Hurricane Preparedness: What I learned you really need those first weeks after a major hurricane wipes out your community
By Logan Whitehead, a Panama City, Florida business owner who survived Hurricane Michael
Go buy a few pre-paid phones from the other carrier from what you have. Do this now. The kind of satellite phone most of us can afford does not work.
Get multiple AM/FM radios and batteries — they are likely to be the only news or information source you will have for quite some time.
Fill cars, of course, and a dozen gas cans with gas — this is for your car and generator. No power, no gas. In our case, pumps destroyed so no gas. No internet when power is back, no credit cards anywhere. No cash, no gas.
Get cash for the above and because when the banks are closed three weeks, cash is hard to come by. If you are a business, get enough cash to make a one-week payroll at least. No internet, so no payroll processing. And the auto deposit or pay card would be useless to your employees anyway.
Communicate with your payroll company about Plan B after the storm. Is there a point of contact you can give them? Your CPA, for example. Payroll processing will be a significant issue for many weeks. Vendors need to realize you cannot make bank deposits because the banks are closed, even if you might have a location open and sales. You cannot process AP. Everyone just needs to hold tight.
If you are in the cone, assume the worst. Make contact with friends and family as they will be your lifeline to the real world. Every so often a way will pop up to reach them, mainly FB messenger.
Honestly, filing a claim will be the least of your worries those first few weeks — you cannot do it anyway with no phones, power, or internet.
Make a connect plan with employees and family. “We will meet at this location to help each other and connect as soon as we can” after the storm. When you go there and no one is there – leave a message posted about your status and when you will be back. Eventually you will connect. This is the time period when if you want to tell someone something, you have to drive to them.
Do not buy tons of bottle water — if it is a direct hit, you will have more bottled water pouring into your town than anyone could drink. But you do need large volumes of water for flushing toilets, washing dishes, bathing, so fill the bathtubs up, get a clean trash can you can sit outside to collect rainwater, get those large, cheap plastic camping water containers and fill them. That will be your water crisis. Get some chlorine tablets or bleach to make sanitized water.
Sanitation will quickly become one of the biggest issues in your community. No running water, flushing toilets, hot water for hand wash, working outside in the nasty conditions, everything inside feels and is nasty with no A/C or power, food spoilage, etc. Staying well becomes something you actually have to work for.
Buy a large solar shower bag – sit it in the sun to warm; by Day 5 you will thank me. Baby wipes, clean cheap thin washcloths. You will be stinky beyond belief if it is 90 degrees and 80% humidity for weeks afterwards.
Have paper plates, forks, napkins etc.; washing dishes with no running water is not fun. Get two old-fashioned dish pans to do the dishes — you can’t fill up a sink with water. One for washing, one for rinsing in that bleach water.
Buy the generator — as big as you can afford. Test it out and have it ready before the storm. If you can get a whole house generator it will change your life post-storm and your neighbors’. BTW generators need oil or they will shut down.
Get several propane bottles if you have a gas grill, or bags of charcoal if not. That will be the best tasting meat ever as you try to cook up what is thawing in the fridge.
Have sunscreen, bug spray, and body wipes in your day kit. You need a day kit. Take everything you might need for the day when you head out. Everything — Advil, food, drinks, change of clothes. You don’t have the gas, energy, or time to make unnecessary trips.
Speaking of trips — what took 15 to 20 minutes to get to before will take hours. For me, it was almost three hours for that short trip a dozen times or more. It will make you crazy, defeated, and overwhelmed but it will eventually get better.
Food – bread, peanut butter, jelly — knife and spoon. I cannot tell you how many people I made a PBJ for out of the back of my car for weeks. Buy some bread and freeze it. Keep paper towels, those skinny washcloths, etc. — handing someone a washcloth you have soaked in the cooler in the ice is like a gift from above.
I lost 8 pounds in the first two weeks after the storm. You will forget to eat. You will sweat off the pounds. You WILL get dehydrated if you don’t pay attention. Between the heat, doing physical labor 8 or more hours a day outside, the stress — it is the “Hurricane Recovery Diet.”
Fill all coolers with ice and keep inside, not in the hot garage. You just will not believe how big of a deal having ice will become. If you own a restaurant, go get all the ice from ice makers you can before it melts. Have folks bag some up and put in the freezer as backup.
Curfews — make the very most out of the curfew hours you have if you need to get out to see about a business or others. It already gets dark early in October and you have to be home by sunset.
If you have a weapon, know where it is, check it, and carry if you have a permit. Looting is a very scary thing to watch happen, and very scary when it happens in your own neighborhood.
Do not talk publicly about what you have at your home. People truly become desperate, so keep the fact you have a generator, food, ice, large volumes of water, gas, etc. to yourself, and only share if you intend to share.
Do gather your important papers and photos, etc.; when your ceiling falls in, everything is wet, the wind is 155 mph, and you are scared, you will not be in a state of mind to start looking, and it is probably too late at that point.
Mold starts to grow in just a few days with no power or A/C and everything is wet. The papers inside of a drawer will be moldy.
If it is bad like Michael there will be no mail running for weeks, no FedEx/UPS deliveries, no banking, no internet, no phone service on either cell or landline. No medical services if hospitals are destroyed like ours were — we had a 100% evacuation of every patient and nursing home patient in the County.
When they say get your medicine it is real. With no power, internet, deliveries for weeks, there is nowhere to fill a script and no delivery to have someone send to you.
People who lose everything and people who have damage are two VERY different storm survivors.
Buy the best gas-powered chain saw you can. Forget trash bags and rakes — we are talking downed trees here.
The tree trimmers show up first, then the tarpers, then the debris moving people, then the abatement/interior demo people (the most dangerous bunch.) Then the roofers, the window people, the random contractors, more debris removal people. The signs go up for flooring, sheetrock, painting, cabinets. You can watch the progression of things by whose real-estate sign was planted at the entrance to your community the night before.
Buy tarps, furring strips to nail the tarps to the roof, roofing nails, a ladder that reaches your roof. The longer you wait to tarp, the faster the mold will come — and it WILL come.
You will not have garbage pick-up for many weeks — have some outside trash bags to store the garbage in so it is not so nasty.
If you get a newspaper delivered, the first day it shows up after the storm will be a huge sign of hope for things getting better.
Take lots of pictures, and I mean lots. Take pre pictures of your home, inside your fridge, pantry, cabinets. Take post pictures, but not just with insurance in mind. Just take them of everything that you’re shocked about, which will be just about everything. You will be glad you did.
If you can reach someone out of town who has power/internet/phone, they can call in your claim to insurance and FEMA for you. So get someone your policy info if you can. It just gets you in the very long queue, because nothing much happens with insurance for quite some time.
Possibly you (and if not, many others) will need temporary shelter/housing. The shelters will already be full. If you work for a large company like Publix, they will bring in temporary shelter bunkhouse-like trailers, shower/bathroom trailers, trailers that have washers and dryers running off generators and portable water tanks, etc. And an ice truck — which is amazing and free to everyone. They will be the first grocery store to get open, but it will take many weeks.
You will always remember the traffic, the five or more hours a day in your car. The heat and humidity, how quiet everything is, the smoke alarms and security alarms going off for many days — that will really be all you hear at first. Then you hear the helicopters, and then the chain saws, and that goes on for months.
You will be in shock. You just will. It is numbing to see so much destruction. You will not remember details of the days following. I wish I had journaled or taken notes every day — just a little something to help you look back and process what happened.
You will appreciate and understand who “your people” are, because they will show up in force. The “Five-Star” friends will show up without being asked. You will need those you love and care about to bear witness to what happened. You just need to be seen.
Many will not get it. To them, if you are alive, then you are okay. You desperately need physical help — desperately. But you also need the emotional support. You will be in a grieving period shortly afterwards. Shock and trauma, coupled with the pure raw physical exertion, is debilitating. If you own a business, you can multiply all of that by a hundred.
They will not grasp the gravity of what has happened, and frankly it would hard for anyone to do so. They will never understand how much you needed them when they did not come, a conversation I had with dozens of folks — just let it go and appreciate those who are there. You will be surprised who comes to your aid and those who just truck on as if nothing has happened. And you will still be okay.
God speed and prayers to everyone in the path of this storm. When I saw the first angry red symbol of the storm’s path, the hair on my arms stood up. A true visceral response.
Our community is in no way able to handle another hurricane — physically much less mentally.
It’s not just the actual time the hurricane makes landfall, but when you have lived through this you know what it will mean for the next few years of your life after it has passed over. When a Big One hits, you will experience real trauma, perhaps for the first time in your life.
You will never be the same.
Postscript: If you’re in an area that sustains damage from Hurricane Dorian, it’s important to commission an environmental assessment by an established, reputable environmental inspection company BEFORE any remediation work is initiated. This assessment is the best way to avoid problems with insurance company reimbursements; in the absence of a professional inspection, some homeowners have been required to re-do the remediation work on their homes at their own expense.
Launching into remediation without determining the scope of work is like having surgery without a consultation or X-rays. We recommend always conducting a thorough professional assessment prior to any remediation.