My past experiences with natural disasters
Have you ever lived through a natural disaster? I hope that you haven’t had to! Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve lived through several pretty big natural disasters including hurricane Sandy and the Ice Storm of 1998. The way that I experienced each of the disasters was pretty different based on where I was living (rural Maine and metro NYC) and the time of year that the weather even took place (the middle of winter and the late fall). I was a high school freshman living at home with my parents during the ice storm and I was an adult living with the bf in our 3rd floor condo during hurricane Sandy.
Growing up in rural Maine you learn to be pretty self-sufficient (“off the grid”) from an early age. Because my parents live so far away from “town” and the amenities that most folks would expect to find in a city, we learned to be a little creative and innovative when it comes to weather problems and solutions. The electricity went out a lot when I was living in Maine and, “back in the day” we didn’t have a generator. From snowstorms, to ice storms and thunderstorms, we were often without power for days and sometimes even weeks. During those times we were able to stay safe, sane (some people might debate this) and comfortable, because we were always well-prepared for disasters. Thanks to that early “training” I felt confident that we’d be OK when hurricane Sandy, “came to town” in 2012.
Although the supplies/things you’ll need during a disaster can vary widely based on the type of disaster, the time of year and your geographical location, many of the items you’ll need to meet your basic needs are largely the same. Having all of these things ready will save you money, time and frustration once the storm arrives.
15 tips for preparing for a natural disaster:
(**in no particular order)
If you’re like me you almost never carry cash. This can be a real problem when the power goes off. Without electricity, nobody can run their credit card machines and you’re credit cards are worthless. I recommend having at least several hundred dollars in small denomination bills for buying essentials, bartering and getting out of town if you need to.
Fuel up your car and generator.
Keep your gas tank full and if possible have an extra tank of gas on hand (do not store the gas in your house!). Many gas stations didn’t have the ability to pump gas without electricity during hurricane Sandy. Imagine what a disaster this was and how long you had to wait in line at the few stations that had gas and had a way to pump it. If you have a generator make sure you have enough to run it for several days. Gas is obviously a hot commodity when there’s no power and gas prices will rise dramatically for anyone who needs it after the storm has passed.
Stock up on non-perishable food.
In the days leading up to the storm (if you have advanced notice), try to stock up the pantry with non-perishables. Canned beans, canned meat, peanut butter and other canned goods (fruits and vegetables) that can be eaten cold are good options. Don’t assume that you’ll be able to go to the store after the storm to buy goods. Everything you’ll need to sustain yourself (and your pets) for the duration of the storm should be in your home.
Have a manual can opener.
Seems silly, but if you only have the electric variety, that stockpile of canned goods isn’t going to be very accessible.
You don’t want to wait until the middle of an emergency to find out that flashlight is broken or doesn’t have batteries. Oil lanterns and candles can be dangerous if you have pets or small kids. Consider buying battery powered or solar lantern. You can also purchase windup flashlights that don’t require batteries at all. We had one flashlight during hurricane Sandy that we shared (talk about inconvenient when Eric left for work in the morning and I didn’t have a flashlight all day at home).
Have a battery powered radio.
Public service announcements and warnings are often broadcasted over the radio during emergencies. There’s nothing more scary and frustrating than being without basic information during an emergency. You’ll want to know when the power is coming back, where the local shelters are, and when it’s safe to leave or stay in your home.
Plan how you’re going to communicate with others.
When the power goes out, your cordless phone will be useless. Even if you have a back-up “corded” phone, that won’t do you any good when the phone lines are down. Not being able to communicate with family, friends and your employer during an emergency is really frustrating and scary (you don’t know if they’re OK and they don’t know if you’re OK). Invest in a way to make your cell phone work during an emergency. From back up batteries, to solar powered chargers to hand cranked charging stations there are a bunch of ways to charge your phone without electricity.
Keep a good selection of all types. You’ll want batteries for your flashlights, electronics and radios. You never know when your smoke alarm or CO2 alarm will run low, and you certainly don’t want to be without either during an emergency. Side note-if you have electric smoke detectors and CO2 detectors make sure that they have battery backups. During a natural disaster gas lines might be broken or leaking and you don’t want to put yourself at risk.
Find your matches and candles.
Candles can be used both for light and for limited warmth. I have several big Yankee candles in glass jars at all times in our house. They are sturdy (won’t fall over like candle sticks), large (burn for a long time) and put off a decent amount of light. They’re also less dangerous for our pets because they’re in glass containers, which means less risk that our kitties cozy up to the candle and catch themselves on fire.
Get out your blankets & hand warmers.
If it’s winter, or you live in a cold climate you’ll want to have plenty of blankets and possibly those chemical hand warmers available. Even if it’s summer, or you live in a warm climate, you’d be surprised how cold it can get at night. Flannel sheets, down blankets and sleeping bags are good ways to stay toasty. I used all 3 during both emergencies to stay warm.
Stock up on OTC and prescription medications.
During hurricane Sandy I waited outside in a long line in the cold for 2 hours (and that wasn’t even a bad wait) to get inside CVS to pick up my prescription medication. Thankfully, I didn’t need that medication to live, so I could have gone without it, but some people aren’t that lucky. I’d also recommend having a copy of all of your most recent scripts that you can bring with you in case you have to leave the area or go to a different pharmacy. Keep in mind that computers will be down and your doctor may not be working or reachable by phone during an emergency. Also have a good first aid kit and plenty of the Over The Counter (OTC) medications that you might need during an emergency (pain relievers, stomach settlers etc.).
If you need to leave your home, you’ll want to be prepared to bring your pets. Leaving our pets during an emergency is not an option for us, so we always have their carriers ready to go when we anticipate an emergency. Most shelters will allow you to bring your pets if they are crated. So even if you don’t normally crate your dog, you’ll want to make sure that you have one for emergencies. For the safety and comfort of others most shelters impose a strict, “No crate, No Go!” policy.
Keep important documents close by.
Have your license, passport, birth certificate and other important paperwork handy and ready to go. I don’t have anything fancy for mine, a basic watertight zip-top bag does the job just fine. If I need to hop on a plane or get on a train, I don’t want to be fumbling around looking for these things in the dark. I also leave a copy with my mom, in case anything happens to my originals.
Keep lots of water handy.
Self-explanatory, but have plenty for drinking, washing, brushing your teeth etc. Water is likely the first thing you’ll run out of during an emergency. You don’t really think about how much water you use on a day-to-day basis until you don’t have access to it. If you live a high rise building in the city this is a particularly difficult problem to get around. Without elevators, you don’t want to be carrying around huge jugs of water. Some of the bigger housing projects in NYC had huge issues with lack of water during hurricane sandy. Fill up a bunch of bottles and your bathtub before the storm hits.
Keep pepper spray or other means of protection.
When people are hungry and scared they can be pretty unpredictable. There’s no telling what someone will do to provide for their families. Thankfully I’ve never been in a situation where things got that bad. But if I was, I’d want to have a way to protect myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating unprovoked violence, but if somebody is coming into my house trying to hurt my family, you can bet I’m going to fend them off.
Please share your experiences in the comments and let me know what I’m forgetting!
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