Thursday morning at about 7:30 a.m. (EDT) I'm scheduled to be interviewed on Richmond's Morning News with Jimmy Barrett to talk about hurricane preparedness as we get ready to enter the season. You can listen in on 1140 AM (it's a 50,000 watt clear channel, so you can pick it up across quite a distance. You can also find it streaming at www.1140WRVA.com or using the I Heart Radio app on your smart phone.
As an intro to the listeners who may want more information, I thought I'd offer some more details, resources and links for what Jimmy and I will be talking about.
Time To Stock Up, Save Money, And Stick It To The Man
It kind of snuck up on me this year, but this week is Virginia's Sales Tax Holiday for Emergency Preparedness. Through May 31, Virginian's can save 5% by skipping the sales tax on tarps, flashlights, bungee cords, coolers, batteries, weather and 2-way radios, and other prep items that cost up to $60 each. The tax holiday also goes for generators and inverters that cost up to $1,000. For a complete list of tax exempt items, you can follow this link. For folks in other states, Alabama and Louisiana have similar programs. Here's a list to all state sales tax holidays.
It's Not All About Hurricane Preparedness
So, how can folks prepare for a hurricane now when we are unlikely to get one until late summer or in to fall? The first thing is to keep in mind all-hazards planning and disaster commonality. What other disasters can befall us in Central Virginia? Tornadoes, Snow and Ice Storms, Derechos, Earthquakes... all of these, like Hurricanes, can result in long term loss of power, loss of other utilities, injury, blocked roads, home and property damage. Preparing for one makes us prepared for all.
Here are some specific things to do on a year-round basis to help stay prepared for whatever Mother Nature sends our way:
- Hurricane Straps - these are thin metal strips that are screwed (or nailed, but screwed is stronger) that attach rafters and roof trusses to the walls. They can also attach a second floor to a first and a first to a foundation. If you are doing new construction, this is a very cheap way to go. With existing homes, depending on your attic situation, you may be able to retro fit straps to your roof at least. These can help keep roofs attached and prevent home collapse in heavy hurricane direct hit. They can also help in a small to moderate tornado.
- Garage Door Braces - these vertical braces can prevent your garage door from imploding in up to 180 mph wind. They can also make your garage door a more difficult target for burglaries.
- Windows - modern, double and triple pane windows are more shatter resistant than old fashioned single panes. With the energy savings, if you haven't put in new windows, you really ought to. They'll cut your electric bill, and make your windows a little more sturdy in a storm. Hurricane or storm shutters are not really common in Central Virginia, but would probably be good to have along the coast. You can buy expensive, custom made shutters, or simply cut 5/8" plywood to fit and figure out how to attach them (wood screws to the window frame, masonry sinkers, etc...). The key is to mark which covers go on which windows, and keep the attaching tools and devices where you can easily find them. Don't wait until the day before a storm hits to try and buy plywood, and once a year or so, go ahead and do a dry run to practice putting them up.
- Generators - at my home, we average 10-14 days a year without power. We've gone as long as 8 days at a stretch after last year's derecho wind storm. Whole house generators are great, but they are expensive. We have two portable generators so we can rotate use. We have a transfer switch hard wired into our electrical system by a licensed electrician. The key with a generator, whether automatic/whole house, or portable, is to know how to safely run it, know how much energy you need at any given time, and maintain it.
- If you just have a small generator to run a fan, a couple lights, and the refrigerator for a couple hours at a time, extension cords are the way to go.
- With larger generators, you'll need a licensed electrician to set up a transfer switch that you plug a main cord into and it feeds into your home's electrical system. You then control which outlets get power through your circuit breaker box.
- Do Not "backfeed" a cord from the generator directly into an outlet... you can kill a lineman working farther down the line
- Be sure you have adequate ventilation - don't run a generator in the garage or with the exhaust right under an open window
- How Big
- Do you know how much power you need?
- A generator sales rep might add up all the electrical devices in your home... washer, dryer, refrigerator, microwave, four TV sets, three computers, two window unit air conditioners, three space heaters, 17 laps and overhead lights, hot water tank... Adding up all of the watts needed to run those items will tell you how big a unit you need, right? Wrong. Have you ever run all of those things together at the same time? Probably not. Add up a couple of lamps (CFL bulbs use a heck of a lot less power than regular bulbs), TV, one appliance, and a TV. Maybe add in one space heater OR one window AC unit. You'll get by on a much smaller generator. Our 7,500 watt generator easily runs what we need, including a window unit when it was 100 degrees outside. We ran the fridge for a while, then shut it off to run the well pump and hot water tank. It's not as convenient as just flipping a switch, but it is a WHOLE lot more economical.
- You can get a device called a "Killawatt" that will accurately measure your various electrical items.
- The automatic whole house generators kick on for a few minutes every week. You still need to do or contract for routine maintenance such as oil changes.
- A portable generator should be run under load (plug in a leaf blower or something) for about 15 minutes every month. The oil needs to be changed every 25-50 hours of running time. Be sure you have extra oil and filters on hand for those long-term outages.
- You can't simply fill a 5 gallon can with gas and leave it in the shed for years. The gas goes bad. I keep 12 gas cans filled with treated gas. Each can is labeled with a month, and each month I use that gas and refill the can with fresh treated gas. That ensures I always have about 60 gallons on hand and can run my generators for over a week. I have the ability to safely store that much gas... check with your local regulations and keep as much on hand as you can legally and safely.
- Food, Water & Other Necessities
- Richmonders are famous for clearing the grocery shelves of bread and milk on the day before a storm - wouldn't it make more sense to have a larder or pantry that you rotate on a regular basis and have enough food and other needs to get your family through most any emergency?
- FEMA suggests 2-weeks worth of food and water - I encourage at least a month, and more if possible. MREs, freeze-dried "survival" foods and the like have their place in long term preparedness plans, but for most folks, regular grocery store foods will work fine.
- Copy-Canning; FIFO; Eat What You Store-Store What You Eat
- You don't need to run to BJs and buy case lots. Simply buy an extra can or box or two of what you normally buy each time you go to the store.
- When you buy these extras, mark the date on them and rotate your stores - First In, First Out
- If you like SPAM, buy SPAM (or tuna or canned peas or whatever). If you hate it, don't buy it. It ain't gonna taste better to you if you HAVE to eat it. Buy foods your family already eats.
- You don't need 50 gallon barrels of water in the basement. Pick up a couple of cases of water on each trip to the store. Fill up cleaned 2 liter soda bottles with tap water. Store about 2 gallons of water per person for 2-3 weeks. You can go less than that if you have alternative ways to get water.
- If you are on a well (and a genny for the pump), have a pond or pool, or water catchment from the gutters, you have extra water. I suggest a Berkey Water Filter system for every home that will make all that "outside" water clean and pure.
- Water gets boring. Pick up tea, coffee, lemonade, and Kool Aid powder mixes.
- Running out of toilet paper sucks. Why does anyone buy a 4-pack? Pick up the giant pack and get another one when that one is halfway done.
- Don't wait to run out of soap, toothpaste, razors, deodorant, etc... Buy multipacks, and get the next pack when the first one is halfway done.
- If you are on any kind of maintenance medications, work with your doctor and insurance company to try and get a month ahead so that you always have at least 30 days worth on standby
- Blackout Kit
- Anytime the lights go out, whether for a week after a hurricane or ice storm, or just for a couple hours when a drunk runs into a power pole, a blackout kit will make your life easier. Use a soft cooler or a small tote bag. I keep one in the bedroom and one in the laundry room.
- Have a couple of flashlights and extra batteries. I've become a convert to using headlamps instead of flashlights. They keep both hands free for hooking up the generator, walking the dog, or pretty much anything else you can imagine. I love my Petzl Graphite that is linked below.
- Keep an index card with the phone numbers for the power company and other emergency contacts
- Candles and a lighter - I like a handful of those battery operated votive candles to just spread around the house. Some prefer regular flame candles. At after Christmas sales or thrift stores, look for jar candles since they are safer than a stick candle
- We already said batteries, but have more! Have different sizes for anything that you might not even think of.
- The MOST Important Piece of Storm Preparedness Gear
- Every home should have at least one NOAA Weather Alert Radio plugged in with fresh batteries year-round, 24/7
- With S.A.M.E. technology of current models, you can set it so it only picks up warnings for your county
- Technology has made the warnings more accurate and longer range to give us a chance to prepare and seek shelter - especially for tornadoes
Where to store all this food, water, and mondo packs of toilet paper? Be creative! Under the beds... the dead space above the cupboards... the coffee table or footstool might be able to be used for storing more than a couple throw pillows... that attic crawl space that is too small to store a bunch of junk, can easily hold a couple packs of TP and paper towels.
If you take these steps, gradually and without building debt (when's the best time to buy a generator? a month after a hurricane hits when half the people who ran out to buy one at Lowe's before the storm end up selling them on Craig's List because they didn't even open the box), you'll be much more prepared for a hurricane, or any number of other personal or widespread disasters.
Check back here over the next few days for more info on preparedness efforts to take as we get farther in to hurricane season and for the last minute things to do in the days before a hurricane hits the area.
For more information on securing your home against high winds, FEMA offers several free download documents here.