The Hurricane Season
Many people do not realize that the hurricane season is lengthy and spans the six month period from June 1 to December 1 each year. The frequency of major storms has been escalating recently in cycles that increase and decrease over 10 to 20 year periods. Most weather forecasters acknowledge that we are presently in a cycle of increased hurricane activity with the potential for as many as 15-17 named storms forecasted in 2006.
Areas of Risk
Hurricanes and tropical storms are a worldwide phenomenon. The storms affecting the United States and the Caribbean are called hurricanes while the storms in the Pacific are called typhoons and tropical storms in the Indian Ocean are designated tropical cyclones. Low lying coastal areas are at increased risk but inland areas as far as 200-300 miles can still suffer heavy damage. In the United States the coastal areas of the Southeast are at risk and all areas of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico have historically seen extensive storm damage; areas as far north as Massachusetts and Rhode Island have suffered direct hurricane hits. In 2006, at least one major storm is forecasted to hit the Middle Atlantic and Northeast states.
Hurricanes are Serious Events
Anyone who has experienced a hurricane will attest to the fact that these are serious weather events.
Hurricanes are ranked from category 1 (sustained winds in excess of 78mph) to category 5 (sustained winds in excess of 155mph); even a category 1 storm can create extensive damage. Damage from wind, flooding and storm surges can destroy buildings and cause widespread flood damage. By far the most serious cause of impairment however, is the storm surge created by wind pressure and wave action. Storm surges as high as 30 feet are not uncommon in major storms.
In 2005 a category 3 storm (Katrina) destroyed a large portion of New Orleans and, notwithstanding substantial Federal Government aid, the area has yet to recover. In 2004 a deadly category 5 storm (Ivan) destroyed many of the homes and buildings on a number of islands in the Caribbean and the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico. Ivan was particularly dangerous with 24 hours of sustained winds of 165 mph and wind gusts recorded as high as 207mph. With a storm surge of over 20 feet, approximately 1/3 of a particular island was covered by water and disappeared from radar as the storm passed.
Hurricanes generally result in at least some loss of life both at sea and on land even for relatively minor storms, however major storms can be much more devastating. At the turn of the twentieth century, an unnamed storm took the lives of between 6,000 to 10,000 people in Galveston, Texas. The worst recorded loss of life resulted from a tropical cyclone that hit East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) with over 200,000 lives lost.
At a minimum, hurricanes result in the loss of water service, electrical power and communications for a period of time during and after the storm. Frequently, this period can extend for weeks and even months in some cases.
Modern Technology is Good News
Modern computer technology and forecasting techniques have increased the period of warning that allows preparation for the impact of the storm. These types of warnings allow preparation and even evacuation in the event of a powerful, threatening storm.
For those who remain in place during a storm, advance preparation is required in order to survive the aftermath of the storm. This requires stockpiling of the proper supplies prior to the storm because demand for supplies immediately before a storm increases rapidly and shortages occur. Therefore, advance preparation is the key to survival success.
A Three Step Disaster Plan
In order to survive a hurricane disaster, proper planning is critical and takes enormous effort. In addition to assembling supplies as early as possible, a plan must be devised and also practiced. A simple but effective plan developed by The Harvard Medical School is as follows:
1) Collect disaster supplies
The devastation incurred by Hurricane Katrina is graphic evidence of just how destructive natural disasters can be. Those affected are without electricity, water, domestic gas, telephone and even shelter. To be prepared, collect the following items and store them so that they will easily be found in the event of an emergency — but not so easily that you end up depleting the supplies without realizing it. Some people store these items in a section of the basement or a closet that is used infrequently. Decide what will work best for you.
- Bottled water (1 gallon per person per day; three-day supply ideal)
- Cash (ATM and credit cards may not work or be accepted by businesses)
- Cellular phone (with non electrical charger, such as a car charger or AAA battery pack)
- Clothing and underwear
- Phone numbers of friends and family
- Important Documents (driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, etc.) in a waterproof container
- Dust mask (one per person)
- Eating utensils (plastic or disposable)
- Emergency numbers: local, state and federal
- Financial inventory (a list of bank and investment accounts, mortgages and loans, including account numbers and location of original documents)
- First-aid kit (see “Your first-aid kit,” below)
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Food (canned goods and other nonperishable items that do not require cooking)
- Masking tape, duct tape
- Medical information (list of your medications, any chronic conditions and medical history)
- Medications (three-day supply of all daily medications)
- Paper towels, toilet paper and sanitary products
- Pet supplies and carrier (include food, water, leashes and records of shots)
- Plastic sheeting
- Radio (battery-operated) with extra batteries
- Sleeping bags or blankets (one per person)
- Toiletries (soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, etc.)
- Tools (can opener, knife, pliers; a Swiss army knife may suffice)
- Trash bags
In case you have to evacuate your home, it is good to put the supplies you think you would need the most in a portable container. Some people try to fit all of the supplies listed above in a large rolling trashcan with a lid or a large rolling cooler. Another option is to store the items in several small coolers or boxes. Think about what supplies you need, what you can reasonably carry or store in your car, and how many people will be available to help you transport the supplies.
3) Develop and practice an emergency plan
All the planning in the world will not do much good if you do not prepare ahead of time. Not only does this enable you to go through your plan while you are calm and thinking clearly, but it also enables you to modify it before you have to put it into action.
- Identify emergency evacuation routes and shelters in your community and near your workplace.
- Decide where family members should meet if you are separated in an emergency.
- Identify a backup location to meet at, in case the first location is impossible to reach.
- Identify a point-person in the family who will serve as the central contact to call in case of confusion.
- Choose an out-of-state friend or relative to serve as a backup contact, in the event that local lines are tied up or out of service.
- Provide every member of the family with a cellular phone or prepaid phone card to make sure they can make a call in the event of an emergency.
- Consider family members with special needs while making plans. (For example, who will help someone in a wheelchair?) Do not forget your pets, either. (For example, where can you leave pets if you have to evacuate to a hotel that does not allow them?)
- Practice the plan at least once per year.
Water is Critical
Of all the supplies listed the most critical by far is an adequate supply of drinking water. Everything else (including food) is secondary to water because the body needs a large and continuous supply of fresh water. After a hurricane, water service is interrupted for lengthy periods of time because of lack of power and the fact that existing water supplies are often polluted. Pure and fresh water is mandatory to ensure proper hydration and avoid disease spread through polluted water.
Plan to collect and store water supplies that exceed the minimum and use the highest quality water possible. Ultra-pure distilled water can be stored for long periods because there are no minerals or bacteria in the water; supplies can be maintained almost indefinitely if stored in a cool dark place.
Estimate supplies for more than your immediate needs because in times of emergency and hurricanes many people move to safer structures or higher ground, which may burden existing supplies of safer locations.
Plan for the worst as your life and well being may be at stake.