A Cat 5 Hurricane As A Teacher – Part IV

Lessons learned and relearned

Where to start?  Perhaps the most sweeping realization is that our society is ill equipped to “rough it”.  Pioneers we are not.  For the most part we are totally reliant on others, not only for our creature comforts, but for our very survival.


Surviving A Cat 5 Hurricane – Part III

We can’t even feed ourselves.  Most zoning laws and community rules prohibit your having a milk cow, a couple of hogs, and a dozen chickens on your front lawn.  How many of us would even know how to milk a cow or butcher a hog?  Few have enough land for a vegetable garden, even if it were allowed.  If the grocery stores are closed for an extended period, and they will be, and food in the house is consumed then you are down to “soup kitchens” if you can get to them.  Thank goodness for the Salvation Army and a few churches that saved many.

Water?  We are fortunate to have an artisan well.  Most have to hope the city/county water and sewer plants will be functioning soon.

It soon became obvious that we are virtually crippled without our cell phones and laptops.  Cell phones don’t work without a tower, and those towers (if still standing) must also have fuel.  AT&T came through.  The other carriers were off line for days and weeks.  Computers?  Pieces of junk for now.  Cable service will be out for weeks.  TV dishes are spread all over the landscape.

We are not only cell phone addicts, but they have become the life line to family, friends, and essential services.  No cell phone=isolation=increased frustration and stress.  We had the only cell phone working in our neighborhood.   Consumer Cellular uses AT&T towers.  So, we became the communication center for the complex.  Everything from telling family they were safe to notifying insurance companies of pending claims and scheduling adjusters had to go through Christina’s cell phone.

Christina and I have been through several crisis separately and together.  We pretty much know the drill.  Not so with everyone.  Many seemed to be in a borderline freeze.  Others focused on irrelevant minutia.  But, it always seems to be truth that a crisis brings out the best and worst in humanity.

It again became clear that there are different types of leaders needed for different situations.  Further, that a title doesn’t make one a leader.  In fact, a title can be detrimental in crisis leadership.   Allow me to explain.

A person may be a successful leader in a company, but the biggest crisis he/she is likely to face is the loss of a key sales person to a competitor, or the total failure of a new ad campaign.  That same person may freeze and be totally ineffective in a life/death crisis.

An ineffective leader with a title can become an obstacle.  True leaders must then step up and take charge often in the face of resistance, hurt feelings, and even resentment.

Now in the glow of aftermath you see some of the deficiencies in your planning.  Did you secure enough of your medications?  Pharmacies will be closed for an extended period of time.  If you get prescription drugs via mail keep in mind that the USPS, Fed Ex, and UPS will stop delivering.  I know three people that had critical medications sent back to the pharmacy by UPS. A prime example is your medical kit.  Sometimes more people are hurt in the aftermath than during the event.  You will be lifting, carrying, doing various activities that you are not accustomed to, sometimes in the dark.  Pulled muscles, strained backs, cuts, bruises, and worse become daily events.

Do you really know what is in that medical kit?  Eye wash?  Spray on disinfectant?  Ace bandages?  A back brace and a respirator?  (In one nearby community people couldn’t go outside for weeks without a respirator.  (Why a respirator?  Rotting bodies, fish and pets burred in the rubble.)  Think about all the ways you can be hurt and assume it will happen.  Not a big issue you say because you live near a hospital.

Don’t bank on it.  We have two hospitals near us and both were evacuated due to structural damage.  The nearby ambulance service is gone.  One of the hardest things to get your head around is that you are on your own.  You can’t count on anyone else or any other entity for an unknown period of time.

Some other key lessons can be reduced to single words:




   Patience; and


Get used to the “new normal”  No A/C, no lights, no running water, no flush toilets, no refrigeration, no internet, no cell phone, no machines to wash your underwear or the dishes, and certainly no ice.  If you have an electric range, vs gas, then cooking will be limited to your grill, if you still have one.  The new normal includes no trash pickup, sponge baths (if you can spare the water), and little things can become major issues, like running out of toilet paper, face tissues, and paper towels at the same time.  Clean sheets and towels?  Forget it.

You have a crisis plan, as do your city, state, FIMA, etc.  But does you immediate community have one?  Probably not.  You need a list of all the neighborhood people, phones, etc.  A person designated as a central crisis coordinator and a place where notes and notices can be posted.  Communication and cooperation become vital.

Do you need a generator, and if so what type?  That is probably a subject for another time, but the issue should be considered.

A lengthily period of canned meat and vegetables can add to the stress.  Consider buying some dehydrated meals.  25-30 varied meals in sealed packages have a shelf life of years and can greatly add to your varied diet.  Sever brands are available from Amazon.  Another option is Meals Ready to Eat military rations, available at many army surplus stores and some sporting goods outlets.  The advantage of the dehydrated meals is they don’t have to be heated or cooked.

I would be remiss if I didn’t join the rest of our community in thanking my wife, Christina.  She step into the breach and took control of the neighborhood recovery.  In two days we had a road clearing company here from Lawrenceville, Ga. (3G Trees) to clear our roads.  In 5 days a roofing company from Pensacola, Fl. (Bucco Construction Co. ) was here doing emergency roof repairs.  In addition she established and manned a communication/command post. Leadership came to the forefront, bolstered by years of training and practice in the hotel industry where crisis management is a way of life.

Two added lessons:  1) You will burn through cash at an alarming rate, so plan accordingly; and 2) You will quickly learn there is a difference between “need” and “want”.

There are few location in the U.S. That are not subject to one or more types of natural disasters.  Tornadoes, hurricanes, wild fires, floods, earthquakes, ice storms, and blizzards. Careful planning for such disasters is essential.  However, nothing replaces actually going through such events.

I strongly recommend an annual dry run.  Turn of the electricity and all forms of communication for 2-3 days.  No flushing toilets, no driving cars, no running water and no cooking. 

Only then will you see all the cracks in you plan.  Of course you still won’t get the full stress impact because you know that you can change it all with the flip of switch.

One further lesson is to listen to the warnings issued.  If there is a mandatory evacuation issued then get out.  Every year lives are needlessly lost due to people refusing to evacuate a threatened area.  When you refuse to leave you not only risk your life but also the lives of first responders.  What is your reason for staying?  You won’t stop the flood waters, or the wind, or the wild fire.

If you plan to build or renovate these lessons may be of interest. Heavy gauge metal roofs held up best, followed by concrete tile.  Ridge vents almost always failed. Brick and stucco stood the wind much better than any siding. We all love trees around the house.  However, pines and hardwoods did great damage to homes that otherwise would have fared well.  Stick with palms.  I haven’t seen a single palm tree down.

The entities that came through were AT&T, Consumer Cellular, the power companies working together, and the first responders.  Those that failed miserably included UPS, Fed Ex, Verizon, USPS, and some hotels that simply abandoned their guests in wrecked buildings.

A final lesson is to keep your sense of humor.  In that regard I leave you with this observation.  During two weeks of no electricity, I lost 7 pounds.  In the first week of power being on, I gained 3 pounds.  Lesson:  Electricity makes you fat.  Want to drop a few pounds?  Turn of the power!  (smile)


Ken Vincent
Ken Vincent
KEN is a 46 year veteran hotelier and entrepreneur. Formerly owned two hotels, an advertising agency, a wholesale tour company, a POS company, a leasing company, and a hotel management company. The hotels included chain owned, franchises, and independents. They ranged in type from small luxury inns, to limited service properties, to large convention hotels and resorts. After retiring he authored a book, “So Many Hotels, So Little Time” in which he relates what life is like behind the scenes for a hotel manager. Ken operated more that 100 hotels and resorts in the US and Caribbean and formed eight companies. He is a firm believer that senior management should share their knowledge and experience with the next generation of management.

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