It’s *that* time of year again…

for those of you who live along the Gulf and US Atlantic coasts to start thinking about tropical storms. I understand it’s a tired issue for many of us who have lived here most or all of our lives, but as New Orleans in particular has had a rather large influx of “new blood” over the past few years, I believe it is good to go over some simple ideas and guidelines. Also, it does not hurt the storm veterans to refresh their hard-earned training. Remember, this is not to frighten anyone in the area, but, rather, to help everyone prepare. Preparation now is better than panic later. I see so many, in my daily life, as well as on the news, scrambling to get ready right before landfall. That is the worst possible time to prepare (but I guess it is better than not preparing).

Many already know to keep candles and flashlights in case the power goes out (which it occasionally does outside of tropical storm season), but let us go a step further. For example, do you have some way to light the candles you have? How about checking that flashlight to see if it still works, or that you have extra batteries? It almost seems like common sense, but questions like those above are worth asking.

To start, one should decide if they are going to “ride out” the storm if/when it comes to their area, or if they will evacuate away from the coast. This is a fairly easy question on the surface, but there are mitigating factors everyone should consider:

1.Do you require regular medication (insulin, hypertension drugs, etc)?

2.Do you have an infant or small child?

3.Do you live in a low-lying or unprotected area?

4.Do you or does someone in your care have a disability which would make it difficult to ambulate in the event of flood or home collapse?

5.Has the storm been classified as “major” (Category 3 or greater)?

If you said “yes” to any of those questions, you may want to take a few days and evacuate. Don’t unnecessarily put yourself or rescue crews in danger. Make sure your vehicle is fully fueled before leaving (the sooner the better). It is better not to be one of those people either out of fuel on the side of the road or waiting in line on the access road next to the interstate waiting to fuel for hours on end at the only gas station within 50 miles of your location. Daytime driving will be worse than nighttime, but that is only a general guideline. I’ve heard stories of folks being stuck on the road with little movement for 12 or more hours during an evacuation! One should recall that “contraflow” will likely be in effect in the event of a storm along the Louisiana coast (I confess I am unfamiliar with what other states do in these situations).

But, what happens if you do fall into one of those groups, yet do not have a mode of transportation (motor vehicle) or know anyone nearby willing to take you that does? The best decision then may be to bus out of your area (which is easier in urban areas), or contact a local civic group, such as a church, or the local fire department or police, if all else fails. In New Orleans, there is a newer organization helping to plan this, with iconic statues for pickup points.

There should be a local evacuation shelter for persons such as yourself nearby, where a coordinated further evacuation can more easily be performed if necessary.  Don’t forget basic supplies like clothes, toiletries, important documents, and medications if you do evacuate! Make sure you let any loved ones/friends/important people in your life know when and where you are to evacuate, as they will likely be worried if you do not. I would also strongly urge you to bring some cash with you as well, in the event that the bank you typically use is shut down for a while. And, please, for the love of whatever God, gods, or philosophy in which you believe, do not assume you will be home in any speedy manner and leave your pets behind unattended.

Well, if you’ve read this far, then you may have decided to stay, for whatever reason that may be (you are your own judge in this situation). Then, you should prepare for the loss of luxuries and conveniences that come with modern living. On top of that, one should consider “strengthening” their shelter.

If you do not already have storm shutters for your “home shelter”, then make some time to get them installed or, at the very least, measure and buy some plywood now before any storm pops up and inventories are short, to cover your windows. It’s my understanding that taping windows doesn’t really do much to protect the windows themselves, but to keep shards of glass from going everywhere. I’d suggest the heaviest plywood you can handle by yourself or with 2 people. That thin quarter inch stuff is better than nothing, but flimsy as can be. I would stay away from pressboard, though, as that material has the propensity to fall apart when exposed to water. Depending on the area, sandbags may be available when a storm is close. At the very least, you’ll want to have the bottoms of all outer first level doors protected with these, but more may be necessary, based upon the local situation. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as “too many sandbags”, though. Outside of immanent storm landing, sand is available from many locations, such as hardware and gardening stores, if you wish to have them ready ahead of time. Leave nothing outside that isn’t tied down. The corollary to Murphy’s Law applies here–anything not tied down will tend to go flying and damaging something nearby during the worst time (in the middle of the storm), and will likely bust a hole in a window or roof (which really stinks, if you’ve never experienced such). If you have any trees that need trimming, it would behoove you to take care of it now. If you don’t have a garage in which to put your vehicles, at the very least park them on the highest ground you can nearby (most likely the neutral ground for New Orleanians, not the levee, as it will probably be towed if placed there). Have at least one emergency “escape” vehicle fully fueled, in case you change your mind about evacuating.

The shelter is ready, but you aren’t. Some things to consider:

1.Water–much more than you think you need (1-2 gallons/person or pet/day)

2.Food–at least 2 weeks’ worth for each person and pet, non-perishable

3.Light source–candles (watch for fire), flashlights (and extra batteries), wood for fireplace (again, careful of fire, as there may not be fire fighters available)

4.Communication devices, and not only a cell phone, as the local tower may go out of service, and your signal with it, such as 2-way radios or a corded land line (cordless phones require an electrical outlet)

5.Battery/solar/hand-crank radio: these are very easy to obtain now, quite inexpensive, and will typically also come with a light (covering #3 above as well)

6.Small electronics charger (back-up battery and/or solar, for example), for your cell phone, computer, and any small games for children, if they are present.

7.Back-up generator–natural gas, permanent ones are now available, but portable ones work in a pinch. Only use the power you need at the time; for most, this will be food refrigeration, air conditioning, and possibly a small light, TV, or radio. Use the portables sparingly, as you may not have access to gasoline or diesel for a while.

8.Toiletries, medications, and first aid supplies (once again, you may have to “play doctor” in a pinch). I’ll throw a real bone out here–baby wipes are invaluable in a low water supply situation (ask any Iraqi War vet). Teeth wipes or disposable tooth brushes are worth mentioning as well. 

9.Self-defense: it is difficult to broach this subject with many people, as they are not used to having to worry about such a situation, but remember the local police will probably not be able to help you in any speedy fashion, if at all, in case of severe weather. That means you’re on your own (if I hadn’t made such glaringly obvious by now). One caveat: don’t “pack heat” unless you are well-trained in the use of firearms. In such a case, have a tazer, liquid mace, or pepper spray handy. Unfortunately, disasters bring the worst out in some people. This will likely mean looting, and any deterrent is better than none, as looters often go for the “low hanging fruit”.

Obviously, not everyone will be able to afford to do all the things listed above, but at least remember food, water, and lines of communication are vital, if nothing else. Assume, at the very least, loss of electricity, the ability to shop locally (except have a drink at one of the local bars that never seem to close in New Orleans), and possibly water, cable for internet/TV, and phone service, either cell, land line, or both. In a perfect world, one would have their own water supply via cistern and/or well, solar generation with battery and back up natural gas generator, and a fully stocked kitchen, along with some guards to watch it all, but we all make do with what we can.

Just remember–Be prepared, not scared.

-Doc

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