencies.

Richard Lowe
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