Editor’s Note: This is an updated and revised edition for 2018. The original article was published prior to last year’s devastating hurricane Maria.
This last hurricane season has been extreme, between Harvey and Irma. Hopefully, you now know many more people who are looking to get on board with prepping for hurricanes after their experiences these last months. This will be a perfect resource for these converts who are looking to better secure their family and property for next time.
Plus it’s always a good idea to brush up your prepping efforts!
New ideas have come from the latest hurricanes, including new social media outlets to arrange community rescue and clean-up efforts. We’ll also discuss that touchy subject: whether you should be bugging out or bugging in as hurricanes approach land.
Prepping for Hurricanes and When to Bug-Out
Supplies to Gather Before a Hurricane
For America, hurricane season begins in June. That means in May, you should take a look through your hurricane supplies, make sure everything is in working order, and add anything you may have missed or used up.
Here is our most comprehensive list on what supplies you should ensure you have:
- Enough financial means for bugging out/worst case scenarios. This is almost always overlooked, but I just don’t understand why. It’s true that people who actually gather the rest of the supplies on this list are unlikely to be the people who suffer financial ruin after a hurricane. But, it can happen to anyone. If there is any circumstance where you’d bug out and stay in a hotel room for a week, save up enough money to pay for that trip, and remember that prices will be much higher than usual. If you know it’s not within your financial means right now to save up a significant amount of money, just save what you can, and if you’re lucky enough to not suffer a major hurricane for the next few years, you’ll soon get to a place where you are financially covered when the big storm happens.
- Alternate methods of water collection and purification: stocking up on a few gallons of water makes sense, but if water treatment plants in your area take longer than normal to recover, you may need to supply your own potable water for weeks. It’s not usually practical to store up that much water, especially not for those living in the city. So, you need to have the knowledge and supplies to collect water and purify it for yourself. The widespread flooding after most hurricanes means collecting the water won’t be much of a challenge, but purifying it will be, because you have to deal with every single kind of contaminant that you can get in water. A filter that deals with bacteria and viruses is an absolute must, as is a filter that can remove heavy metals. If you can manage to distill your water, that will work. For a good resource getting started, see this guide to the best water filters.
- Two weeks of food per person: You need to prepare for the eventuality that you have no way to get any food for a week during hurricane, and no way to get fresh vegetables, milk, and fruit for a while after a hurricane. Even now, some areas in Houston have not recovered their stock of these fresh items. Instead, canned goods and frozen food is more available. The fresh fruit on farms and in supply centers throughout the area were damaged, causing the shortage. Of course, it’s not possible for you to stock up on weeks of fresh food, but you can make sure you have a variety of foods to keep yourself healthy. Rice and beans are good staples, but you need something to spice them up. It’s also better if you don’t have to cook the food. To that end, consider pre-packaged survival meals. For some ideas, check out this guide to the best survival food brands.
- First Aid Supplies: Having a full first aid kit, with antiseptic, bandages, medical gloves, scissors, and everything else, is key. But, what’s often forgotten is that you need to prepare for two weeks without access to a pharmacy. For many people, that means stocking up a bit of their daily medications. While government aid and charities may be able to provide some people their daily medications. like heart medicine, insulin, and anti-depressants, they certainly won’t be able to give you enough to make you comfortable. Also, if you have a severe allergy, you may want to own more than one epi-pen.
- Back-up generator and gas: In the days before Irma hardware stores were sold out of generators, and were even receiving emergency shipments of more in an attempt to fill overwhelming demand. Don’t put yourself in the position where you’re waiting in a long line the day before a massive storm, on the off chance you’ll get to buy a generator. Have one beforehand. Protect it both from sight and from the elements, so it isn’t stolen or damaged when you need it. Have jerry cans of gas stored specifically for the generator. If you are worried about running out of fuel, look into a solar generator here.
- Battery powered radio: Getting information is key during a major storm. Have a battery powered radio with extra batteries (stored in a waterproof container) or a hand crank radio.
- Source of light: Have a few flashlights on hand, along with batteries for them, and a waterproof container to store it all in. Candles are a good plan C, just make sure you have matches on hand to light them.
- Protective Clothing: For after potential storms, or during flooding, have rubber boots or waders, and jackets that block wind and protect from rain.
- Sanitation supplies: Soap is the most basic sanitation item, and the best for washing your hands, but it is by no means the end of your cleaning needs. Toilet paper (see Donna’s take on getting Toilet Paper Prepared!) and feminine products are a necessity (aim for enough toilet paper for two months, and enough feminine products for two cycles per woman). Diapers for children are also key. Either have a plan to dispose of your waste if sewage isn’t working, or have buckets, plastic bags and wood shavings.
As for cleaning surfaces after exposure to flood water, you need a bleach solution. Demand for bleach will be extreme post-hurricane, so store a lot before hand.
Also consider less essential sanitation supplies which improve your comfort, like complete changes of clothing, wet napkins, toothbrushes, and deodorant.
- Clean-up supplies: Doubtlessly there will be damage to buildings and other infrastructure in your area. If you plan to clean up your own home, or volunteer to help others, you’ll need safety equipment. Sturdy work gloves, eye protection, chainsaws, wheelbarrows, steel toed boots, towing straps, and sturdy bags to contain waste, will all come in handy. Depending on how severe the storm and subsequent flooding is, you may need a mask (N95 is always a good choice) and a respirator.
- Comfort items: Just because this is the last item on the list doesn’t mean it’s not important. Keeping morale high is a serious issue, especially if you have young children. Have entertainment that doesn’t require electricity, like board games, cards, and books. Also have treats, like sweets for children or alcohol for adults. For more ideas check out Gaye’s comfort items.
Protecting Your Property
Once you have everything you need to keep yourself and your family alive, you’ll probably turn your attention to how to protect your property from the hurricane and from the after-effects (like looters).
If your home meets, for example, Florida’s building codes, many of which were re-vamped post-Hurricane Andrew, you have a better starting point than others. In particular, Miami’s Dade County is rumoured to have superior building codes. If you’re living in a mobile home, a tiny home, or another unusual structure, there may not be much you can do to protect your home.
Windows are the first point of vulnerability in the home. As most modern homes don’t have shutters, you may need to board up your windows with wood and screws. Have these supplies on hand, as they get scarce before major hurricanes. Pre-drill holes every 18 inches beforehand, so you can throw the wood up quickly when you need to.
It’s also possible to get windows that can withstand even category five winds, but they are an investment. Boarding up doors and vents are next.
Clearing out dead trees and dead tree limbs surrounding your house can also help protect it. These will be the first things to blow over, and have the potential to knock out your power lines or do significant damage to your home. Similarly, put all of your porch furniture inside the house or garage so it won’t blow away and do damage.
You also have to take steps to protect the items in your home. In case of flood, raise furniture, and put electronics in waterproof bags. In the case of severe storms, none of this may be enough to protect your overall home or your possessions. That’s where insurance comes in. Make sure your policy covers floods, even if you’re not in an area where flooding is a regular occurrence.
After hurricanes, looting becomes an issue. As we saw with Hurricane Harvey, a lot of looters after hurricanes are simply young adults who can be discouraged from looting if they see someone is home. Organizing community patrols to watch over the abandoned homes in your area can be a significant deterrent for these looters.
You should be armed, of course, but I also think you should have some non-lethal options, like pepper spray, that you can use more liberally to scare the brats off.
Another threat to your home that you might not consider is wildlife. During storms animals seek higher ground, and if your property is that higher ground they may try to take shelter with you.
Take caution when emerging from your home after a storm, and when returning to your home after evacuating. Snakes are a major problem, for details on how to deal with them see our snake guide.
The Hurricane-Specific Bug-Out-Bag
You also want to prepared to bug out. If you decide you’re going to do it, you should leave as soon as you possibly can. Travelling during a storm is the most dangerous thing you can do, so you should definitely get out days beforehand. Even then, if a major storm is projected to hit, you’ll see serious traffic on your way out and gas will become scarce quickly.
So your bug-out-bag has to reflect that.
Thankfully, this is balanced by the fact you’ll have more room in your car than you’d have when bugging out by foot during other kinds of disasters. Note, I’m assuming you’ll be bugging out by car. When going by plane, much of this isn’t necessary.
- Jerry cans of gasoline, filled beforehand
- Important documents, in waterproof bags
- Cellphone chargers
- Sleeping bags, pillows, blankets
- 3 days of food and water per person and pet
- Water filter
- First aid kit and personal medicine
- 1 change of clothes per person, at least
- Item for defense, like gun, pepper spray, etc.
- Chainsaw, work gloves, towing straps and work boots (for clearing roads on your way back)
- Entertainment items for once you arrive at your bug-out location
Deciding if You Should Bug-Out
Bugging out before hurricanes has become a heated topic. After Hurricane Rita rushed into Texas in 2005, three million people evacuated, causing at least 73 deaths from accidents and heat. People ran out of gas on the road, causing extreme traffic jams. One bus caught on fire, killing 23 people.
While people in Texas have three directions to flee from hurricanes, those in Florida, for example, have to go north.That can further compound traffic issues.
While many people, often who don’t live in areas with frequent hurricanes, might wonder why someone would choose to ride out a storm, memories of Rita is one answer. Another answer is that hurricanes are hard to predict. Let’s say your family has decided you can bug-in for category three hurricanes, but will bug-out for category four.
If a hurricane strengthens unexpectedly, or changes direction quickly, a family may be stuck facing a hurricane much stronger than they thought they would face. It doesn’t help those people to deride them for making the “wrong” decision to stay.
Making the decision to go or stay is very dependent on personal circumstances. That being said, I suggest you base your decision of your answers to these questions:
- How far are you above seawater? If it’s likely your area will flood, leave.
- How well can your home withstand hurricanes? Do you have boards and screws ready? Did you take the time to cut down dead wood surrounding your home?
- Do you have medical conditions that mean you could die if not within reach of an ambulance? For example, people who suffer frequent seizures probably can’t afford to be hours away from medical care and should evacuate in the face of hurricanes.
- Is there a voluntary or mandatory evacuation order on your county? These orders mean that emergency services won’t be available to you, and that your area is likely to suffer high damage.
- Do you have at least two weeks of food and water on-hand? How are you for the other supplies listed at the beginning of this article?
- Do you have medical supplies, and the knowledge to deal with an issue which might pop up?
It can be hard to take orders from authorities at face value. While they were widely criticized for telling people to evacuate during Hurricane Rita, they were also widely criticized for telling people not to evacuate during Hurricane Harvey.
It seems like they can’t win and that’s because they can’t perfectly predict which areas will be hit, how strong the hurricane will be, or even how many people will obey their orders to evacuate.
Instead of basing my decision on what politicians say, I take responsibility for my own safety. If you don’t want to evacuate because you worry a situation like Hurricane Rita could develop, simply leave earlier than most people will (generally they start 3 days before a hurricane is projected to land).
If you choose to stay, I suggest you also stay absolutely glued to NOAA’s updates. If things change, you’ll need to know.
Many people make their decision about whether or not to leave before a hurricane on their finances. This sounds absolutely terrifying to me. I sympathize with those who have fallen on hard times, but I would suggest that they carefully weigh their options.
Yes, suffering the loss of your home, days missed work, and the cost of temporarily locating can leave you in financial ruin. But, losing your life is worse.
And, those who think they can’t afford to prep should focus on one step at a time. Now that this hurricane season is coming to a close, you have months to stock up on supplies.
Even if all you manage to have by the start of the next hurricane season is a first aid kit, a bag of rice, some canned beans, and a few gallons of water, you’re better off than you were before.
Preparing for Places to Land
A lot of the worries you may have about bugging out can be dealt with through proper preparation beforehand. The key decision is, of course, where you’ll end up. If you’re primarily worried about missing time from work, bugging out to a more secure location further from the coast, but not too far, is a good option.
On the other hand, if you’re worried about bugging out because it’s costly, you can avoid large hotel costs by getting further away from the storms. While getting out of the state, and the next state, may take time, past that traffic will likely be significantly clearer. You won’t be adding too much time to your trip by avoiding the swamped hotels.
Those with pets considering bugging out need to call ahead to hotels and shelters to see if they will allow the pets in. Make sure to ask if their pet policy can be waived in the face of a disaster.
If you choose to bug-in during a hurricane, check-out Gaye’s guide to what you should do in the hours before the storm strikes.
No matter which you choose, we hope you stay safe!
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