Survival Skills

How preppers prepare for hurricanes: a comprehensive look

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Everybody’s a prepper when the storm comes. Unfortunately this particular portrayal of peripheral preparedness not only did a disservice to the prepper community, it dissuaded many people from pursuing training or meeting others that could have helped them understand how to be ready for emergencies before they happen.

Some people look past the stigmatism and realize you have to be proactive in preparing. This article breaks down what you need to consider when preparing for a hurricane (and to some extent any weather emergency), from a prepper point of view. I’ve spent some time looking for and linking some specific examples for you but they’re only suggestions to get you started (this is only a blog post and not a book). Please do some research after thinking through your plans.

I’m writing this article just after Harvey slammed into Texas and just before Irma is supposed to hit Florida but the details should hold true for years to come. This topic is of particular concern to me because I’m in the middle of transitioning this year from living in the suburbs of Phoenix to living on a sailboat in the Atlantic/Caribbean. I’ll first go briefly over the four basic time periods to consider and then give you some basic ideas of what to start planning in order to handle them.

There are four basic time periods to consider in preparing for a hurricane:

  1. Well before a storm is forming
  2. When a hurricane is likely to hit your area
  3. During the storm
  4. Dealing with the aftermath

Well before a storm is forming

This is normal life. The time that no one really thinks about hurricanes. This is the time to do all the things that take an extended amount of time to complete or must be started well in advance. The hard part is spending the time now when you don’t have an immediate threat so you need to do this early and make it a part of your everyday life. This doesn’t mean that you need to stop living a normal life but it does mean that you may need to consider re-evaluating how you spend your leisure time and money. This is when you should be doing almost all the actual prepping this article talks about.

  • Medical
  • Evacuation Route and Plan
    • Know where your local hurricane shelters are as well as those along your planned evacuation route (both to at least two shelters as well as out of town). My bug out route article may be a bit advanced for you but it may give you some ideas you may not have thought of. Make sure you have at least a few routes in mind in case some of them are impassable – and actually drive these routes at least once. Document the routes and list anything important along the way such as emergency shelters, high ground, hospitals, friends/family, bad neighborhoods, low-lying areas, etc. Keep in mind that your route may have to change depending on when you decide to leave, especially if you wait until after an evacuation order has been placed in any areas along the route.
    • Make sure your vehicle(s) are always serviced. Periodically check your spare tire, tire changing kit, and tools.
    • Keep supplies in your car for repair and food/water/comms/fire/shelter in case you have to stay in your car for an extended period.
    • Get a chainsaw (gas or electric) to take along and know how to use it. MOST trees will be down in a very strong storm, blocking your vehicular route) but it only takes one to block your path. You’d have to either go around (if that’s even possible) or sit there until someone moves the tree.
    • This may sound like a crazy idea right now but consider some kind of small flotation device. Flooding is not only more dangerous than the wind, it lasts MUCH longer. Many people were saved because someone in the neighborhood had a small boat. This may not be a cheap option but a collapsible canoe won’t deflate if punctured and stores easily (but if you’re crafty you may be able to make something out of empty water bottles or something if you think it through beforehand). If you have the cash though, consider something like this, or for a less expensive option, something like this but remember to keep a patch kit. Just make it light enough that your group could carry it, if your plan turns into you taking the boat with you on foot to evacuate after the storm.
    • Have both digital and especially paper maps of your area and your evacuation route. Laminated ones are even better. Your cell phone or GPS may not work when you need it.
    • Have a compass to use with your map in case you are traveling by map. I carry this one in my laptop bag that I carry every day and this one that I was issued in the Army, in my go bag.
    • Know how to use a compass and map, and practice it. The landscape will be unrecognizable after a hurricane so terrain association and land navigation skills could be extremely important.
    • Remember that the routes on your map/gps may be completely irrelevant due to water or structural damage (or other) blocking them.
  • Communications Plan
    • Develop a family emergency communications plan now so you get all the kinks worked out before you need it.
    • Make sure you have an emergency radio so you can hear evacuation information or other things put out over the air. These ones have a hand crank and a small solar panel so you shouldn’t have to worry about it not working for you.
    • Just assume right now that cell phones won’t work. A ham radio is, in my opinion, the best way to communicate when normal comms don’t work but you’ll have to decide that for yourself. Understanding what radio you need, studying and getting your license, and learning how to actually use one is very time-consuming. Start early on this and keep up practice.
    • If you just need an inexpensive handheld ham radio, consider one of these but keep in mind they’re not waterproof and any handheld will need an upgraded antenna to perform better (MAKE SURE you get an antenna that will fit your radio or get an adapter if necessary). I personally carry a Yaesu VX-6R (older model) as well as a Diamond antenna.
    • Test your commo plan on occasion to make sure everything works and everyone knows what to do to communicate.
    • If you have a ham radio, try to set up a stealthy antenna system either as primary or secondary. You may be put into a situation where you don’t want people to know you have a radio.
  • Water
    • Assume your water at home will stop working and become contaminated. Always keep water on-hand in your home, bug out bag, and vehicle. You’ll need a gallon a day for each person plus some extra for hygiene. Water weighs over 8 pounds a gallon so keep that in mind for water you’ll carry. If possible, have a large container like this one that you can store water in or capture rainwater with. Semi-portable water containers of about seven gallons or so are good to keep as well but you won’t be able to carry them far. Don’t get the cheapy ones.
    • Know how to treat whatever water you collect or store so it doesn’t make you sick.
    • Also keep in mind that you can use dirty water to flush a toilet by just pouring in a gallon or so into the bowl (as long as the plumbing system isn’t backed up or broken).
    • Get some kind of water filter in case your water runs out or isn’t available. This is what I carry in each location (bag, home, car, boat, etc) but it won’t filter out saltwater (most filters won’t). For that, you’d need something like this or this.
    • Have a way to boil water.
    • Fill extra space in your freezer with water bottles. Not only will this give you water if you need it, it’ll keep your food cold longer once the power goes out.
  • Fuel/Energy
    • Have fuel cans available to fill and keep at least one rotating with fuel for your vehicle and one for your generator (if you have one) at all times, if possible.
    • Get some kind of backup generator for your home. Currently, this is my choice. It’s reliable, quiet, and with this little doohickey, you can double up using two generators at a time if you need it.
    • Have some kind of solar solution to power lights and comms. Solar doesn’t work at night but it’s silent and you’ll eventually have light. There are many solutions to this so I can’t really give you any direction to go but there are thousands of articles on the web and many experts you can talk to.
    • Have a power battery to charge your items at night that you can keep charged with ac until the storm and either solar or gas generator after. You should also have a couple of small USB batteries that you can carry with you and just use a small solar panel to keep them charged if you have to leave your home.
    • Remember that if you have a car, it has a battery. If you have a way to charge it (solar or other), you can use it if you need 12v for a while. Just don’t run it so low you can’t start your car if you need to.
  • Food
    • Keep at least a month of food available at your home in case you can’t leave for a bit (if not more – some people buy kits like this to last a year but it’s just a tad pricey and I haven’t researched the best options there) and make sure it’s all in waterproof containers like this kit. Don’t forget to count people who don’t normally live with you who may take shelter with you. Dehydrated food doesn’t taste all that great but it’s much better than it used to be (I actually prefer MREs to dehydrated food, and they give you a heating pack that only needs a small amount of water to work). You may not die with no food for a couple of weeks but that would make you weak, more prone to sickness and injury, and would start affecting your thinking process, putting you in danger of making bad decisions. Keep in mind that you have to balance the fact that if you buy too much, you’re wasting money but if you don’t buy enough, you’ll run out – and grocery stores will not be available to give you food for some time.
  • Shelter/Protection from the Elements
    • Have wet weather gear available, especially something to wade through deeper water in case you need to move around for supplies or communication.
    • Get a tent or two in case your roof gets blown off and you need to stay in the area for several days waiting for evacuation and ensure it has a bath tub bottom to keep standing water out of it.. Make sure you know how to put it up.
    • Get sleeping bags suitable for your temperatures at night.
    • Get a couple of tarps and some paracord. These can seriously come in handy for many things.
  • Security
    • Know how to shut off the gas to your home.
    • Ensure your fire extinguishers (do do have them, right?) are in working order and readily available.
    • Decide the best place to Alamo (where you’ll fall back to when it gets bad). A basement (but keep in mind surge/flood waters) or some central closet or bathroom. A tub can provide some extra protection.
    • Trim or remove any trees that may potentially damage your home.
    • Clean out gutters and drainage areas.
    • Have a plan (hopefully with neighbors) on what to do to protect from looters.
  • Light
    • These flashlights are very strong and ridiculously cheap. I have quite a few of them. They take AA batteries so they’re easy to find power for. They are not, however, waterproof. This one is my current EDC (Every Day Carry) flashlight. I go into why in this article.
    • Have some kind of flood light so you can walk around your house at night. This one is waterproof (it floats) and is charged by solar. I keep two in my house, one in my emergency go bag, and one on my boat.
    • A couple of strings of LED lights can really light up an area and use very little power. I use this LED string (powered via USB) for camping and on my sailboat.
  • Insurance
    • Now is the time to check what your insurance covers and what it does not. Pay special attention to flooding, fire, and named storms.
  • Documents
    • Make digital and paper copies of all your important documents.
  • Irreplaceables
    • Make digital copies of all your old photographs. Once old paper ones are destroyed, you can’t get them back (without the negatives).
    • Put all your important documents in some kind of waterproof/fireproof container for your home. Try to put it in a secret location away from looters. Something like this is good because it has a mechanical lock instead of electronic but isn’t as hard to break into. A full-on waterproof/fireproof wall safe would be better but you may be able to compromise by putting a waterproof container inside a non-waterproof safe.
    • Have some kind of portable waterproof/fireproof container as well and make it a habit to keep the most important things there, including backup documents. Depends on how much you have to store but something like this is a good start.
  • Individual/Miscellaneous Concerns
    • Pets
      • Take a photo with you and your pet(s) in case you get separated and need to claim them later.
      • Put an identifying collar on them and consider a microchip.
      • Here’s more info regarding planning for your pets.
      • Contrary to popular belief, hotels are NOT required to accommodate your pets due to the PETS law.
    • Medicine
      • Have enough medicine for each person and pet for several weeks and make a list of all medicines, how often to take, and how much you’d need.
    • Children
      • Have something to keep your kids occupied so you don’t have to focus 100% on them when you should be finding shelter or food/water etc. If you need something to play anywhere, anytime and have nothing with you, take a look at this game we played when I was an agent.
    • Money
      • Keep some cash on hand. You may not be able to get cash later and some places may not be able to take anything but cash for some time. Once a storm is coming, you have other priorities to consider and once a storm hits, you may not be able to get any out.

When a hurricane is likely to hit your area

Hopefully at this point, you already have all the training, plans, and supplies needed for what’s coming. This is when you need to initiate phase 1 (or whatever phase you want to call it) of your emergency plan. In most cases, evacuation is the smart move but that’s not always possible. This is the time to re-establish comms with your friends/family and go back over your plans, adjusting for the current and likely circumstances.

  • Medical
    • Double-check all your medical kits and critical medicine levels. If you find you’re low, this would be a priority.
  • Evacuation Route
    • Update and go over your plan with your family of where you’ll go, how you’ll get there, and when you’ll decide to leave.
    • If you leave your home AT ANY POINT to evacuate, leave a note at your home of where you’re going and when you left in case people come looking for you.
  • Communications Plan
    • Reiterate your family commo plan (that you already have in place, as mentioned above) and test all parts of it. If you don’t have one, figure one out now. You may not be able to reach others outside your immediate group without one but you need to have some idea of what to do if you get separate, etc.
    • Turn on your TV/radio/emergency radio etc at least every half hour to know what’s going on.
  • Water
    • Fill pots/pans/tub etc with water beforehand in case water shuts off or gets contaminated.
  • Fuel/Energy
    • Plug in and charge the most important devices ASAP.
    • Shut off power to anything large if the power goes out, or before you go to your Alamo, otherwise when power is restored, you may overload your system as it all comes on at once. Also shut off the main breaker if the power is out, but do both if possible.
    • Top off any fuel tanks.
    • If you have a solar system that allows you to get off the grid, switch it over before the storm hits the area to protect your home from grid surges.
    • Shut off anything not important while you’re preparing.
    • Before you head to the Alamo, shut off the power to your home if possible. GFCI circuits are only in certain areas and you don’t want to be standing in a foot of water near an outlet or device if the power is on.
  • Food
    • Put your fridge/freezer at its coldest setting.
    • Place a coin on top the ice in a container in the freezer. If you lose power long enough that the temperature drops to the point where water melts, the coin will end up at the bottom of the container.
  • Shelter
    • Board up windows if possible.
    • Do not bother taping your windows. It doesn’t help and gives people a false sense of security.
    • Put everything important into your Alamo so you don’t have to go searching for it later.
  • Security
    • Shut off the gas to your home before the storm hits to reduce the chance of explosion or poisoning.
    • Move all projectiles out of the yard.
    • Trim or remove any trees that may potentially damage your home.
    • Clean out gutters and drainage areas.
  • Light
    • Make sure you know where all your lights are and ensure they are all working and charged.
  • Documents and irreplaceables
    • Collect all your important documents into your Alamo and put them in a bag ready to carry or in a secured, waterproof/fireproof container for later.
  • Individual/Miscellaneous Concerns
    • Pets
      • Get your pets indoors.
      • Collect all leashes, food, water, etc for your pets.
    • Medicine
      • Ensure you have all the medicine you’ll need for at least a couple of weeks. If you’re missing anything critical, try to get it now.
    • Children
      • Now is when to start staying calm. Just as ship/boat crews look to their captain to know when to panic, your children will follow your lead.
    • Money
      • It may be too late to get cash but consider it if you can. You may not be able to get it for a while.
    • Furniture, etc
      • If you have anything expensive (TV, computer, expensive furniture), try to move this stuff as high up as possible in your home once you’ve gotten everything else taken care of. If your first floor floods and the house is still standing, you’ll be happy you put this stuff upstairs or at least up in the top kitchen cabinets.

During the storm

Once the storm hits, you have to look at it like dealing with a combat situation. All your plans are now set and you have to just deal with what you’ve not planned for or what you’ve spent too much on. All your plans can immediately go out the window in a moment’s notice so hopefully you’ve spent a lot of time on considering all the ‘what-if’s and communicated those to your family. This is the time to evaluate all available intel on the situation and adapt your current plan to maintain control and minimize damage/injury.

Head to your Alamo and stay away from windows. Keep everyone there. Keep an ear on the radio in case any important news is broadcasted. You may need earphones to hear what they’re saying during the storm.

If the eye is supposed to pass near your location, once the storm stops, it may not be over yet. You should be fine to then step out of your Alamo for a bit to evaluate your structure but prepare to have to go right back in once the the other side of the wall arrives.

Dealing with the aftermath

The aftermath of a hurricane (once the winds have died down) can be actually the most deadly. This is when flood and surge waters fill the streets and further damage structures. It’s also when people start looting (either out of necessity to help their family or just criminal opportunity). You may think the storm is over but if you’re still in the area, the worst may be yet to come. This is the time to collect your family, evaluate your situation, inventory your available resources, and set up short- and mid-term plans of what to do now. 

Establish some way to get broadcast information from the authorities (ham radio, weather radio, neighbor, etc). Also try to establish communications with someone so they know where you are.

Once you have an idea what you’re going to do at this point, keep OPSEC (Operational Security). You don’t want others to know what you have. This is true whether you’re walking through town to get to a shelter or staying home. You’ll have to make a judgement call to decide whom to trust.

If you stay at home, you need to conceal your capabilities. Keep your generator in a quiet location and try not to use it at night when people are skulking around and there’s less noise unless you can’t hear it from the outside. Cover your windows so no light gets out if you’re going to have lights on inside. Aluminum foil and tape can actually work as a cheap solution. If you’re going to set up a ham radio, ensure it’s a stealthy setup. People with ham radios also have food, water, and other supplies.

Try not to walk through or drive through water. You never know what you’ll be walking through, which could include sharp objects or live electrical wires.

If you leave your home after the storm, make sure you wear (or put in your vehicle) sturdy shoes and maybe consider at least one set of waders.

Start taking photos and/or video of the damage to your property if you’re still home. This will help you file a claim later and once you leave, you may not be able to get back to it for quite a long time.

Try to protect your property from further damage with tarps etc. Your insurance may not cover damage occurring after the storm has ended.

I got a ton of help by reading various resources but here are a couple of quotes from my facebook page that you may find helpful.

Daleen F:
Water! Buckets attached to solid fence or poles to catch rain water if you don’t have barrels. Foil and foil pans – cook just about anything in it and no clean up. Paper products_ plates, cutlery, cups make things easier. As soon as possible get dry ice for freezer and fridge. Most colleges have dry ice they’ll sell to anyone. Check the chem or physics dept. Collect and cover wood for outdoor cooking. Bricks make a sturdy base if stacked as a square or rectangle with one side left open. Oven grate placed on top is a great place to set pots and pans. It’s also a good place to set when the power is out. Get bug spray!! Mosquitos get crazy! Before the storm freeze bottles of water and fill any space in freezer. Transfer frozen bottles to fridge right before storm hits and restock freezer with more bottles to freeze. Oil lamps are a great investment. Store extra lamp oil. And stockpile tarps! (Use tarps to cover holes, firewood during rain, as a cover to cook in the rain, and to drag debri to the street or out of the way place. Keep small bills- power outage means cash registers don’t work but shops opened and sold stuff for cash. Experience: Fran! And no power for 10 days or so. Trees everywhere like pic-up-sticks. Also an ice storm and no power for about 2 weeks. Both times had a house full of kids. Cooked food for 6 neighboring houses during Fran as everything thawed. A chain saw and knowing how to use it is wonderful.
Wanda C:
Luckily, we have only been “touched” by one and that was Katrina. We were inland (Jackson, MS) and didn’t really expect much where we were. I know what we DID NOT have ready… cash, little gas in car, no extra water, not really any extra food in the house. Husband is LEO and was tied up at his job for over 36 hours before I saw him. I am nurse and they finally got gas stations opened/stocked for healthcare personnel to be able to fill up cars and was able to get cash from ATM at work. There were LONG lines. I said then, that would never happen to us again. My take away: pay attention!!! Do not be complacent or say, “It won’t happen here.” Heed the warnings, if they say it is going to be BAD….believe it.
David H:
I have a ton. However, typingnit on FB from a phone would be a challenge. Hurricane Charley Orlando Drida, 13 August. I was the odd man out prior to that day for having (and constantly evaluating readiness) of a 10KW Genset, commercial ice maker, extra filtration for pool water, canned items, chain saws and a pickup truck with winch and chains. My neighbors always extended their pinkies when having cocktails! Morning after, cranked on the genset, made coffee and out the word out that if you bring coffee that I would make it! With my panel, I could run all lights and ceiling fans (no ac) and had 100 gallons of fuel between two trucks and gas cans. Ran for 8 hrs per day during the day. Uses deep cell 12 volt batteries to power strands of AC/DC lights as needed. Watched the area go to hell in crime. No power from the company for 9 days. We ate well and stayed safe.

Some further resources:

– This post is Syndicated. Original publish date 9 September 2017 | 3:46 am on

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