Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Is Your Community Ready?

After the hurricane-busy summers of 2004 and 2005, I remember some of the hold-ups for getting aid into stricken areas.


FEMA may be ready to bring in water, ice, and other supplies, immediately after a disaster, but where and how will that be distributed to people in need?

After Ivan, a line of cars, and another long line of people on foot would snake around the parking lot where trucks were passing out water and ice. Permission had to be obtained from the parking lot owner. The parking lot had to be clear of debris and downed power lines. The roads in and out of that area had to be clear for traffic. The sites needed to be in areas accessible to a lot of people, including people who don't have their own cars or maybe didn't have enough gas in their tanks to sit in a line of traffic for two hours.

Major roads or airport tarmacs in the disaster area must also be cleared. The trucks are usually waiting nearby, loaded with supplies. Our local power company sent a caravan of linemen and other personnel to the area about to be hit by Hurricane Irene. They traveled most of the way a day or two before the storm made landfall, so they could move in immediately after the storm passed to start putting power lines back together.

Hurricanes Ivan (2004) and Katrina (2005) both destroyed major roads and bridges, cutting off that route into the disaster area. That meant everyone who evacuated merged with everyone coming to help and they crawled along a secondary route. Necessary detours and traffic jams can add hours to the process of bringing in supplies and other aid.

These things have to be coordinated with local emergency management officials. If they haven't thought through potential disaster scenarios (hurricane, tornado, earthquake, flood, disease, fire, terrorist attack), they may find themselves playing catch-up. Hopefully, your city or county has created a disaster playbook that will allow them to provide instructions quickly and easily to FEMA and other agencies and help them communicate what's happening to residents and aid workers.

We don't like to think about worst case scenarios, but it's the only way to effectively prepare for disaster.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

After Disaster: How to Help

Making a Difference with Your Group 

If your church or civic organization wants to take aid to areas hit by a disaster, you need a plan. Sure, you can load your truck with hand tools and water and head to the disaster area with the best intentions, but it’s much better to make contact with someone in the area and know exactly what you’ll be doing and what to bring along.

Repairs and Rebuilding

If you have able-bodied people with carpentry or DIY skills, you can help people make repairs to their homes. Figure out who you are going to help before you leave and take all the materials and tools you need with you.

For the first couple of weeks, until electricity is restored, power tools are useless unless you have your own generator, extension cords and plenty of gasoline.  If you are going to replace roofs, you need to know what kind of roof you’ll be working on, do you need shingles or rolled roofing? How big is the house? Will you need plywood, OSB or planks to repair a damaged structure or are you just replacing shingles?

Cleaning Up

Bring trash bags, bar magnets for picking up nails, and disinfectant wipes. Unless you know for sure that water is running to the home where you’re working, bring your own water tanks for washing hands or cleaning tools.  Discuss with the homeowner or resident whether you can leave your trash bags there for pick-up. If access to the area is difficult because of damage, the garbage trucks may not be running.  You may need to take your trash to a landfill or another area designated for debris. See if you can find out whether any fees are being charged at those sites. The local government will probably seek reimbursement from FEMA rather than charging people whose homes sustained damage, but it’s better to find out before you get there.

Feeding the Hungry

In a disaster area where power is out, a hot meal is a blessing to disaster victims, first responders, utility crews, and volunteers.  If you want to help feed the army, you need a portable cooking trailer or a commercial kitchen, perhaps available through a church or community center.  Before you leave home, determine what resources you can take with you and what will be available where you’re going.  If you need bottles of LP gas, charcoal for a grill, a generator and gasoline – take it with you. 

Don’t assume you’ll be able to buy what you need in the disaster area. Many stores will be closed and those that are open may not be restocked for a couple of weeks due to roads being closed or lack of electricity. Decide what you’re cooking and look at a recipe. You may have made your grandma’s goulash a thousand times, but that doesn’t mean you’ll remember to pack the salt without reading the recipe or making a list.
You’ll need serving utensils, plasticware, paper or Styrofoam plates, and napkins, as well as salt and pepper shakers (or those little packets), ketchup and other condiments. Try to think through the whole process of cooking the meal, from start to finish and make a list of everything. Ask a couple of other people to look at the list. They may remember something you didn’t.

Clothing Donations

After any natural disaster in our region, the newsroom where I work would be inundated with calls from people asking where they can donate clothing.  It’s understandable. You can clean out your closet and give to people who may have lost everything but the clothes on their back. 

Unless you are gathering items for a specific family and you have their sizes, don’t even think about it.
After Hurricane Katrina, mountains of clothing sat in parking lots getting rained on, because no one was available to sort and distribute it. Also, thrift stores will tell you that they throw away a lot of clothing donations because they really should be trashed due to stains or other wear-and-tear.  

The best way to use your old clothes to help disaster victims is to look first at every piece and ask if you would want to receive it if you’d just lost everything. Be honest. Then hold a yard sale to sell it and donate the money for disaster aid.

Break Time

No matter what you are doing in the disaster area, you should bring plenty of food and water for everyone on your team and a good first aid kit. Resources are very limited after a natural disaster.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

NOAA Gets It Spot On

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration got the track of Hurricane Irene exactly right. Click on the link and watch the video. About 7 seconds in, the satellite image will pause for a second and you'll see the forecast track overlaid. Watch as the eye follows the track exactly.

NOAA Video

Hurricane forecasting is not an exact science, but I think this video shows that the NOAA and National Hurricane Center has developed a real knack for using their weather forecasting tools, historical evidence, and the various ensemble models from agencies and universities around the world to give us a forecast that gives people in the storm's path the best chance to prepare and protect their homes, businesses, and families.

Excellent work, NOAA!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Aid: How Can I Help

First an earthquake, then a hurricane. The mid-Atlantic states were slammed in August 2011. If you’re not in that area, and you want to help those who are, here are some ways you can make a difference.

Help Someone You Know

Do you have friends or family in the affected area? Maybe a former co-worker has moved up there or someone you deal with for work is based there. Ask them how they are doing and what they need. Keep in mind that the mail may not run for a few days until roads are cleared of debris or flood waters recede, so it may be hard to meet immediate needs. Of course, if the person evacuated, depending on where they went, you can meet them or send them something to where they’re staying. 

Work As a Group

Churches and civic organizations often travel to the affected area, taking supplies like water, non-perishable food, school supplies and clothing (for people who lost their homes). They may help people clean up their yards or repair damage. Sometimes, if they have a portable food trailer available or can arrange to use an available kitchen in the area, they prepare and serve meals, so people who live in the community have one less thing to worry about; they can just sit down and eat. 

Give to Reputable Charities

The American Red Cross and Salvation Army will provide food, water and ice to people whose electricity is out or those living in shelters because their homes are flooded or destroyed. They also help people who lost everything get some clothing or shelter while they’re waiting for insurance payments (assuming they have insurance). Organizations like that have systems to help make sure the money gets to people who legitimately need it. Of course, someone’s always going to fool the system, and those are the ones you hear about, but these charities really do help those in need.

Don’t Forget the Animals

Many animals will end up in shelters because they got separated from their owners or maybe some didn’t have homes but they got picked up during the massive sweeps that will go through the hard-hit areas.  You can send money to an animal charity, such as the Humane Society or ASPCA that serves one of the disaster areas. A lot of pet rescue organizations will also go into help rescue trapped, injured or traumatized animals, and they’ll need money to buy food, bottled water for the animals and their workers, and supplies to help clean up and treat the pets. 

Beware of Scams

After a disaster, the con artists come out. You may see pleas for help on Facebook or online forums. Someone may come to your door and say they evacuated to your community from North Carolina and can you help them. Scammers will make phone calls to random numbers asking you to give money to help those in need.  Be wary. Don’t give to someone who calls you on the phone. Don’t click on links in emails to “donate now.” It’s much better for you to look up the organization you want to give to and call them or find their website on your own to donate. Emails that may look like they’re coming from an legitimate organization can still be fakes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dangerous Even at a Distance

In August 2009, a few dozen people in New England went down to the shore to watch Hurricane Bill go by. The storm sent furious waves crashing onto the rocks, sweeping several people into the water. A seven-year-old girl drowned.

This is Bill's track. You can get a closer look at the map at Unisys Weather. As you can see, the storm just barely brushed the U.S. coastline, but it was still violent enough to claim a child's life.

Please don't look at a dot on the map and think that because a hurricane is far out to see, that you're safe. Your safer than if it made landfall by your house. But even out to sea, a hurricane can still pack a deadly punch.

Be safe.

Rock Me Like a Hurricane

The U.S. Eastern Seaboard is getting slammed this week with double disasters. A 5.8 magnitude quake centered in Virginia shook the earth from Georgia to Canada on Tuesday, and Hurricane Irene is pelting the Bahamas with a triptych that takes the storm right along the U.S. coastline.

Even if Irene never makes landfall in the U.S., a powerful hurricane off shore -- even hundreds of miles off shore -- will have an impact on coastal communities. Hurricanes are often hundreds of miles across, so if the eye of the storm is 150 miles out to see, coastal areas could still get battered by high winds, drenched by rain, and flooded from storm surge.

If you live on the East Coast of the United States, I urge you to make sure you have bottled water and non-perishable food in your home in case of power outages. Check your first aid kit and make sure it's stocked with the essentials. Know where your insurance papers are. Pick up extra batteries for your radio and flashlights. Be aware if you're in a flood zone. Prepare your home by securing lawn furniture and moving anything inside that could become a missile in high winds. If advised, protect your windows with shutters, aluminum roofing sheets or plywood.

Watch the storm's progress on TV or use the National Hurricane Center website. Pay attention to any local advisories. Be safe.

The National Hurricane Center is watching two more areas of disturbed weather right behind Irene.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Disturbances in the Atlantic

Doesn't that title sound like a ghost story? Disturbances or low pressure systems or tropical waves are kind of ghostlike, at least from here on shore. I'm sure that if you were in the Atlantic, in the middle of one of those disturbances, it would be a pretty strong thunderstorm. Sitting comfortably on land, looking at the National Hurricane Center's Tropical Prediction page, they look like little blobby ghosts. Ephemeral things that may never develop into anything stronger than a thunderstorm.

A few years ago, the only things that showed up on the National Hurricane Center's website were tropical depressions and named storms. I think it was probably in response to people like me that they started including information about areas they were watching. You see, I'd go to the NHC to look for depressions or check on named storms, but then I'd hit Weather Underground or Crown Weather to see what else was on the horizon. This was after 2004 -- "summer of the storm" -- when Florida got hit by four named storms, and 2005 the year that we had so many storms -- including Katrina -- that we ran out of letters of the alphabet and started calling the named storms by Greek letters (Alpha, Beta, etc.).

So now we have the blobs. Yellow blobs are areas that could develop but probably won't. Orange areas have a better than 30% chance of turning into a depression or worse. Red areas are very likely to become something stronger.

I look at this map and I see storms extending across the Florida peninsula. A good portion of the storm is over land, so it's not going to develop unless it moves out to sea. The NHC says it's moving east-northeast, so it'll go into the Atlantic and if it develops there, it probably won't cause much trouble for anyone. The yellow blob in the upper Atlantic won't develop; the waters are cooler up there. The orange blob -- there's a troublemaker. Unless there are wind shears or something to break it down, well, 'tis the season and the worst part of the season at that. It'll develop. It's little sister, tagging behind, will most likely develop, too.

I went over to Weather Underground, where sure enough they're showing computer models for those two blobs. That means the forecasters consider them a serious enough threat to consider potential tracks. Sometimes I hate being right.

Could they still break up? Absolutely. Look at Emily -- a full-fledged tropical storm, one day expected to become a hurricane, the next day fizzled out to nothing. Sometimes we get lucky.

All the hurricane forecasters were anticipating a "busier than usual" year, and we haven't had that much activity yet. Still, August through the first couple of weeks of October are typically the busiest times for hurricanes.

And that gives those of us on the coast plenty to be disturbed about.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Tropical Storm Emily

Tropical Storm Emily started as a tropical wave in the southern Atlantic a few days ago. The National Hurricane Center is now tracking Emily, which is expected to hit several Caribbean islands before brushing against the east coast of Florida next weekend.

Of course, it's dangerous to look at the track now and assume that's where the storm is going.

The computer models have been steadily shifting west for the past few days, and if it shifts much more to the west, it'll come into the Gulf.

Looking at the national maps from the National Weather Service, an area of high pressure seems to be forming or moving across the Gulf and parts of the northern Gulf Coast. That could be what hurricane forecasters are looking at to keep the storm moving north in the Atlantic. Certainly if it shifts west and comes into the Gulf, that High could keep it to the eastern part of the Gulf.

If you live on a southeastern U.S. coastline, this storm bears watching.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Choosing a Radio for Your Disaster Kit

"What radio should I buy for my hurricane safety kit?"

When that question came up, I was surprised. I thought buying a radio was a pretty simple thing. Then I realized some of the complications.

A weather radio receives alerts from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This is great if you want to hear tornado watches or warnings, flood advisories, and statements from the National Hurricane Center. The computerized voice can be a little difficult to understand sometimes; at least it was the last time I listened to my weather radio. I had mine on during the last hurricane and got really irritated with flood warnings out of Mobile, Alabama. It's a really low-lying area. They have major flooding issues every time it rains. A programmable weather radio is supposed to let you receive only the warnings, watches, alerts and advisories relevant to your area, but I thought I had mine set right. The local NWS office is in Mobile, so I don't think there's a way to stop the flood advisories. It was too much for me, so I turned it off until it was time for the next hurricane update. These start at $15 to $20.

The radio stations you like to listen to in your car are either on AM or FM. In my area, when a hurricane is coming, the television stations will go into 24 hour mode -- all hurricane, all the time -- and some of the stations will simulcast the TV signal. That way, if your power and/or cable goes out, you can still get information over any AM or FM radio. You can get a decent AM/FM radio with a small telescoping antenna for $8 to $12 at department stores or online. Try it out at home and make sure you can pick up a variety of local stations loud and clear.

You can get radios that pick up AM/FM stations and NOAA, for about the same price or a little more than buying a weather band radio alone.

Most portable radios are powered by batteries. Always check your batteries at the beginning of hurricane season and make sure you have extras on hand. Never store batteries in the radio. They burst or leak acid over time. Trust me. I know from experience. You can store batteries in the refrigerator and they'll last longer, but be sure to let them warm up to room temperature (and dry off any condensation) before putting them into your electronic device.

Many radios are now available that use alternate sources of power. These are fantastic if you have a long-term power outage. You won't have to worry about replacing or recharging batteries. Here are some of the options:

SOLAR POWER - These usually require several hours of exposure to direct sunlight to recharge. This is perfect if the weather is clear and sunny, and if you have a window that gets full sunlight all day. I was not comfortable leaving my solar radio sitting outside all day while I was at work.

DYNAMO-HAND CRANK - These are the type that you basically wind-up. You can wind for a couple of minutes and get enough power for a weather forecast. You do have to crank for some time to get a full charge.

ALTERNATE SOURCES - Rarer types of battery-free radios (and flashlights) will let you shake the item or use a sort of "squeeze pump" handle to generate power. I have a flashlight with the squeeze handle, and I prefer it over the hand-crank variety. I haven't tried the shake-it-up type.

If you need a cheap radio in a hurry, any battery-operated radio that will pick up AM and/or FM stations in your area should work. Again, be sure to test the radio and make sure you can get clear signals from several local stations or return it to the store and start over. If you can't pick up anything clearly in good weather, you sure won't be able to get important information during heavy wind and rain or after several towers get blown down in the storm.

Finally, check with your local TV and radio stations to find out who will simulcast in an emergency. Around here, several of the TV stations put out hurricane prep guides and they list reliable sources of information. In my area, we have one radio company that is locally owned; they operate two stations, and they provide really good around-the-clock coverage during disasters. The big national-conglomerate-owned stations are typically the ones who'll simulcast one of the local TV stations.

WINNER: Thunder of Time novel

Congratulations to Jim Coyne. Jim has 72 hours to send his postal mailing address, and I'll ship out the prize. Thanks to everyone who visited the blog and posted a comment.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Saving Family Documents

Much of the southern United States is experiencing a really bad wildfire season. Communities near the Mississippi experienced devastating floods this year. Tornado season has been much worse than usual, and hurricane season is just beginning.

If you had to grab your belongings and leave in a matter of minutes - or even with two or three days notice - would you be able to quickly take with you the documents you'd need to prove your identity, file an insurance claim, or have utilities cut off?

It's a good idea to keep copies of those important documents in your disaster kit, so they go with you in an emergency. You can scan them and keep a password protected CD or flash drive with all the files, or just make hard copies (in case you can't get to a computer).

Here's what you need:
  • Property Insurance Policy
  • Auto Insurance Policy
  • Health Insurance Cards
  • Driver's License or ID card for each family member
  • Utility bills - recent statements or a list that includes account numbers and customer service phone numbers
  • Credit card bills - recent statements or a list of account numbers and customer service phone numbers
  • Loan details - including mortgages, personal loans, auto loans, store credit - with account and phone numbers
  • Subscriptions and memberships - for any regular mailings, be sure you know how to change your address

This is just for starters. These are the major things you'll need to file a claim, change your mailing address, cancel or shut off utilities, and make payment arrangements. Consider each individual in your home and determine if you have other documents that may be important. Marriage licenses, legal contracts, medical records - think carefully about what you might need if you were forced to leave your house for weeks or perhaps forever.

Don't wait until you need to leave to assemble these documents. You'll make your life a lot easier if you can grab your emergency kit and know that everything you need is inside.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Are You Ready for a Zombie Apocalypse?

This is pretty funny, but it also makes good sense. The Centers for Disease Control have issued a statement to help you get ready for a Zombie Apocalypse. Why would the CDC do this?

In the 21st century, most zombie apocalypses are caused by a virus. Watch 28 Days Later. The CDC investigates infectious diseases, and they also want people to be prepared for any disease outbreak.

Which would you rather prepare for:

  1. Bird Flu
  2. SARS
  3. Mad Cow Disease
  4. Swine Flu
  5. Zombie Apocalypse
I bet you said #5.

So, the CDC put out a bulletin encouraging everyone to be ready for a Zombie Apocalypse, with reminders that if you're ready for a Zombie Apocalypse, you're also ready for other emergencies and disasters.

Better safe than sorry.

If you're    ready for a zombie apocalypse, then you're ready for any emergency.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Cooking by Candlelight

Ever since hurricane season started on June 1, it seems like there's been some disturbed area being watched by the National Hurricane Center. To be honest, some wet weather (but not a Tropical Storm or Hurricane) would be pretty welcome in our area right now. The Florida Panhandle is down about 8-inches below normal rainfall this year so far.

Today, I thought I'd talk about some things you might be able to cook without power. First, what resources do you have available?
  • Gas Grill? Be sure to have a tank or two of propane on hand before the storm hits.
  • Charcoal Grill? Pick up bags of charcoal and lighter fluid, and be sure you have some way to douse any stray sparks.
  • Natural gas range or oven? In my experience, gas service is usually still available after a hurricane, but of course, if the provider thinks that any lines were damaged or if your home sustains damage, the service may be turned off.
  • Camp stove? If you go camping, you may have something that runs off propane, solar power or batteries. Make sure you have the supplies you need to run the stove.
  • Bonfire? With all the downed trees, it's tempting to kill two birds with one stone and have a weinie roast over an open fire. The big danger is that if the fire gets out of control, firefighters may not be able to get to you and may not have the water pressure to fight it. If you have a way to contain the flames - say a sturdy metal barrel with a grate on top, you'll be safer that way. Set up your barrel at least 25 feet from any structures. If you don't have water running through your hose, have some water on hand (rainwater that's collected, a couple of bucketfuls from the bathtub), so you can make sure the ashes are wet through when you're done. Hot spots in dry ash can smoulder for days and any ember that flies out can set something on fire.
Never burn anything in your house. You wouldn't want to anyway, I'm sure, because of the heat and no air conditioning in the summer, but in addition to fire dangers, smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning can be deadly. Don't risk it.

It's a good plan to always think about the worst possible thing that could happen and how you will respond to it and prevent a worse catastrophe.

The benefit of having a way to cook, of course, is that the food in your freezer can be used instead of thrown away. If you can even just heat water, you can prepare instant foods like macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, grits, oatmeal, soup, coffee, and more. It's a great way to vary your menu when you get to week two or three without electricity.

What do you like to eat when you don't have any power available?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Book Giveaway: Temperal Storms

Imagine a storm blowing in that, instead of tearing things up, it removes everything from the present to the past, and vice versa. One minute, there's a house across the street; the next minute, you're staring at a dinosaur that wants to eat you for lunch.That's what happens in James F. David's novel Thunder of Time. It's actually a sequel to David's Footprints of Thunder, but you can definitely read the second book without having read the first one, because that's what I did.

Thunder of Time begins ten years after the events of the first novel. Everyone thought the time displacements were over, but now they're happening again, and with increasing regularity. A team of experts spans the globe, trying to figure out why the displacements are happening and how to stop them. Their investigations suggest that the displacements are being orchestrated. But who would do that, and why?

I thought the book was really interesting. It has a huge cast of characters, but the author has helpfully included their names and short biographies at the beginning, so if you forget who someone is, you can look them up. For the most part, it has a well thought out plot that comes together pretty nicely at the end. Many times, James David had me wondering how they could possibly get out of things alive.

That said, I think it probably could have been a little shorter and less convoluted. I dislike situations where we are inside the mind of the villain, but we don't know who s/he is or exactly what s/he's up to. I'd rather not meet the villain at all until the heroes lead us to him/her or alternatively, just come out and tell me who he is.

Some of the multiple-time-frames/alternate time lines stuff near the end got a bit tedious, but overall, I thought the author did some clever things as the characters pass from past to present to different time stream.


I purchased this book new, and read it once. It's in good condition from a non-smoking household.
FIRST ENTRY: Comment here with the name of your favorite dinosaur book or movie and why you like it so much.
EXTRA ENTRIES: For each item you complete, leave another comment here and be sure to include a link to your tweets or to the non-giveaway post that you commented on. Make sure that you leave your email address in the comment OR that it’s part of your profile, so I can find it.
*leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post on this Hurricane Safety blog (1)
*visit my Crazy Kitty Chick blog and leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post (1)
*visit my Rhyme Schemes and Daydreams blog and leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post (1)
*follow Auriette on Twitter and tweet about this giveaway (1)
*follow CrazyKittyChick on Twitter and tweet about this giveaway (1)
You can earn a maximum of six entries per household. Eligible comments must be made no later than 11:59pm ET on June 18, 2011. Entrants must be 18 or older, with shipping addresses in the United States or military APO/FPO addresses. One winner will be selected by random drawing on June 19 and notified by email. Winner must respond to this email with mailing address within 72 hours or another winner will be selected. Book will be sent media mail.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hurricane Season Begins

Another hurricane season is under way, which means that one of the first things I'll do every day is check out the National Hurricane Center website. If there's a full-fledged tropical storm or a hurricane in the Atlantic, Caribbean or Gulf, the NHC will have full details on its strength and projected path.

On days like today, when there are low pressure systems that could develop into a cyclonic system, I'll follow up with a visit to Weather Underground. The more "serious" low pressure systems will be tracked by various forecasting centers, and the computer models will give you an idea of where that system will end up - whether it develops or not.

One note about computer models - the ones mapped out on sites like Weather Underground are typically ensemble models. For each ensemble model, or track,  information from several different forecasting computers has been compiled to project the movement of the storm. Some sites will pictured the spaghetti models, and many of those are forecast tracks from a single computer.

What's the difference between the spaghetti models and the ensemble and the "official" track from the NHC?

The development and movement of a tropical system, or really any storm system, is dependent on a lot of different factors. High and low pressure systems, for example, affect how the storms move. Wind shear may weaken a storm. Warm waters strengthen them. Scientists have been studying hurricanes for years, so they know how all these different atmospheric and oceanic conditions may change the storm.

Once computers came along, they created software that lets them plug in all this data, and then the software analyzes it and says, "This is where the storm could be going and how strong it's likely to get on the way."

The differences in the models come from how the the software applies the knowledge. In one case, the software may not consider the movement of warm and cold ocean currents. Another program may give more weight to those same currents and place a lower priority on wind shear.

Here's an analogy. 

Let's say that you wanted to determine the likelihood that someone can blow out all the candles on his/her birthday cake. The first thing you would do, if you were a forecaster, would be to collect information about past parties. Maybe you find some anecdotal evidence in old diaries ("Aunt Marge took a mighty break - she was a trained opera singer in her youth, after all - and with a great gust, she blew out all 40 of the candles on her cake."). You study birthday videos on YouTube and analyze the age, apparent lungworthiness, number of candles, and angle of approach. You take into consideration the presence of ceiling fans, air vents, and fireplaces. You pay poor college students a dollar a puff to blow out various types of candles in slightly different configurations on simulated cakes in common and unusual settings. You program your computer with all the data. Then, when Sissy's 16th birthday roles around, you plug in her age, the seriousness of her asthma, the brand of candles, the dimensions of the room, and the number of guests. You give it your best guess as to whether her birthday wish will come true.

Then you watch and see what really happens.

Weather forecasting is a guessing game.

To be sure, the guesses are very well educated, and forecasting has come a long way even in the past dozen years. The tools used to collect data are extremely sophisticated, and meteorologists have had a lot of storms to watch and study - 27 systems in 2005 alone. It will never be an exact science, because one little change in a weather system over the Rockies can ricochet down to the Gulf and slow a storm down or cause it to turn.

Why bother?

When a storm forms in the Atlantic off the coast of Africa, and we look at that photo of clouds over the ocean, we can't tell from that snapshot whether it's going to slam into the Gulf Coast of Florida in three weeks (Ivan, 2004) or if it's going to spin off harmlessly into the North Atlantic and dissipate in a week (Karl, 2004) or if it's going to lay waste to the Carolina coast two weeks later (Hugo, 1989). The computer models help narrow down which way the storm is going, giving those of us who live on a coastline advance warning, time to fill up the gas cans, buy extra (non-perishable) groceries, cook up the food in the freezer, and pack a bag (if you have to evacuate).

In an uncertain world, a little extra time to prepare is the best we can hope for.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Warrior's Emergency Rations

The start of hurricane season is one week away, and the weather over the continental U.S. is volatile. The forecasters at both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Colorado State University are predicting a busier-than-average year. With all that in mind, I hope coastal residents are making early preparations to take care of your home and family in case a storm hits your area.

One of the important considerations is food. Emergency management leaders in Escambia County, Florida, today encouraged people to have not just the 72 hours worth of supplies that the federal government recommends, but rather at least 96 hours worth of supplies. That's four days worth of food and water, instead of just three days.

Let's review:
  • One gallon of water per person per day. Don't forget to factor pets into your math.
  • Non-perishable food that doesn't require refrigeration or cooking.
  • If you plan on using canned goods, have a manual (not electric) can opener handy.
  • Paper plates are a great idea, since you may not have hot running water available.
I just discovered a new source for food with a long shelf-life. The company doesn't offer a lot of variety, but what they have is fun and will definitely keep through a couple of seasons, if needed.

CMMG is primarily a firearms company. They sell assault rifles and parts for assault rifles. As a sideline, they offer a few emergency rations.

Their Tactical Bacon comes in a black and white can with infographics on the back to demonstrate use.

For $15.95, you get nine ounces of fully cooked bacon which, the company says, will last up to ten years on the shelf. Once you open the can, though, you pretty much have to eat it right away, not that nine ounces will probably take you long to eat.

I can't see the top of the can, but it probably requires that manual can opener.

The company also makes sandwiches, which they call Sammiches, in two varieties: beef and pepperoni. The sandwiches are individually packaged and come vacuum sealed.

According to CMMG's website, each Sammich contains "300 calories of pure tactical goodness" and will last more than two years in your emergency kit, as long as it's stored at 80°F or less.

The cost is $5.95 each.

These are not the most economical addition to your disaster supplies. I placed one can of Tactical Bacon and a few Sammiches to my cart, and with the $10 shipping charge it came to over $50. If you can afford it, though, it would be a fun menu item to give to the guy(s) in your household, to help lighten the mood in the midst of catastrophe. Click here to shop.

I read about these products online. I have received no promotional consideration from CMMG, and I have no personal experience with the products.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Films for the Hurricane Party

This list is really only good until the power goes out. Well, and some of the films on it aren't that good anyway. But this list is all in fun. What am I missing? What other films can you think of that focus on a hurricane or at least have it as a major plot device?

The Hurricane (1937)
Key Largo (1948)
Hurricane (TV 1974)
Condominium (TV 1980)
The Abyss (1989)
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Category 6: Day of Destruction (TV 2004)
Category 7: The End of the World (TV 2005)
Shutter Island (2010)

Please note: I have elected to list only fictional films here. Many documentaries exist that cover damage and recovery from storms, from the great hurricane that hit Galveston in 1900 to Katrina in 2005. They probably won't be as much fun to watch when a storm is bearing down on you.

Prefense Winner!

The Randomizer picked comment #9, so Barbarawr is our winner! I'll be sending an email tonight. If I don't receive a response within 72 hours, I will pick an alternate.

Thank you to everyone who commented, and I hope you are all using the tips and advice on this blog to build your disaster kits.

Thanks also to Prefense for providing a great opportunity to the Hurricane Safety blog to try the product and to give a full-sized bottle away.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Disaster Strikes Again

Have you been watching the stories about the devastating tornadoes that hit Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, as well as several other states on Wednesday? It's terrifying to think about something that large and powerful coming right at you with only a few minutes warning.

Some people didn't even hear a traditional warning. I heard stories about several people who had called to check on family or friends and that phone call was the only warning they had to get to shelter. I saw an interview with a truck driver who sought shelter under an overpass, and he told the homeless man he found there to hold on.


I don't think my area has tornado sirens. I don't remember hearing any when I worked downtown and one passed by a few blocks from my office. Of course, a lot of us were on our computers. If you're on Facebook or Twitter and you see people talking about a twister, even if you don't get specific information there, you at least know to check the news websites, the National Weather Service or other sources of official information.
  • Would you have had the maximum warning (24 minutes, I think they said) or would you have known about the tornado only when you heard the roaring of a freight train outside your home or office? 
  • Do you have a plan in place for reconnecting with your family? A lot of people were at work or at school when the tornadoes starting forming Wednesday afternoon. If your home was destroyed, if roads were impassible, if cell towers and phone lines were down -- what would you do to find your loved ones?
  • Have you thought about how to notify family or close friends who live outside your area? 
  • Do you have copies of important documents stored somewhere safe? It's not a bad idea to place copies of important papers - insurance documents and ID, a list of phone numbers for credit cards and utilities - in a bank vault, with a trusted family member out of town or even store them electronically (with password protection) "on the cloud." You'll need to know who to call if your home is destroyed.
It's never easy to imagine such utter destruction striking your life, but advance preparation can make a huge difference in what happens after disaster hits. I think about those poor people whose homes are demolished, blown away, and if their only copy of their insurance paperwork was in the house, they don't have the phone number or their account number, and how much harder is it going to be to file a claim without having that information?

Think ahead. Plan ahead. Be ready.

I hope that all my readers are all right. If you are in the danger zone, please know that a lot of people are thinking of you and praying for you.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Long-Lasting Hand Sanitizer: WIN!

In the aftermath of any natural catastrophe or man-made calamity, staying clean and healthy is a primary concern. When you don't have access to hot running water, you need some other way to clean your hands and ensure that you're not spreading germs or ingesting them with your food when you eat.

The U.S. government's Be Ready checklist suggests keeping moist towelettes in your disaster kit, and FEMA's disaster supply list includes waterless hand sanitizer. I bought two large bottles of alcohol-based hand sanitizer in 2005, and I can attest that it will last awhile, as both bottles are still mostly full. We'd use it more, but the heavy citrus fragrance is tough on my husband's allergies.

Prefense Foaming Hand Sanitizer

I'm pleased to say that the newest hand sanitizer in the house has just a light fragrance that dissipates after a few minutes, so I can use it around him more often. This new brand of hand sanitizer is called Prefense. I've been using it for the past couple of weeks, in order to write this review. Since my husband won't believe me when I saw I need a microscope in the kitchen, I have no way of testing the scientific claims,  but I can tell you that it's easy to use, it absorbs or dissipates quickly, and it doesn't leave my skin feeling sticky or dry.

The 1.5 ounce bottle that I've been using is a great size for keeping in my purse, and it's within the TSA guidelines for carry-on liquids. Each spray, according to the company, will stay on your hands through ten hand washings, for at least 24 hours, so you don't have to constantly re-apply all day. That means your hand sanitizer will last longer and it's one less thing you have to worry about, whether you're cleaning up after a disaster, trying to avoid catching cold while you're working at a cash register during the Christmas season, or preparing a picnic in the park for your family reunion.

The Prefense website lists more than six-dozen bugs that its hand sanitizer protects against, including several types of staph bacteria, flu viruses, germs, molds and fungi.

How does it work?

In a 2009 press release, Prefense president Aaron Powers described how the product works.  “Ours is a silicone based product made up of zillions of tiny micro filaments,” Powers said.  “And instead of shrinking or poisoning pathogens into submission like alcohol based products, Prefenz literally slits the cell’s wall and destroys it on contact.  That means there’s no opportunity for these cells to mutate and to come back as some kind of new super strain.”

Cool, huh? Oh, I should explain that the product has also been marketed as PrefenzBotanicals, and that's what the labeling says on the bottle I received, but it's the same as Prefense.

Prefense contains just four ingredients: Amosilq Silica Complex, water, cocamidopropyl betaine, and essential oil fragrance. You know what water and fragrance are, and I'll try to tell you a little about the other two.

I looked up cocamidopropyl betaine on the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database. This is a great site that tells you more about ingredients found in personal hygiene and cosmetics products. According to Skin Deep, cocamidopropyl betaine is used in more than two-thousand products as a cleansing agent, foam booster, and an agent for increasing viscosity. I think this is what helps keep your skin from drying out like with other hand sanitizers.

The key ingredient for germ protection in Prefense seems to be the Amosil-Q, a chemical compound patented in 2003 by Dr. William Peterson, President and CEO of Coating Systems Laboratories, and two co-creators. When I did a search for Amosilq (as it appears on the product label), not a lot of results came up. Then I found an FDA advisory warning consumers to be wary of hand sanitizers that claim to protect against MRSA. None of the products listed in the advisory contain Amosil-Q, but I started digging for more information and eventually (it took a couple of hours, at least) I found a product listing on a National Institutes of Health site, and that led me to a Wikipedia article on Benzalkonium chloride.

After all this reading, I feel pretty confident that Prefense protects against all those bugs it lists as well as it claims. I probably wouldn't use it every day, but I think it's great to use on days when you know you're at higher risk of contamination: yard sale days, working a cash register during the holidays, traveling on any kind of public transportation, and yes, cleaning up after a hurricane.

Your Chance to Win

One winner will receive an 8-ounce bottle of Prefense Foaming Hand Sanitizer.

FIRST ENTRY:  Leave a comment here on why you think Prefense is perfect for a disaster kit, plus tell us what other item you think should be in everyone's kit.

Please be sure that I have a way to contact you, in case you're the winner. The form asks for your email address, but that's just for logging into Blogger; I can't see it. Be sure that your Blogger profile shows your email or include your email addy with your comment.

EXTRA ENTRIES: For each item you complete, leave another comment here (two comments in the case of tweeting) and be sure to include a link to your comments and tweets.

*leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post on this blog (+1)
*like Prefense on Facebook (+1)
*follow Auriette and Prefense on Twitter and tweet about this giveaway (+2)
suggested tweet: Enter for your chance to win a revolutionary new hand sanitizer from @prefense and @auriette: #giveaway ends May 14.

You can earn a maximum of five entries per household. Eligible comments must be made no later than 11:59pm ET on Saturday, May 14, 2011. Entrants must be 18 or older, with shipping addresses in the United States. One winner will be selected by random drawing no later than Sunday May 15 and notified by email. Winner must respond to the email with mailing address within 72 hours or another winner will be selected.


The makers of Prefenz Botanicals provided me with a 1.5 ounce bottle of their product so I could try it for myself and write this review. The company is also providing the 8 ounce bottle that will be given away through this post. I received no other compensation or consideration, and the opinions expressed in this post are my own.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

WINNER - Hurricane Safety Kit

The winner of the dynamo-powered flashlight/radio and the multi-tool kit is CarolPie with comment #83. Congratulations! Carol has already responded with her mailing address. Thank you to everyone who visited and commented on the blog.

Some of you mentioned that you don't really have a disaster kit prepared, and I hope you'll all take a little time and money to put together a kit for you and your families.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Guessing Game is On!

Dr. Bill Gray is a noted hurricane researcher who regularly issues predictions for tropical cyclone activity. He and his protégé Dr. Philip Klotzbach study global weather patterns and historical hurricane records and then issue warnings about how busy they think hurricane season is going to be. On April 6, they issued their predictions for the 2011 season, and until the season is over, they will continue to study the shifting weather patterns and issue updated reports.


For the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, Drs. Gray and Klotzbach anticipate above-average activity, with 16 named storms and five of those, major hurricanes (category 3 and above). They have calculated a 72% probability of a U.S. landfall.

The complete report, which is filled with charts, graphs and colorful maps, is available online.


I found it interesting that the researchers compared the 55-year period of 1901-1955 to 1956-2010, and the earlier period had a much higher number of named storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes. Of course, the data-gathering tools available in the first half of the 20th century was very different from what's available now.

The report also stated that we can expect busier hurricane seasons for the next ten years or so, but then it should quiet down.


For the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, Drs. Klotzbach and Gray issued an initial forecast in December 2009, plus three updates based on changing weather conditions. The final column is the actual number for the 2010 season. I've copied the chart below, and you can read the full report, which includes a glossary defining all the terms they use in the chart.

Another great site for historical data is provided by Unisys. Pick a year, and you can look at maps and detailed information about all the tropical activity from tropical depressions to major hurricanes.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Gotta Light?

My mom called me on Monday evening and said that her power was out. She lit some candles until she went to bed, then she kept a flashlight handy in case she had to get up in the night. Shortly after she woke up on Tuesday, the phone stopped working; she has her phone through her cable provider and it relies on electricity. About 4:30 Tuesday afternoon, Gulf Power crews repaired the problem on her street.

She was without power for more than 24 hours because of a thunderstorm.


It's always good to have back-up lighting in your home. A simple battery-operated flashlight can be purchased for a few dollars at stores like Wal-mart, Target, Home Depot or Lowe's. A flashlight with 5 or 6 LED bulbs can give you enough light to get around and do simple tasks.

For prolonged outages or if you anticipate having to do things that require two hands (change a diaper, prepare an insulin injection, deal with storm damage) it's nice to have a hands-free lantern. They're a little more expensive and take a larger battery, but they put out more light and don't have to be held and aimed.

Rechargeable flashlights are great, but in a prolonged outage, where will you recharge it? If you have a generator, you can plug in the flashlight and your cell phone at the same time as you're cooling your fridge. During the last few major hurricanes, I was working at a TV station with a huge generator that served the entire building. I think we all brought rechargeable items from home.

Check in the camping section of a department or sporting goods store for a good selection of more expensive lanterns. Some of the camping lanterns burn LP gas and give off very bright light. If you can afford it, you'll be glad to have it when the lights are off for an extended period of time.


You can spend hundreds of dollars on a flashlight or lantern, but it's not necessary. Twenty dollars will get you several small flashlights that will get you through an emergency. If you don't already have some around the house, start watching for sales. Summer is a popular time for camping, and we're also getting close to Father's Day, so you may find some good deals if you keep your eyes open for them. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you can sometimes find gift packs of small LED flashlights at the hardware stores; they usually package five or six small flashlights for under $10.


When you have battery-operated items stored for long periods, remove the batteries or at least check them regularly. We don't have central air, and we've had batteries burst from the heat. The battery acid can render your device useless and make a mess in the drawer or cupboard where the device is stored.

Check your storehouse of batteries and/or LP gas regularly. Make sure that you have viable materials when you need them. Also be sure that the flashlight or lantern and its batteries are easy to find in a blackout. You don't want to be rummaging through a drawer or box in the dark trying to find the flashlight and load the batteries.


Finally, a few words of warning about open flames:
  • Keep burning candles or lanterns in a clear area where the flame cannot ignite nearby materials. A dried floral arrangement on the mantle may be pretty, but it's also highly flammable. Curtains can blow in the wind. A candle placed on the floor near the bed could set a wayward sheet or blanket on fire. 
  • Never leave an open flame unattended. Not only does it increase the risk of an accidental fire, but if you have children or pets, they could be attracted to the flame and burn themselves.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


If your area was hit by a disaster today, do you have enough food to survive for three days?

Remember, the power is out. The food in the fridge is starting to get warm. Electric stoves, microwave ovens, and electric can openers are useless. Natural gas is usually a little more reliable (as a source for your gas stove and gas water heater), but let's not count on it. You have no running water.

What'll you eat?

This is why it's important to think ahead and have a few extra supplies on hand, especially if your area is prone to disasters during a certain time of year, like Hurricane Season.

Here's what I have in my cupboard right now:
  • 5 cans of potted meat
  • 5 cans of chunk chicken
  • 1 can of Vienna sausages
  • 1 Clif Bar
  • half a bag of tortilla chips
  • half a bag of Baked Lay's
  • a partial can of Planter's Mixed Nuts that have been in the pantry for a long time. Do nuts go bad?
  • ditto a half a box of Girl Scout Cookies, which are still sealed in their individual portion bag.

We won't starve, but it would get pretty boring after the first couple of meals. Especially if the mayo and other condiments go bad. As we get closer to Hurricane Season, we'll start increasing the variety of non-perishable foods we have on hand.

  • Ready-to-eat canned fruit or fruit cups. Don't buy the jumbo-sized cans unless you're feeding a very large family or sharing with the whole neighborhood.
  • Dried fruits - sometimes shelved in the produce section, sometimes in the baking aisle.
  • Nuts - eat alone or make trail mix with nuts and dried fruit. Avoid pre-made trail mixes that are spicy (make you thirstier) or have candy in them (easily melts without air conditioning).
  • Compressed food bars or granola bars.
  • Whole grain cereals such as oatmeal and low-fat granola. Can be eaten dry if you don't have shelf-stable milk.
  • Canned vegetables - I grew up eating green beans straight out of the can. Whole kernel corn and some kinds of beans are often included in cold salads.
  • Dried meat products like jerky.
  • Canned fish and meat.
  • Peanut butter - read labels and look for one that doesn't require refrigeration after opening.
  • Whole grain crackers - These are good replacements for bread.
  • Shelf stable milk that doesn't require refrigeration - I've seen Parmalat on the shelf at Sam's Club, and Bordon's and Hershey are among the companies that also make shelf stable milk products.
  • Fruit juices in single-serve cans, bottles, boxes, or foil packs.
  • Electrolyte drinks, such as Smart Water, Gatorade or Powerade.
  • Snack-packs of pudding or Jel-lo.
  • MREs and Heater Meals - Meals Ready to Eat are used by the armed forces and are typically distributed by the National Guard after a disaster. They include a just-add-water chemical heater for your main course, so you can get a hot meal in minutes without utilities. MREs and the civilian version, referred to as Heater Meals, are available through camping supply stores and internet retailers.
    WARNING: Each MRE pack contains enough calories and protein to keep a muscular and physically fit serviceman or woman going for hours as they burn thousands of calories lugging heavy packs and weapons for miles in a war situation. A normal person can make three meals out of one box. Seriously.

I should mention that we have about 15 cans of regular cat food and about a dozen cans of Indy's diabetic cat food, plus a partial bag of their dry food. It's important to plan ahead for your pets, too.


You don't have to break the bank and buy $500 worth of food when a disaster is imminent. Make out a three-day menu based on the size of your family and buy a few items every week. Be aware of the expiration dates (canned goods will often last for over a year), and once you're stocked up, just rotate the older items out as part of your regular meals and replace them with new products. This way, you can take advantage of sales and coupons, you're spreading out your cost over time, and you're avoiding the "panic shop." That's when you're maneuvering your cart through crowded aisles, searching increasingly bare shelves and buying everything you can lay your hands on without thought of how it will fit your family's needs.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

GIVEAWAY: Stock Your Emergency Kit

A couple of years ago, I won an Ice-Qube emergency kit in a blog giveaway. It's a little box that contains all sorts of useful stuff, from a rain poncho to a water bag to rubber gloves.

I've never needed to use anything out of it, thank goodness, and I decided to look through it today and see if I could find some things that I don't need, because I already have them outside the kit. I picked out a couple of items, and I'm going to give them away to someone who can use them.

This handy device will help you stay informed and brighten your way when the power is out.

It's a Flashlight with 5 superbright LED bulbs. You can turn it on full or you can choose a lower light option, which is great if you're looking for something at night and everyone else is sleeping and you're trying not to disturb them. It also conserves battery power.

But that's not all!

It's also an AM/FM Radio, so you can tune in to local emergency coverage and weather updates. After a disaster, you need a way to get information. You'll need to know about curfews; debris pick-up; where and when you can get ice, water and food; the status of utility services; who to call if you need help; and so much more. You'll be able to get that from local radio stations.

But wait, there's more!

It has an Emergency Siren to help rescue workers or neighbors find you if you're trapped. Of course, you have to have the device with you at the time that you get trapped. It's fairly small and will fit in the pocket of a raincoat or housecoat. It also comes with a wrist strap, in case your hands are full.

The best part is, it doesn't need batteries! Everything is powered by a Dynamo Charger. Wind it for just one minute, and you'll get a half-hour of flashlight time (according to the package), and probably 5-10 minutes of radio time. Will your arm get tired? Probably, but it's better than sitting around in the dark because your batteries are dead. 

The other part of this giveaway is a Multitool. It has a knife blade, can opener, bottle opener, Phillips-head screwdriver, flat-head screwdriver, ruler/file/saw, pliers/wirecutter, and a couple of other things that I'm not sure what they are. I think it has at least 13 functions, and it comes with a case that has a belt loop on the back.

This is great to have in a disaster kit. Here are some examples of how you could use this multitool:
  • open your canned goods at mealtime;
  • cut rope when you're tying down tarps;
  • open screw-down battery covers on radio or lantern.

I have a really good battery-operated radio, rechargeable batteries, and a gas generator, so I don't really need another radio, although the siren and the fact that it charges by dynamo did make me think twice before offering it up. My husband has a ton of tools, including a multitool or two, and I have a Swiss Army Knife, so we're covered in that respect. I should mention that I received no compensation or incentive to host this giveaway.

Now's your chance to win both of these really useful items.

FIRST ENTRY:  Leave a comment here explaining why you would like to add these items to your disaster kit.

Please be sure that I have a way to contact you, in case you're the winner. The form asks for your email address, but that's just for logging into Blogger; I can't see it. Be sure that your Blogger profile shows your email or include your email addy with your comment.

EXTRA ENTRIES: For each item you complete, leave another comment here and be sure to include a link to your comments and tweets.

*follow this blog on Google Friend Connect (+1)
*leave a relevant comment on any non-giveaway post on this blog (+1)
*follow Auriette on Twitter and tweet about this giveaway (+1)

You can earn a maximum of four entries per household. Eligible comments must be made no later than 11:59pm ET on Friday, April 8, 2011. Entrants must be 18 or older, with shipping addresses in the United States or military APO/FPO addresses. One winner will be selected by random drawing no later than Sunday April 10 and notified by email. Winner must respond to the email with mailing address within 72 hours or another winner will be selected.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Keeping Things Clean

Keep an eye on this blog for a chance to win a new sanitizing product. The makers of Prefense say their foaming hand sanitizer won't dry out your hands like alcohol-based sanitizer products can. It also helps shield you against germs longer than most other hand sanitizers.

The company is sending me a small bottle of Prefense to try, and I'll post my review here. They're also giving one of my readers the chance to win a large bottle of Prefense. I'm really excited to offer you the chance, because this sounds like a wonderful product to have in a disaster kit.

Disasters can be very messy. Think about it -- hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, fires, they can leave behind a lot of damage that you have to clean up. They can also knock out the water supply and electric power that can be instrumental in keeping clean and germ-free.

One of the company founders, David Reusswig described Prefense as "an invisible glove" because it lasts for hours, reducing your risk of getting sick or developing an infection as well as eliminating the need for constant reapplication.

Can you tell I'm excited to try it out? Keep watching for my review and the chance to win your own bottle of Prefense!

Sunday, March 20, 2011


We're just a few weeks away from the start of the 2011 Atlantic Hurricane Season. Week by week, I'll be covering one or two of the supplies coastal residents should have on hand, just in case. If you follow along, by the time the season begins, you'll be mostly prepared. If a storm does head your way, you'll be ahead of the game and can easily handle all the last-minute details.

Our first topic is WATER, for drinking, washing and flushing.

I've been through a number of hurricanes, and only once was there any serious widespread issue with plumbing. Let's consider some of the reasons why your tap water may be unsafe or unavailable for use.
  • During a hurricane, trees may be uprooted; the high winds may even spin the tree around in the ground. If tree roots run anywhere near the water line, the line could be breached.
  • Flooding and overloaded drainage systems could cause problems.
  • Electrical power outages may affect sewage lift stations and water pumping and purification operations.
If you have any doubt about the safety of the water coming out of your tap during or after a storm, do not drink it!


The federal government and many other emergency response agencies recommend keeping bottled water on hand for an emergency. The rule is one gallon per person per day, and you should be prepared to live for three days without any assistance.

3 Gallons Per Person/Pet Per Day

So, you need 3 gallons of water per person in your household. Add 3 gallons per pet as well. You may need more if anyone in your household has a medical condition that requires they drink more than average, if you have a really big dog or a horse, or if you have non-perishable food that calls for adding water.

Depending on where you shop, you can get drinking water (purified, distilled, drinking water, spring water) for 75 cents to a dollar per gallon. There are 128 ounces in a gallon, so here's how it breaks down (roughly) for a few common sizes of bottled water.

20-ounce bottles = 7 per person/pet per day
16-ounce bottles = 8 per person/pet per day
8-ounce bottles = 16 per person/pet per day
1 Liter bottles = 4 per person/pet per day
half-liter = 8 per person/pet per day

If money is a concern for you, remember:

You don't have to buy all that bottled water as long as you have clean, sealed, human-consumption containers to store the water.

Maybe you have something that you use for camping or sporting events. That big Gatorade-orange cooler/dispenser can be thoroughly cleaned and filled with water from your tap before the storm hits.

If you buy juice or tea by the gallon, wash the containers and fill them with water. You might need to let them sit with baking soda in them for a while to get out residual scents from the original drink.

Do you have plastic water bottles that you use when you're out walking or that you take with you to work/school? Use them, too.

Be creative. Just make sure that all those small containers add up to:

3 Gallons Per Person/Pet Per Day


You'll want to wash up in the days after the storm. You'll be out picking up limbs and trash in your yard. You may be repairing damage. It's summer, so it's usually really hot. You'll sweat. You will want to be able to wash your hands and bathe a little.

This is why we fill our bathtubs with water before a hurricane.

I don't remember who it was, but I still laugh at the person who, in an article or a blog or something, was ridiculing the practice. She wanted to know what good it would do to fill a bathtub with water.

This is the water that you'll use to wash hands or take a sponge bath, rinse dishes (if you're not using disposable), and flush the toilet if pressure is low (more on that later). Keep the bathroom door closed to keep pets and small children out of the water.

You could use the water for drinking or cooking, in a pinch. Be sure to purify by boiling or adding bleach - add 1/8 teaspoon (8 drops) of regular, unscented, liquid household bleach per gallon of water, stir it well and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it. I wouldn't recommend tub water for drinking, but it's better than nothing.

After Hurricane Ivan, when the waterfront sewage treatment facility was flooded and damaged, and with many damaged or flooded drain lines throughout the county, water pressure was practically non-existent. In addition, county officials requested that no one flush their toilets to back up the already overloaded system. Once they okayed flushing again, the pressure was still really low. You'll need extra water for flushing the toilet.

It takes about a gallon of water to flush. Don't open your tank and pour it in, though. One gallon won't do it that way. Slowly pour the water directly into the bowl. When it reaches a certain level in the bowl, the toilet automatically flushes. Cool, huh?


Three or four days after the storm, the National Guard, various relief organizations, and some businesses will provide free ice and bottled water. You usually have to go pick it up. There will be a line. At some point, the supply will run out. It is, however, a source of ice and water. Stay tuned to local information sources (primarily radio) for times and locations.

Unless you have a tankless water heater, you have a source of water. The tanks usually have a faucet on the outside, so it can be drained for cleaning or replacement. Be sure to turn your water heater off before draining! You don't want it trying to heat an empty tank, and you don't want it to fill with contaminated water, especially if you're using it a gallon or two at a time. As long as the tank filled before the storm, it's clean and safe.


If you have a family of four and two average-sized pets, you need 18 gallons of drinking water on hand if a storm strikes. This can be water you collect in containers you already have or bottles that you buy. You should be able to purchase this quantity for $18 or less.

You will also need water for washing your hands, bathing, rinsing dishes, and flushing the toilet. Fill your bathtub or collect tap water in containers.

Store purchased water in a dark place, such as under the sink, pantry, closet or linen cabinet. If you use bottled water regularly, rotate older bottles out and new bottles in throughout the season. Wait to fill your own containers until a storm is brewing.