Just a few weeks ago, we watched the news as Hurricane Harvey destroyed a huge swath around Houston, Texas. Then we envisioned the worst as Hurricane Irma wrecked the Caribbean and inched her way westward and then finally turned north, bringing destruction closer and closer to our home in the Tampa Bay area. Most recently, Puerto Rico has been almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Maria, and they’re saying that power might not be restored for six months.
We’ve been long overdue for a direct hit or a higher-category hurricane, and it’s been over a decade since our last near miss with Hurricane Charlie. This time, on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, it finally felt real again. Every model showed us in the crosshairs, either directly or near enough to pack a powerful punch.
In the end, my neighborhood was very lucky, and although there was some significant damage in the Tampa Bay area, we avoided the worst of Hurricane Irma. In fact, we have been given a chance to take a critical look at our disaster preparation, our privilege relative to hourly workers and those living in poverty, and our parenting through a crisis. There are still so many without power or even homes right now, that it’s a stroke of pure luck that I can sit down while Bryn plays and write down these thoughts.
Part One: Disaster Planning
Now that the immediate threat has passed, all of us should sit down after the kids are in bed and decide what we are going to do in the next emergency.
Here are some questions you should answer. You need to really answer them to make your plan, don’t just let them hang out there. Don’t obsess over what ifs and fool yourself into thinking that’s planning.
- Do you live in a high-risk evacuation zone?
- Remember, the meteorologists’ guidance is that you run from water, and hide from a storm. Storm surge is the biggest life-or-death danger in a hurricane. Severe wind is more likely to damage property, scare you half to death, and create long-term discomfort due to power loss, etc. Non-storm surge flooding is possible due to prolonged heavy rains, but it’s a lesser risk than fast-rising coastal flooding. What are your primary risks based on your location and housing?
- If you are ordered to evacuate, will you stay with nearby friends or family in a non-evacuation zone, will you go to a local emergency shelter, or will you attempt to “bug out” of the predicted disaster area?
- If you’re in a non-evacuation zone, are you going to voluntarily evacuate or shelter in place?
- If you plan to shelter in place (aka “hunker down”) how hurricane-proof is your house? Do you have hurricane windows? Old trees? A newer roof? A windowless interior room? Remember, no house is truly hurricane-proof.
- What is your personal risk tolerance?
- What is your tolerance for discomfort? Living without air conditioning in a possibly damaged home? Sharing a public shelter with hundreds of other families? Driving 12 hours in evacuation traffic during a fuel shortage?
- Assuming FEMA can’t reimburse every family for every disaster-related expense, what can you really afford?
- If you’re going to shelter in place, what preparations can you afford? This should be an annual, ongoing consideration, not just a week before a hurricane comes knocking on our doors. I’ll make some suggestions in the next post.
- If you bug out ahead of a hurricane, will you have the means to bug out again the next time? Remember, the year that Hurricane Charlie hit Florida, we had three back-to-back hurricane threats, and people’s homes were boarded up for weeks.
- Will your employer allow you to bug out and miss several days of work before evacuations are ordered? Your job may determine when and if you can leave, or how much time you can spend on preparations.
- Do you really understand what the hurricane categories mean? A category five storm is 500 times worse than a category one. You should plan differently for each level of potential threat.
It’s really important to nail down the answers to these questions, write them down and keep them so that you can prepare and act without wasting time and adding stress by second-guessing yourself and your co-parent. Generally, Brian and I are pretty focused when we’ve got a plan, but we started second-guessing some of our smaller decisions as the storm approached. These little doubts can lead to arguments, blame, and additional family stress that you want to avoid at all costs when the stakes are so high.
In part two, I will share preparation tips including an emergency supply checklist.
I will cover parenting through a crisis in part three.