Hurricane Preparedness: How To Survive When The Storm Hits

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By now most people who live in hurricane zones know that they need to have a supply of emergency water and food stockpiled (whether they actually stockpile this is another matter).

However, when talking about hurricane preparedness, a lot of essentials get completely overlooked.

Click to download free hurricane and flooding prep checklist

Truth: You Aren’t As Prepared As You Think

Many people of coastal towns think that they have done a good job of preparing for a hurricane. But, in reality, they often haven’t done more than stock up some non-perishable foods.

Unless you plan on making a floatation device out of your boxes of Cheerios, this isn’t going to save your life!

Disaster planning requires a multifaceted approach. If you want to really be ready to survive a hurricane, then you need to ask yourself questions like:

  • How will my family and I evacuate? Where will we go?
  • What will we eat and drink during and after the hurricane?
  • How will we go to the bathroom? (the plumbing won’t be working during a flood!)
  • How will we treat injuries?
  • How will we stay clean?
  • How will we pay for cleanup and restoration after the hurricane?

If you can’t answer all of these questions, then you aren’t prepared to survive a hurricane!

Truth: Most Hurricane Deaths Occur Are Avoidable

Even though hurricane winds are above 74 mph, it isn’t the wind which kills most people. It isn’t even drowning which kills most people.

The majority of deaths from hurricanes occur because people did something careless.

Or they did something downright stupid. Like taking a “walk” to the coast to see how big the waves are.

For example, during Hurricane Sandy, 8% of deaths were due to carbon monoxide poisoning. This occurred when people used generators in their homes, but without proper venting or a carbon monoxide detector. Use of propane heaters and lamps can also cause carbon monoxide.

Some common “careless” causes of death in the aftermath of hurricanes include:

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Electrocution from touching downed power lines
  • Drowning in car because attempted to drive through flood water
  • Falling off roofs during cleanup

How to Survive a Hurricane: What You Should Do

FEMA has a decent guide on what to do to survive a hurricane. However, here is the more in-depth guide on how to survive a hurricane so you can be ready.

Click the links to learn more about the steps.

Preparation Steps before the Hurricane

  1. Stockpile emergency food and water
  2. Stockpile emergency supplies
  3. Gather evacuation documents
  4. Make an evacuation bag
  5. Learn how to turn off the gas, electricity and water safely (and teach everyone on the family)
  6. Create an emergency communication plan with your family
  7. Create an evacuation plan (plan where you will go and map out routes)
  8. Get a generator and learn how to use it safely
  9. Get hurricane insurance if you can afford it
  10. Install a flood water pump
  11. Put equipment higher up in your house (such as moving breakers from the basement to the first floor)
  12. Reinforce your doors and latches
  13. Install wooden storm shutters on windows
  14. Install sturdier shingles on roofs
  15. Buy an reliable inflatable raft and life jackets

Steps When a Hurricane Watch is in Place

  1. Bring in all outdoor furniture
  2. Check your survival supplies. Fill up more water if you need to.
  3. Listen to the news of the hurricane.

Steps When Hurricane Warning is in Place

  1. Evacuate! Do NOT wait until it is too late. And do not wait until an evacuation order has been issued. By then, the traffic will be very bad.
  2. Board up windows and doors with plywood. Tape will not protect windows.
  3. If you cannot evacuate, then get into a safe room in the house.
  4. Turn off the electricity and gas at the mains.
  5. Do not look out windows or go outside
  6. Do not drive. If you must drive, do not drive through water. Just 6 inches of water can carry away a vehicle.
  7. Do not use candles or unprotected flames during the hurricane

Steps After the Hurricane Has Passed

  1. Do not exit until authorities say the threat is over. The sudden calm might just be the eye of the storm.
  2. Stay out of rooms which could be hit by falling branches
  3. Do not drink water without sanitizing it first. Sanitation facilities don’t work during power outages. Listen to hear if “boil alerts” are in place. Read how to purify water.
  4. Use text messages only to contact loved ones. Do not tie up the phone lines as these are needed for emergency calls.
  5. Do not walk through flood water in your home. Many drowning deaths occur from slip-and-fall accidents.
  6. Do not walk through flood water outdoors. It is often contaminated with sewage, or may be electrified from downed power lines.
  7. Do not perform any repairs unless you are 100% you can do it safely.

Extra Tips and Info

Here are some tips to help you survive a hurricane that you absolutely must know, but they probably forgot to warn you about!

1. There Will Be S*it Everywhere

Hurricanes bring flooding.  Flooding means water treatment centers overflow.  That means SEWAGE overflows into the streets.

Sewage isn’t just disgusting.  It is dangerous.  The dirty flood water brings about bacterial, viral, parasitic, and mold-related diseases. The flood water can also lead to vector-borne diseases from mosquitos.

Read more about how to prepare for flooding.

Some Tips:

  • Have enough supplies stockpiled so you don’t have to leave your home until the sewage recedes.
  • Get a sump pump for your basement to prevent sewage flooding, and a battery backup for it.
  • Have an emergency bucket toilet ready.
  • GET WATERPROOF WADERS! (Amazon Link) If you have to walk through flood water, at least you won’t be directly in contact with the raw sewage floating there.

2. You’ll Need Tools and Wood in with Your Hurricane Supplies

You are supposed to board up your windows during a hurricane to prevent them from breaking.  So, obviously, you should have the means to board them up!

Don’t make the mistake of keeping your tools and wood somewhere inaccessible during the hurricane.  Likewise, don’t wait too long to board up those windows.

Yeah, the nails might damage your walls – but it is better than dealing with broken glass and rainwater all throughout your home.

3. You’ll Need More Water than You Think

I recommend that you try doing a “No Running Water” drill to see how much water you actually go through. Since most of us aren’t used to going without water, we end up using a LOT of water for simple tasks like washing our hands or cooking.

Even if you are good at conserving water, it is still better to aim for a 30 day supply of emergency water.  This will keep you covered in case the hurricane aftermath is particularly bad.

After all, do you really want to stand in line with the masses for water handouts from FEMA?


Recommended Reading: Long Term Emergency Water Storage


4. Have a Communication Plan, Because Your Cell Phones Probably Won’t Be Working

During emergencies like natural disasters, people call their loved ones.  This results in a “mass call event.” The cell phone networks aren’t able to handle the overload and calls can’t get through.

That is assuming that the cell networks are even working.  A major disaster could put the networks down completely.

Make sure you have a way of communicating with your loved ones in case the hurricane strikes when you aren’t at home.

Here’s an article on How to Make a Family Emergency Communication Plan.

5. Keep Cash, Because ATMS Will Be Down

In a major SHTF disaster, cash would quickly become worthless.  But this isn’t the case with hurricanes.

Money still reigns supreme after a hurricane and people charge insane amounts of money for things like water, food, batteries, and other supplies.

Hopefully you’ve done a good job of prepping for the hurricane so you don’t need to buy anything.  However, have some cash at home anyway.  You might need it to evacuate, and the ATMs will likely have already been emptied.

6. Don’t Use Candles!

Candles might seem like a good off grid lighting option for when the power goes out during a hurricane, but using an open flame for light is a really bad idea.

Instead, get yourself some hand crank flashlights (preferably waterproof ones).  Headlamps are also really great as they free up your hands.

Try going to the bathroom in the dark while holding a flashlight and you’ll understand why!

If you must use candles, then follow these hurricane candle safety tips.

7. Backup Your Documents

This is one of the most commonly-forgotten parts of disaster planning!  You absolutely must have copies of your vital documents ready.

One option is to put copies of your documents on an encrypted USB drive.  But this won’t be worth crap if the USB drive ends up in a flood of dirty hurricane water.

So, it is better to keep documents in a waterproof safe and fireproof document bag or keep copies on the cloud.

8. Get Matching Outfits for Your Family

This isn’t so you will look cute together.  Rather, if you must evacuate, those matching outfits will make it easier for you all to stay together amongst the crowds.

Opt for bright colors, like bright red matching raincoats or lime green baseball caps.

9. Keep an Axe and Lifeboat on the Upper Floor of Your Home

In the Primal Survivor Facebook group, a woman recently told me a story that emphasizes how important this is.

A friend’s husband marked in chalk on the ceiling where to cut through the roof in case they needed to evacuate.  Everyone said he was paranoid and nuts.

Then Hurricane Katrina happened.

If it hadn’t been for his chalk marks, they both would have drowned in their own home!  The lesson is that you need to have a way to escape onto your roof.

So keep an axe and inflatable lifeboat (Amazon Links) on the upper floor of your home.  You might also consider installing a hurricane escape hatch.

There are a few companies which manufacture and install them but you could also have a general contractor do it too.

hurricane escape hatch in roof

10. Have Your Bug Out Bag Packed and Be Ready to GO!

If there is one major lesson we can learn from past hurricanes and disasters, it is this:

Don’t Wait Until the Authorities Tell You To Evacuate!

By then, it might be too late.  The roads will be crowded, and the danger may be already too close.  So make a plan on where you will go, and be ready to take action so you don’t get caught in the storm!

What other hurricane preparedness tips can you add? Let us know in the comments.

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  1. Good article overall. Living on the West coast of Florida for over 60 years, I am well aware of hurricanes and preparedness.

    Also, being owners of a small business, my wife and I have to think about securing the business and making sure our employees have time to prepare and/or evacuate. Since hurricanes can change course when you least expect it, we use a 72 to 24 hour plan. For both the business and home, if it looks like within 72 hours a hurricane may make landfall in our area, we start securing items that we will not be taking with us, as well as removing loose items from outside, so they do not blow away and possibly cause more damage/injury.

    48-36 hours: at work we start storing most of our inventory in 2 water tight shipping containers that are anchored to the floor inside of the facility. We also do a manual back-up of our file server, and store the external drive in water proof containers that will go with one of the officers if an evacuation is called for.

    At home we start pre-staging and pre-loading our bug out bags, food, water, and important documents (which are also copied to 2 separate thumb drives (one stored in our home safe, one in a water proof container that goes into my main bug out pack in our van. We also start boarding up part of the house.

    24-18 hours to land fall: at work the balance of inventory and key manufacturing equipment are put in the shipping containers. Other items are covered with tarps and tied down. The few windows in the office area are covered. Employees are sent home and we close up. At home, we finish boarding up the house, load last minute items in the van and get ready to leave.

    Most of the evacuation notices from the authority in charge comes at best 12-18 hours before landfall. This is NOT enough time to get everyone out of the low lying areas. We plan to leave at or before the 18 hour point. Part of our gear is a pop-up camper that takes all of 10 minutes or less to hook up, so we will have shelter regardless of the situation. We plan our route based on the expected track of the hurricane.

    For a couple in their 60’s, one with limited mobility, this approach makes it easier and less stressful to do what needs to be done. If the hurricane changes course away from us, and no or very limited damage is the result, at least we had a trial of our plan under more realistic conditions, and we can modify the plan as required. I should mention that the boards for covering the windows and doors at our house and business are all pre-cut, marked as to where it goes and stored on site. No fighting crowds at the home improvement store for lumber and other items.

    The only comment I would like to make is: in #9 in the article, regarding the escape route. If nothing else, the take away from Katrina is: if a hurricane is bearing down on your location…..LEAVE! You are NOT going to protect your home by staying. You are setting yourself up to drown while trying to do something that is impossible. In cases of flash floods along rivers, I agree you need the escape and inflatable boat. There is rarely enough warning. Overall, a good article. I have enjoyed your site, and have gained many ideas, and have applied some of the ideas to our preps.

    This is the first time I have replied to an article on your site. Keep up the good work. I look forward to seeing upcoming articles.

    Kevin

    • Hi Kevin – thanks for this fantastic comment. It is always great to hear from people who have real experience of these situations. There are some great tips in there for any other readers who are interested in hurricane preparedness.

  2. Watching Harvey this week. WHY do people wait til the hurricane is on its way to have things like the plywood for the windows?? Prepare, buy ahead of time, put under full-king sized beds, or in a safe place in the garage. Practice how you will hang it. How hard is that??
    My son was smart enough to already have a camp stove, so far they have not had to use it. but its there. They are newlyweds and live in an apt. But I think he is better prepared than some.
    I did Good.

  3. Want is not an option in a disaster. The first thing to learn is “The Sailors Law”. Almost everyone knows about “Murphy’s Law; Anything that can go wrong will go wrong at the worst possible moment! The Sailors Law is much simpler…“Murphy Was an Optimist!”
    When we lived on board we took what we call a 5 quart shower; five quarts of warm water and a small plastic tea cup. First wet and wash the hair; rinse the hair and your body gets wet in the prosses. Scrub and rinse. We used shampoo that we had thinned ½ poo & ½ water; it rinses out faster and goes farther too. If you use a conditioner thin it so you can apply it with a spray bottle then rinse.
    Having lived in Florida and gone through several hurricanes I can tell you from experience just how fast the store shelves can be stripped bare. Plan in advance or do without. Here are a few tricks we used to plan for Hurricanes. We would put as many bottles of drinking water in the freezer as we could a week before the storm was to hit. The frozen water helped to keep the other things in the freezer cold; even if the power went out. It also served as a cool drink after a summer storm. You do not drink water stored in a plastic milk jug! Salt or Not the chemicals in the plastic used to make a milk jug will leach out and the water will turn the water toxic.
    This one will help save some money even before the disaster; freeze several square juice jugs or milk jugs full of ¼ cup salt for two quarts of water. Salt water freezes at 28.4F fresh water will freeze at 32F. When they are frozen put one down in the refrigerator. The refrigerator will not have to work as hard with a block of ice in it so it will use less power. Change them out each day. A tightly packed freezer with a block of ice in it will work more efficiently than a half empty one. When the power is out open the refrigerator once a day. Take out what you need and put it in a cooler. Take it out or do without. The Boss of the Swamp on You tube has a video showing how to make a “supper cooler”; a great idea..
    People think you must refrigerate eggs. How were they stored before the invention of the refrigerator? Eggs go bad because bacterium go through the porous shell. When everyone else is stripping all the canned goods off the shelves of the store; the eggs will sit until the last. Buy more than you will need and cote them in Vaseline. The bacterium cannot go through the Vaseline. We have had them last for months on board with NO refrigeration. Not even a cooler!
    If the meat in your freezer starts to defrost it needs to be cooked and eaten. If you use an electric stove and the power goes out how will you cook? The single or double burner propane camping stoves are made to be used with the small green tanks, but you can use an adapter to hook it up to a 12 lb tank. I use about two tanks a year for my cooking. Food cooked in a pressure cooker that is brought up to steam is sterile. For a small family a five quart cooker can hold several meals. Warm it up, serve it, and put the lid back on and bring it back up to steam, it can hold food for several days with no refrigeration, especially if you use tomatoes in it. Tomatoes are acidic; that is why they can be canned with just a hot water bath. Most people think eggs MUST be refrigerated too but no they don’t! On board we would cote eggs with a fine film of Vaseline. They need to be turned over several times a week so the yoke will not stick to the shell. You can test to see if an egg is good by putting it in water; you just need to remember that an egg is not a boat. A good boat will float and a bad boat will sink but an egg is not a boat so…a good egg will sink and a bad egg will float. Mayonnaise is another thing you may think you will have to give up with no power but mayo does not need to be kept in the refrigerator. If you only use a clean utensil to scoop out the mayo and do not contaminate it with a used utensil it can be kept in a cool place. Salt is an essential to life but iodized salt will go bad; get kosher or sea salt for long term storage. There are a number of good books the basics are covered in the “Ball Canning Book”. They start with the assumption that you know what a jar is and go on from there. It is also cheap.
    With no power a generator is needed. If you can afford it a whole house generator great but they are expensive and they still need fuel. A small generator can keep the refrigerator and freezer running but where will you get the gas? Having a number of gas cans stored in advance is a good idea, just do not store them in or near the house. You also need to keep a clean, empty food can over the spout of the gas can, tuck a paper towel around the open end of the can, to keep bugs and rain out. You will also need a water separator like “Water Sorb” to take out the water that may have condense inside the tank. Remember to rotate your tanks; put some in your gas tank and then refill the gas can. Make this a regular part of your car’s maintenance and it is one less thing you will need to worry about when a storm is coming. Gas has a shelf life of only three months.
    Remember a generator, candles, and oil lamps all give off fumes. Those fumes can be fatal. A little venting goes a long way. After a storm you can use the windows; there will probably be no power to run the AC anyway. You will need the large industrial strength electrical cord, the big orange ones, to go from the generator outside to the refrigerator in the house. They come in 50 and 100 feet lengths. The heavy duty ones can plug into the refrigerator. I ran the generator ½ hour each morning and evening for our refrigerator in FL. A power strip can be used to charge small items like your phone or computer while you charge the frige. An easy way to keep the electrical cords is in an electric ottoman. Take a milk crate and bolt a piece of plywood to the bottom, add wheals and mount a big plastic bottle inside, in the middle. Take the male end of the first cord and put about ten feet through the side of the crate. This will allow you to plug in without having to uncoil everything. Then coil the rest of the cords around the plastic bottle in the middle. Then put the first ten feet back in through the handle and on top of the cords. Your power strips, adapter plugs, and in house extension cords can all go in the plastic bottle in the middle. Make a wooden box to go over the top of the plastic crate. Use foam padding and then cover it with upholstery cloth and add a skirt. You now have an electric ottoman.
    Someone in your house should have an Armature Radio License, AKA a “Ham License”. They are a lot easier to get now since you do not need to learn Morse Code. Communications are vital during a disaster. With a Han license you can contact another ham near a family member and ask them to call your family to let them know you are OK. Most ham clubs have a plan to step up and help the community when the phone lines will be down for a while; be part of the solution. By the way if more than one person in the home has a ham license do you really need all those cell phones? The ham radio is free time. A set of walkie-talkies for the family is a good idea too. They are short range but if you need help and your better half is somewhere out on the north 40, they can be a blessing. A couple of solar panels and a battery hooked to a cigarette lighter and you can charge up at home.
    One trick we used was the solar driveway torches. We put them out before the hurricane hit to get them a good charge. Then bring them in during the storm put them in a box in the bathroom with the light on and when the lights go out the torches come on. For a long power outage they make a great way to move around the house at night. Put one in a vase or jug filled with sand and you have a lamp. Recharge them each day. No need for batteries.
    You will need the large industrial strength electrical cord, the big orange ones, to go from the generator outside to the refrigerator in the house. They come in 50 and 100 feet lengths. The heavy duty ones can plug into the refrigerator. I ran the generator ½ hour each morning and evening for our refrigerator in FL. Open the door once a day take out what you will need and put it in a cooler. A power strip can be used to charge small items like your phone or computer while you charge the frige.
    An easy way to keep the electrical cords is in an electric ottoman. Take a milk crate and bolt a piece of plywood to the bottom, add wheals and mount a big plastic bottle inside, in the middle. Take the male end of the first cord and put about ten feet through the side of the crate. This will allow you to plug in without having to uncoil everything. Then coil the rest of the cords around the plastic bottle in the middle. Then put the first ten feet back in through the handle and on top of the cords. Your power strips, adapter plugs, and in house extension cords can all go in the plastic bottle in the middle. Make a wooden box to go over the top of the plastic crate. Use foam padding and then cover it with upholstery cloth and add a skirt. You now have an electric ottoman.
    I have oil lamps too, but not the kind they sell in Wall-mart. That light weight, round bottom base makes them entirely too easy turn over. The glass brakes, oil goes everywhere and you are soon standing out in the yard saying good-by to your home. The squared off, heavy, flat bottomed glass basis from “Lamplight Farms” you can sometimes find them in a thrift store. They are, to my mind, much safer. Don’t be fooled, when it comes to chimneys; one size does NOT fit all. People will often just bend in the fingers that hold a chimney in place to get the fit they want but look at the base of the chimney and see if it goes all the way out to the edge of the metal piece where the wick is. If not, it is not the right size; it will limit the air flow and limit the lighting efficiency, more carbon for your dollar. If you need to move an oil lamp that is lit, keep two things in mind. One that heat rises. The base of the chimney is below the wick, so the lower edge of the chimney will not get as hot. A quick touch will tell you if you can brace the chimney with two fingers at the base. Hold it as you carry the lamp. Number two is the chimney is not fixed to the lamp; it can tilt quickly, but a broken chimney will not set your house on fire a broken oil lamp can. Hang on to the lamp! When you leave a room any open flame should be put out. When you go out…they go out!
    One trick we used was the solar driveway torches. We put them out before the hurricane hit to get them a good charge. Then bring them in during the storm put them in a box in the bathroom with the light on and when the lights go out the torches come on. For a long power outage they make a great way to move around the house at night. Put one in a vase or jug filled with sand and you have a lamp. Recharge them each day. No need for batteries.
    You will need a plan to get the family back together if something like a tornado comes through town. Have the kids memorize a number of a family member that is not in the area. (The farther away the better.) They will probably still have power when you do not; they are your “touch base”. Your kids can call this number; then you call and find out where to go to get your kids. This can also be the person you call to let the rest of your family you are all OK. Not knowing if loved-ones are safe can be quite stressful. Use the touch base to spread the news about you and yours.
    One of the things that needs to be planned is what a sailor calls a panic bag. It is a bag pre- packed and kept ready to grab and jump overboard when the boat is sinking. Keep a family panic bag or bug out bag to keep copies of records, bank account, deed to your home, a list of medicines or the medicines themselves, names of the doctor for each person, several packs of water proof matches. Keep all documents in a water proof in water tight bags, “Zip lock Bag”. Have a set place where you can meet up, just in case one of the family is not with you when the evacuation order comes. When it comes to an evacuation you want to be the first ones gone. Let the traffic follow you. One bag for each person in your family, with their knapsack tied to it, to be quickly thrown into the car, clothes and shoes, a list of numbers of family members, a deck of cards, a walkie talkie. The bag is an individual thing; what goes in it depends on what that person needs. (Don’t forget personal protection.) This with a knapsack and they are ready to go.
    I often see people walking around with a particle mask on. They stop dust maybe some pollen but they will not stop diseases. You can get a box of surgical masks at a pharmacy.
    The farther ahead you can plan for any disaster the better your chance for survival. Keep your kids in on the planning and they learn to be a part of the solution not another problem.

    • Wow – that is an amazing comment. Thank you for taking the time to put this together. I would advise everyone to read this, some ingenious and potentially life saving tips in here.

  4. During the almost five months I did Hurricane Katrina relief duties in Louisiana for my employer, I was often cheek by jowl with National Guardsmen, Red Cross, and FEMA staff. It was a fugly, nasty, sweaty and oft times dire situation day in and day out, but one of the most rewarding tasks I ever took on.

    As an illustration as to how vile the flood waters were, a National Guardsman’s German Shepherd drank about a cup of flood water before his trainer stopped him. Six hours later the dog was puking uncontrollably, and six hours after that the dog was dead.

    Many of the women who had to traipse through flood waters came down with some pretty nasty vaginal infections that lasted weeks and required multiple courses of antibiotics.

    Some folks I met had planned ahead and moved air mattresses and battery-operated devices, chairs, food & water stores to their attic and had bucket toilets at the ready (along with MANY trash bags, including the 6-mil contractor bags). Some even had several dorm-sized refrigerators and a small genny, vented through the attic’s gable or ridge vent. They kept the gas for their genny’s on the second floor of their homes, away from cooking/heating devices, after having shut all utilities off at their respective mains.

    It was an amazing time in our nation’s history of disasters, and I’m proud of the work done by all.

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