Hurricanes are one of the worst categories of natural disasters we can encounter. Only tsunamis and the stronger earthquakes tend to cause more widespread damage. But, while earthquakes are more common that hurricanes, the stronger ones are actually quite rare.
As we’ve seen in recent years, hurricanes can cause tremendous regional damage. When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September of 2017, it destroyed over 95% of the island’s electrical grid, as well as destroying countless homes and other buildings. The total damages from this one hurricane topped $91 billion.
Anyone who lives in hurricane zones must be cognizant of the risks they face and prepared for the eventuality of a hurricane striking their area. But the question is, how can people prepare for hurricanes? What do you need to do, in order to survive and even thrive in the event a hurricane strikes where you live?
Hurricane preparedness actually consists of three separate things:
- Preparing to evacuate your home, if necessary
- Preparing your home to survive the damage of the hurricane itself
- Preparing to survive the aftermath, as services and infrastructure is restored
Each hurricane is unique, so there is no cut and dry formula for surviving one. The size of the hurricane, its wind speed, how close you are to the shoreline and how fast the hurricane are moving are all important factors in how badly your area will be affected.
At some point in time, officials will make a decision about whether or not to call for an evacuation. In 2005, Houston city officials called for an evacuation in the face of Hurricane Rita. This sadly resulted in the deaths of roughly 120 people. Twelve years later, city officials decided not to repeat that mistake and evacuate for Hurricane Harvey, which stalled over the city, flooding the southeast part of the metro area.
Ultimately, you need to take the decision to evacuate or not evacuate as a personal decision, not one left in the hands of government officials. If you choose to evacuate, you need to be ready to go, with an emergency car kit in place and a plan on where you are going.
You want to beat the rush on this, so you don’t end up in a 100 mile long traffic jam, as the residents of Houston did in 2005. That’s what ended up causing so many deaths, as people sat in hot cars on a hot day. Many of those people ran out of gas, as they sat on the highway for over 12 hours.
Preparing Your Home
But evacuation is just one part of how people can prepare for hurricanes. In many cases, evacuation is not necessary, with proper preparation. This means making sure that your home can survive the hurricane, without the high winds or flooding destroying it.
Building code requires that homes in hurricane zones be built with hurricane clips to keep the high winds from tearing the roofs off. These are metal straps, which hold the roof trusses to the walls, helping to prevent them from coming apart. However, homes built prior to 2002 might not have these, as it was not required by building code before then. If you are unsure whether your home has hurricane clips or other hurricane-resistant features, you should have your home inspected.
The other thing your home needs is protection for the windows. This is most commonly accomplished by covering the windows with plywood, which can much better withstand the force of flying debris striking it. Some people tape the windows, rather than using plywood, but this only helps to hold the glass in place, if it becomes broken, it doesn’t reduce the risk of breakage.
Finally, there is the risk of your home flooding. This depends largely on where your home is situated and the terrain around you. If you are fortunate enough to be on a high point, the risk is obviously lower. But if the land is flat, your home could flood, if the hurricane dumps enough rain on the area.
To prevent flood damage, you need to have some means of keeping the rising water out of your home. While homes are water resistant, they are not designed for flooding. Putting sandbags at the doors will help with minor flooding, but if the water raises more than a couple of inches above the floor level, you can count on it getting in.
Preparing for the Aftermath
Depending on the severity of the hurricane and how much damage it causes, surviving the aftermath can be more strenuous than surviving the hurricane itself. In the cases of both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, people were digging through dumpsters, looking for food, six weeks after the hurricane hit.
The basic problem is rebuilding the infrastructure that we all depend on, every day of our lives. Restoring electrical power, water service, communications and supply lines to stores takes time and an incredible amount of effort. You must be prepared to survive at least two months, without being able to buy food and water.
Emergency food kits are an ideal method people can use to prepare for a hurricane, allowing you to stockpile tasty, nutritious food, which is packaged to last 20 or 30 years, without losing its nutritional value or taste. Between this and a good stockpile of water, your family will be in much better shape than 99% of the people around you.