I sat in a classroom in Emmitsburg, Maryland, in a crash course of all things disaster response. It was 2005, and Hurricane Katrina had just made landfall. Working for Homeland Security at the time, I'd been surged to FEMA to help with the response in Louisiana.
The few days before deploying to the hurricane response were a blur, but one line, in one lesson, is forever etched in memory. The instructor paced the overcrowded classroom, came to a stop, looked down at his hands, and in a quiet voice asked, "What's the most dangerous element of a hurricane?" The group shouted answers, from tornadoes to floods, lighting to wind, downed power lines to rogue alligators.
Our instructor finally looked up, making eye contact around the room, and said, "No. The single most dangerous element in a hurricane is complacency."
Then in 2017, while Texas was still reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, another storm took over the news: Irma. The hurricane was upgraded to a potentially catastrophic Category 5.
Hurricane Katrina was a 3; Harvey downgraded to a tropical storm the day after it made landfall. Category 5? Don't mess around.
It's no surprise that in both the emergency management and military spouse communities we love the word resilient. "Able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions," Google's Dictionary tells me, and while that very well might be the gold standard we strive for, there's a critical element that comes before we can claim resiliency: Preparedness.
In a disaster situation, whether you are told to evacuate, choose to voluntarily evacuate or decide to stick it out, having a plan before it strikes (and recognizing that plan may have to change) is critical. Every storm is different, and your response should be, too. Here are 5 things you have to do before a hurricane hits.
Hurricane Preparedness 1: Know Your Zone
Are you in an area that floods? Is your neighborhood prime-time hurricane alley? As a military family, there's a good chance you didn't live there during the last "big one," whatever that was. Ask your neighbors about prior flooding and power outages.
Find out your evacuation route. Plan where you're going to go before you have to. Not willing to wait and see what the storm is going to do? Get your gas and get going. You don't have to wait for a mandatory evacuation to hit the road with thousands of other travelers but know your entitlements no matter what you decide.
Hurricane Preparedness 2: Get It Together
It being all your documents. Birth certificates, passports, school and medical records, social security cards, power of attorney, training records, anything that at one time or another you thought, "Ooh I need to save that," belongs in this folder. Take a video walk through of your house that you can screenshot later if you need to claim damaged items. Not planning on leaving? Still a good idea to have these items ready to go in sealed, watertight bags in case you have to leave quickly.
Hurricane Preparedness 3: Make Your Kit
Think about what your family needs if the power is out for an extended time. Non-perishable foods (and a means to cook perishable ones), lanterns, batteries (external chargers for electronics), provisions for pets, medications, a hand crank radio for weather updates, a whistle, dry clothes, blankets if it's cold and most importantly, plenty of clean water. For a full list of items for your kit, visit Ready.gov. Throw in some arts and crafts and books in case you have stir crazy kids with no electricity (and maybe some wine for yourself). Have supplies already flown off the shelf in your area? Try Amazon Prime or even one day shipping.
Hurricane Preparedness 4: Prepare Your House
Secure or store any outdoor furniture, put away the lawn ornaments, board your windows, unplug small appliances, turn your refrigerator and freezer to the coolest settings and fill a bathtub with water in case you don't have any for a few days.
Hurricane Preparedness 5: Be Ready (and Willing!) to Change Plans
Evacuated before and nothing happened? Or didn't evacuate and you were just fine at home? Prior disaster experience isn't necessarily beneficial, rather, it's easily disguised as complacency. Don't be so headstrong that you aren't willing to change plans if the storm changes course. Mother Nature doesn't discriminate, and just because you've been fine before doesn't mean you will be again. Monitor the situation closely, and if you're ordered to go, don't hesitate. No inconvenience is worth your life.
Above all, be smart, be safe and be prepared.
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