6 Essential Lessons from Hurricane Harvey

The latest reports put the death toll from Hurricane Harvey at 70. While the count is likely to rise further, mostly this will be from bodies revealed by receding water. Most deaths from hurricanes and floods happen while the storm is still in the area.

Yet, the one million people who have been displaced and others effected by the storm will still face many challenges. Roughly 200,000 homes have been damaged.

House destroyed by Hurricane Harvey in Texas, August 28, 2017.

Also, the financial toll of the hurricane is likely to be the most expensive in history, perhaps up to $180 billion. Gasoline, plastic, and organic chemical industries have taken hurricane-related losses.

How do you prepare for such a devastating storm?

Even though it touched down on August 25, the aftermath is far from over. Yet, for preppers, there have already been several key lessons learned from the hurricane. The best way to be prepared for future disasters is to learn from experience, even if it is the experience of others. So, we’re going to detail that experience and learn what we can.

1. Medical Skills, not just Supplies, are Key

Do you know how to make a make-shift sling from a scrap of fabric?

One boy fell during the storm and may have broken his arm. No one knew how to make a splint or sling until a National Guardsman dropped by and made one for him. Who knows how the bone may have healed?

While not life-threatening, a re-break of the arm and a proper set is not pleasant, and will be worse the longer the boy has to go without medical attention.

Point being, what medical skills you can develop, you should. A basic First Aid course usually covers how to make a sling. Even if you’ve taken a course, it’s a good idea to brush up on the skills every one and a while, or you may not remember it when you need it.

There are also more basic concerns about medicine that most preppers will be familiar with, but are worth repeating. If you or someone in your family regularly takes medication, you need at least two weeks supply of the stuff in your bug-in location or bug-out-bag.

After Harvey, diabetics, those with heart conditions, and others on other daily medications are in dangerously short supply of their medications.

While charity and government aid may get you the medication you need to save your life, it will certainly not be enough to keep you comfortable. They will have to supply to other people as well, meaning you’ll only receive the bare minimum.

Some health concerns are harder to plan for than others. For example, those who receive dialysis will not have the machine at their home, never mind be able to put one in a bug-out-bag. People who require frequent trips to healthcare facilities to receive this kind of care need to make sure they are not cut off from civilization. This could mean rural people with serious conditions need to get into the city, preferably an unaffected city, when disaster strikes.

Non-medical skills also come in handy after disasters. Before Hurricane Harvey, people boarded up their homes. Now, they need to rebuild fences and walls, sometimes entire structures.

Construction skills are not usually mentioned in prepper circles, but they are an asset worth investing in once you’ve covered the basics. Learn more about skill prioritization here.

2. Flood waters hold many dangers

One of the most recent deaths from Hurricane Harvey teaches a very powerful lesson. Often, the most intense tragedy of a major disaster is that those dedicated to helping others are most likely to be harmed and killed. Andrew Pasek, a young man of 25, went on a rescue mission with some friends to his sister’s house, where a cat had been trapped.

At some point in the journey to the house, Andrew reached an open current and was shocked. One of his friends reached for him, but Andrew stopped them from grabbing him, saying they would die if they tried. Andrew then fell into the water.

He could not be resuscitated after the power company had cut the power. Thankfully, Andrew was brave enough to prevent his friend from dying alongside him, and there are precautions we can take to avoid his fate.

Flooding by Hurricane Harvey in Texas, August 28, 2017.

The CDC offers some guidelines for preventing electric shock during and after flood conditions. The basic rule is to pay much more attention to power lines than you normally would. Don’t touch fallen power lines, or go near them if submerged in water, including when you are in a car.

Sometimes you’ll run into a power line without realizing it, if that’s the case, keep driving away from it. If the car stops near downed power lines, you should not turn off the car or get out of it. Instead, call emergency services, and the power company. Don’t let someone approach the car, as they will be shocked if they do.

When you’re arriving back at your home, don’t try to turn power on or off yourself when standing in water. You’ll have to call an electrician or the power company to do it for you.

Don’t enter the home until the power has been turned off. After things are cleaned up, the power can be turned back on, but you’ll still need to keep your eye out for sparks or other electrical hazards.

When walking through flood water after an event, avoid touching power lines even if they don’t appear to be damaged or appear to be in the water.

If you see someone who has been or may have been electrocuted:

  1. Do not touch them
  2. Call emergency services
  3. Then, look and carefully consider if you can safely turn off the source of the electricity.
  4. If you cannot access it (and you probably will not be able to), push the source away from you using something that does not conduct electricity, which is something made out of cardboard, wood, or plastic. Sometimes, you will not be able to move the source either.
  5. In the rare case you can turn off the electricity, assess the person. If their pulse or breathing is weak or stopped, start CPR. If they act shocked (pun not intentional), or are pale, lay them down in a safe area with their legs up and their head lowered.
  6. Don’t touch their burns or pull off their clothing, just wait for EMS

In summary:

  • Pay attention to powerlines and don’t touch them
  • Don’t go near powerlines which are in water
  • If your car has stopped near downed powerlines, don’t turn it off or get out or let people come near
  • Call EMS in the event of any electrocution, and don’t touch the person
  • Don’t turn electricity on or off while standing in water

3. Water, water, water

You can only go three days without drinking water, and after 24 hours without it, you’ll be really hurting. In some areas post-Harvey water service has still not been restored. In those areas, sewage is also likely to be overloaded, meaning clean water for sanitation is even more important. Stores are unlikely to have much water before and after natural disasters, meaning that these people without water are essentially on their own.

Frequently, you’ll hear from people who complain that vendors “gouge” prices before and after storms, as if the businesses are trying to take advantage of the impending disaster. Frankly, people who are rushing out to buy water the moments before a storm have put themselves in this position.

It is only because few people are properly prepared for even 72 hours without access to a store, that vendors face higher demand than they could ever fill. Raising prices isn’t just a logical response to heightened demand– it also dissuades people from buying more water than they will absolutely need, leaving some on the shelves for the next desperately dehydrated people.

Remember: the secret to avoiding sky rocketing prices before and after storms is to have your needs cared for well before hand.

  • Stock up on water when the prices are low, and/or buy a water filter
  • Aim for two weeks of water storage for each person and pet when bugging-in
  • Know how to make a filter and boil water in case those means run out

Note: You can also invest in some handy water filters.

4. Stay ahead of gas panic

As people rush out of town, they place sudden demand on gas stations.

This issue was compounded in Hurricane Harvey as Texas has much of our country’s oil infrastructure. Rigs and plants have to shut down during storms of course, and some may need to make significant repairs before they can re-open.

Colonial Pipeline also suffered damage. The main line has been re-opened, but some of the refineries supplying the line are still down. Gas prices and supply are not expected to return to normal for some time. Only select gas stations were completely out of gas, but that has a huge effect on the people in the immediate area.

Also, even in disasters outside of Texas, the gas supply may be effected by damage to any of the pipelines which lace our country together.

No place is safe from this potential, so everyone should have a supply of gas on hand.

Those who rely on generators during storms, or barbecues for cooking (an excellent choice for those who bug-in in urban ares), should have a supply of fuel on hand. Those who plan to bug out by driving should keep a Jerry can or two full in their garage, to quickly put in the car before heading out.

It’s not just that fuel may be unavailable or expensive later, its also that stopping for gas at a busy station will cost you time, and you need all the time you have to stay ahead of the traffic from evacuation.

5. There was less looting in Houston than expected

There will always be people who would take advantage of others’ vulnerability after a disaster. Unfortunately, Harvey has provided many examples that these people are out and about.

There were looters taking advantage of the situation during the storm. If they were stealing food or water out of sheer desperation, it would be understandable, but these people were stealing electronics, televisions, even dollar store items.

Obviously, police have been unable to prioritize investigating these thefts. Texas as a whole has been able to arrest 100 looters.

Who knows when, or if, the rest of these individuals will be brought to justice?

While some prefer to focus on the humanitarian impulses of people in disasters, it equally as important to prepare yourself for the few people who could stoop to crime.

Note also, that many of these criminals are young adults. Most preppers try to prepare for facing armed looters in the case of complete societal breakdown. But few have considered how a city or community can protect itself during a temporary but major disaster, from droves of young people looking to peck off the carcass of a town like vultures.

This is especially a problem for business owners who cannot be at both their business and their house to dissuade looters. The mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, had one solution, choosing to impose a curfew from midnight to 5 in the morning.

On the other hand, Texas in general has had less looting and other post-disaster crime than many other disasters have brought. Why Texas has had less crime is an important thing to suss out.

Is it culture and general attitudes about property defence? Is it the severity of the disaster, or the fact that the populace has survived other similar hurricanes?

Perhaps its just that honorable people are getting organized because they’ve learned from other serious disasters across the country. One Houston resident, Dougal Cameron, tweeted that the mayor’s curfew wasn’t dissuading looting, but his neighbours organized into groups to patrol abandoned homes.

6. If you’re a volunteer, the best thing you can bring is patience

You have to commend the effort of the volunteers in Texas, they have come out in droves and saved many lives. One group which stands out in particular is the Cajun Navy, a semi-organized group of regular boat owners who first came together during Hurricane Katrina.

The Cajun Navy has had issues dealing with officials in the past, as I explained in Where SHTF this Year Around the World. Essentially, during the 2016 Louisiana Floods, the Cajun Navy was ordered to pay an administrative fee or be arrested.

This story has been repeated elsewhere. Not all officials and emergency responders are welcoming of the volunteer group, whether for safety concerns, legal concerns, or even concerns of becoming obsolete.

That being said, most officials and emergency responders will not feel this way about volunteers. Unlike during Katrina, many Texas officials encouraged the Cajun Navy and other volunteers to rescue people during Harvey, but conflicts will still happen.

You may have seen a recent video of a police officer yelling at a volunteer, who was allegedly from the Cajun Navy, during Hurricane Harvey. It’s hard to catch the audio in the middle of the video, so who knows what the volunteer had done to upset the officer, other than not having ID with him (do bring ID when you volunteer).

Yes, yelling isn’t appropriate, but if you’re a volunteer, respect that police and still the police, obey them and be patient. Many first responders, officials, and other people will be at their wits end during a SHTF situation. They are dealing with life-threatening issues at every single call they go to. Their own homes have been flooded and they are under tremendous pressure. Your role is not to add another stressful burden to these over-worked people.

In fact, the ramifications of a major disaster will be long-lasting on the whole police department. After the disaster they have to catch up with all the other crime they have had to neglect for emergency response.

A high percentage of the department’s staff will struggle with PTSD or other issues from the disaster. Plus, the physical evidence stored by the department may be damaged, just another issue the police department will struggle to deal with in the wake of this disaster.

Of course, the same can be said in the other direction. The best partnerships between volunteers and police occur not just when volunteers are patient and respectful, but when officers are as communicative and friendly to volunteers as possible.

Preppers talking informally on Reddit have relayed that kind officers who try not to act authoritarian are the best to work with.

Final Thoughts

Every disaster is a tragedy, but also an opportunity to lessen the death, pain, and suffering the next disaster will bring.

Learning from experience is the only way we can ensure we truly are prepared for the situations we’re concerned about. Hopefully, the stories from Hurricane Harvey will improve your prep in one way or another. Our thoughts and prayers are still with everyone effected and volunteering.

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The only way to prepare for future disasters is to examine and learn from past disasters. Take a read through our top 6 important lessons to learn from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey to better prepare you and your family for any possible future hurricanes.

  1. After reading several reports by volunteer rescuers in Houston, it appears that government agencies did very little of the actual rescuing, but instead concentrated on “administrative” duties and blocking off roads. They were also going to blow a dam without evacuating the affected neighborhood first, but the volunteers ignored the officials and went in to rescue people. The officials seemed to be more of a hindrance than a help. And it’s well known that FEMA was worthless during Katrina, so the lesson here is that agencies don’t have their act together and volunteers may be better off ignoring them than obeying them.

  2. Enjoyed the article. Interesting observations. Thanks.

    Re: “#5. There was less looting in Houston than expected”…

    Citizens of Texas are not prohibited by law from bearing arms to defend themselves and their property in the normal course of day-to-day life, not only from the kinds of people comprising the 100 looters you cite. Might there be some connection…?

    1. Sideliner, I imagine that’s the primary reason. But I’d want to see a study on it before I concluded it for sure. It’s also hard for an individual to act on that kind of suggestion, as, in some areas, it requires changing the culture and laws of a whole state. But, everyone can organize patrol groups for their neighborhoods, so I think it’s a good first step.

    2. Sideliner, the connection is there; no need for any studies. The Fort Bend Co. sheriff publicly said potential looters would likely be killed, by deputies or by armed citizens. Result: almost zero looting there.

      Here in FL after Irma, nearly all of the looting was in the Miami area, which is heavily infested with liberal Democrats — “Condo Commies,” as they are known elsewhere. Much less looting took place in the rest of the state. And once central FL sheriff threatened to arrest anyone who showed up at a shelter with outstanding warrants.


  3. Even if you do know how to make a sling but do not know how to set the break it may have to be reborn and reset. I took a class on suturing and wanted to take a class on setting a bone but I couldn’t find anyone would teach that. How do you learn it? Fixing a broken limb doesn’t end with a sling or immobilizations though it helps.

  4. Re: #3 Water

    Your tap still works before the storm. Fill up stock pots, pitchers, jugs or glasses. Much cheaper than buying water, and there are no lines or gouging.

    1. Exactly what we did before Irma came calling. We also bought 2 bags of ice to keep the freezers cold. Next time we may get dry ice instead.

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