In The Aftermath Of A Cat 5 Hurricane

Part I:  What you think you need.

Unlike tornadoes, you have several days to prepare for a hurricane.  Of course, the first decision, and perhaps a life/death one is whether to evacuate or hunker down in place.

When a hurricane is clearly bearing down on your area, and it is likely to become a cat 3 or higher, an evacuation plan should be acted upon.  Most of my suggestions and observations will deal with that and similar issues.  Those foolish enough to ride our such a storm are not likely to take any advice anyway.

Hurricane Michael at peak intensity making landfall on the Florida Panhandle on October 10, 2018 courtesy of wikipedia

What qualifies me to make suggestions as to life with a hurricane?  We recently endured the strongest one to ever hit the Florida panhandle and the third strongest on to hit the U.S.  It is hard to comprehend the nearly paralyzing psychological and emotional trauma of living in a lovely community one day and finding it a devastated war zone 24 hours later.  The scene is akin to pictures of Seriavo or post WW II Berlin.

So, back to preparation.  Step one is to arrange for a place to stay.  A friend or relative away from the danger zone is often the best choice.  However, failing to have that option, hotel accommodations need to be secured at least 100 miles from the anticipated landfall and at least 3 days ahead of the need.  Don’t say you can’t afford that, funerals cost even more.

Clearly, the next step is to secure the property.  That entails two general areas of concern.  Board up as needed and do it right.  Plywood sheets nailed to window frames probably won’t do the job.  If plywood sheets are your only option, then they need to be screwed into something substantial such as 2×6 framing or mortar.  (Don’t forget to board up garage doors as well.) The second part of securing the property is to take inside any and everything that could conceivably become an airborne projectile.  Everyone in the household needs to check and recheck.  A missed hanging basket, a welcome sign, or a wall clock can do considerable damage at 150 mph.  We missed one window screen and it wound up a mangled mess in a pine tree.

Okay, so you are now ready to leave.  Do it.  Don’t wait for the mandatory evacuation notice.  By then the roads will be clogged with bumper to bumper traffic.  That wears on your already fried nerves, exposes you to possible road rage, and wastes fuel which will become increasingly hard to replace. Before locking the door, do a final check that you have packed everything on your to take list.  What is on that list?  There are multiple sources as to that topic and while they are a good starting point for a general plan they need to be personalized.  Also keep in mind that the house or hotel you are going to may also lose power as could all stores, restaurants and gas stations in the area.  This isn’t a trip to Disney World.  This is a real-life survival drill.  Loss of electricity can reach 150 miles in all directions from the eye of the storm.

Auto insurance, homeowner policy, flood insurance policy, living wills, and passports should be packed.  Consider packing contacts, phone numbers for mortgage holders, copies of titles and deeds and other such documents.

Some plans I’ve seen include a gallon or more of water per person per day.  (Probably not enough), non-perishable food for three days (also not enough) and medications.  Assume you will have no refrigeration and no ice.  While canned peas and meat may not be in your normal diet, they will sustain you and not spoil.  (Does your list include a manual can opener.)  General lists also include flashlights and batteries, candles (matches?) and important documents.  Now we start to get personal.  Auto insurance, homeowner policy, flood insurance policy, living wills, and passports should be packed.  Consider packing contacts, phone numbers for mortgage holders, copies of titles and deeds and other such documents.  (Yes, those documents are available from government agencies, but copies will greatly expedite the process.)  If you keep such documents stored in a safe deposit box at the bank, get them out.  That bank is likely to be closed for several weeks, or even several months.

You need a personal phone list of friends, relatives, neighbors, and other key persons.  Don’t rely on that list in your cell phone, your cell phone may die.  Take cash, at least $1,000.  It may be weeks before you can get to a bank or ATM that is open for business.  As merchants and repair companies come back into operating mode many will not be able to process credit or debit cards and may refuse personal checks.  You will burn through cash at an alarming rate.

I strongly recommend buying a Duracell 1300 or similar battery pack with a solar charger.  It won’t run your A/C or the refrigerator, but it will keep your cell phones charged and powers small medical devices.  True, you can charge small electronic devices in the car, but again, fuel will become scarce and expensive.

Where do you draw the line on what to take?  When you start the list, with the real possibility that whatever gets left behind may not be there when you return, the list gets longer and longer. 

That heirloom china and your wedding album should probably be left behind. Make your “bug out” list before you need it and with a clear head.  It should include clothing, but don’t overdo it.  Rain gear is a must.

More to follow in Part II, The Event

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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Danny Pitocco

Excellent article Ken – to be prepared and to pre-plan prior to a natural disaster is not an option – it is a MUST for people who you love and who depend on you.

Even in a man-made disaster you just got to be prepared – a firearm with adequate ammo is a must – talk to the folks who lived in a riot zone when 911 just did not work!

Larry Tyler

Great advice Ken. Have gone through two this past year. I agree when you say not enough.



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