Planning for Irene

If you live in the Eastern US, particularly, but not exclusively the eastern coastal US, you need to be prepared for quite a storm. No one is sure what track Irene will take, or how much damage she will do, but everyone between New England and the Carolinas, potentially including NYC and NJ are in the potential landfall range for what is being described as a huge storm.

Most of the latest forecasts suggest the storm will avoid landfall in North Carolina. "However, this is a very dangerous storm and much of the East Coast, including North Carolina, should be prepared for a landfall," said Jeras.

Some computer models suggest New York or New Jersey could be hit.
"Everywhere from North Carolina to Massachusetts remains in the cone of uncertainty," said Jeras. "Worst case scenario, we could be looking at two landfalls, or we could be lucky and get a brush instead of a direct hit...

Even if Irene doesn't make landfall in the United States, it may very well bring flooding rains, damaging winds and power outages to the Northeast. Planning is critical and everyone needs to be ready with a disaster plan and a safety kit."

You should not assume that because you are inland, you won't have power outages or flooding - a number of hurricanes in the last two decades have caused significant inland damage as well.

Let's not see the disasters in New Orleans, Galveston and Houston of the last few years repeated in the East - preparedness can't save everyone from everything, but it can make a huge difference. Have evacuation capacity ready and be prepared to shelter in place. Be ready to reach out and help others - particularly those who are most vulnerable. Have food, water, medical and emergency supplies on hand - all those basics that are just common sense.

We don't always get a heads up like this about a potential threat - so many come unexpected upon us. When we do, it behooves us to remember that there's a lot we can do to keep safe, secure and be ready - and that lives depend on us taking action. The actions are simple, and easily become part of our basic routine - just like keeping school records or feeding the pets. But now is the time - whether you live in Irene's path or not, to make sure your preps are ready - so that you don't have to ask for help unless you really need it, so you can help others, so you can make sure that resources go to the most vulnerable.

Not sure what the basics are - here's a list:

Despite the fact that FEMA has *said* that in a crisis it may not be able to reach people immediately, despite the fact that an awful lot of Americans had extended outages last year, most Americans are woefully underprepared for an extended power outage or emergency. My hope is that you will not be among them. So let's go over the basics of getting ready.

1. Consider your water situation. The most serious problems caused by power outages are water related. If you are on a well and rely on electricity to pump water, or if the storm involves heavy rains or flooding and water contamination, you can expect to be without water. Everyone needs water, and you will be extremely unhappy without it, so use some common sense and get some. At a minimum, get some old soda bottles, clean them, and fill them with water when you know a storm is approaching. You can get larger containers as well. You can also drink the water from your hot water heater.

If you know that you may lose power, it only makes sense to fill the bathtub (if your tub holds water), buckets and pots so you've got plenty.

Stored water or treated water may not taste great - and keeping hydrated and warm is important. A stock of tea, coffee, or cocoa, or some Hi-C or Tang can make the water palatable.

Having a way to filter and treat water can be really helpful, but this a larger investment. Bleach will do for some things, boiling for others, but if industrial contamination is involved, it may not work - so try and have plenty of water on hand, and a good camping filter (not a Brita) would be wise.

2. You either need a way to cook without power, or you need lots of food that doesn't need cooking. You can cook outside on a grill or camp stove, but that won't be too much fun in a snow or sleet storm. If it is warm, you can use a solar oven once the weather settles down, but that won't help in a cold climate. If you have a woodstove, you can cook on top of it. Otherwise, some cans of sterno or a rocket stove (small homemade stove that uses tiny bits of biomass) are a good idea.

Have a thermos or two around, so that once you heat something - water, food, oatmeal, etc.. it stays warm.

3. If it is cold, you will need a way to keep warm. Bring in wood, or hook up your fuel source. A source of heat that doesn't depend on electricity is a good idea, or plenty of blankets, pets on the bed and someone to cuddle with. If you have no heat source, you will particularly want that sterno or something that allows you to boil water, so that you can heat your insides with tea, cocoa or coffee. Wrap kids up well in multiple layers, and sleep with them, or put them together. Babies should sleep up against you.

Remember, it is easier to heat yourself than it is to heat the room - you can put a brick near the woodstove or heater, and then wrap it in cloth and put it in your bed or under your feet to keep warm. You can put a cat on your lap or a dog next to you, or snuggle up to a honey. You can move close to the stove.

If it is hot, find ways to keep cool - sleep outside if it is safe to do so (obviously not during a storm), keep plenty hydrated, seek shade or water, put your feet in a bucket of cool water or wet a bandana and put it on your neck. Nurse babies often and make sure young children and the elderly drink and find shade.

4. Check out your lighting situation. Can you find your flashlight? Do you actually have batteries? Do you have oil and wicks for your oil lamps? If you have solar lights outside, you may be able to bring them inside during the evening. If you have notice, pick up extra batteries, and check your flashlight's condition.

If your kids panic in the dark, make sure you have a flashlight for them and spare batteries, lightsticks, or a nightlight with batteries. This is also good if you are prone to tripping over stuff.

5. All this burnable stuff - wood heat, propane heat, candles, oil lamps used by folks who don't use them every day ups your fire risk considerably. Check your smoke detector batteries and make sure you know how to use your fire extinguisher. Don't leave open flames around children or pets - supervise them carefully.

6. Have a plan for hygeine. You can fill the tub to flush the toilet - remember, you get one freebie from what's in the tank. It goes without saying that you should flush infrequently. Remember, the water you use for flushing doesn't have to be clean - you can use your dishwater after washing dishes.

If you know you are likely to lose power, do dishes and laundry, so that they don't pile up. If you use cloth diapers, consider picking up some disposables for the emergency if you are likely to be waterless.

Wash hands frequently, or use alcohol based hand sanitizer if you don't have enough water to wash.

If you can't flush, either put a garbage bag in the toilet and change it regularly, or set up humanure composting - find a place away from water sources and human habitation and collect human manure mixed with dry leaves, sawdust, shredded newspaper or some other high-carbon material. If you are in an urban area, you will probably want to set this up at the community level, and talk to your neighbors - remember, if they get sick, you probably will too.

A reserve of toilet paper is worth a lot in a crisis.

7. Make sure you know how to use tools safety, and that you are careful when doing unaccustomed labor. Every year some people kill themselves using chainsaws for the first time, or give themselves a heart attack shovelling snow. If you are going to be doing more exertion than normal, and you can take asprin, you might want to take one. Otherwise, just take breaks and stop before you are totally exhausted. Wear appropriate clothing to the weather and the job you are doing. Stop if you get tired - that's when you make mistakes.

Fill your gas tank before the storm - gas may be unavailable if the power outage is widespread. Fill an extra gas container as well - you may need it, particularly if you have to evacuate - remember evacuations for Hurricane Rita, where many people ran out of gas?

Also make sure before the storm that you know how to shut off your natural gas.

8. Have some food. If you have ever read this blog before, you should already have a reserve of food. If you haven't, go get one. The reality is that people are often stuck in their homes without food for days or even weeks - it happens *all the time* and IMHO, there's nothing wrong with taking help if you really need it, but it is a good deed to try not to need it, and to get out of the way so that the people who really can't help themselves get help.

If your food is in the freezer, eat it in this order. First, eat what's in the fridge, if you can't find a cold but non-freezing spot outside (remember, you may have natural refrigeration in the winter). Then eat what's in the freezer - but in the meantime, open it infrequently and cover it with heavy blankets to keep it as cold as possible. Food will last longer if your freezer is full, so you can freeze jugs of water, which you can then drink or use for washing. If you have a cookstove or grill, you can pressure can meat and other foods in the freezer, and if it is freezing outside, you can put food outside (if you have bears or roaming dogs, do what you need to to protect it). Otherwise, invite the neighbors in for dinner.

If you have to shop, don't waste money on bottled water - put water from the tap in empties. Instead, buy food that can be eaten quickly and simply with minimal preparation, and the ingredients for some comfort meals - stressed out people like familiar foods. Don't forget snacks - now is not the time to start anyone's diet or worry that the kids got a cookie.

If you've been reading me, you probably already have a supply of needed medications, but if you don't, get prescriptions filled before the storm. Make sure you have basic stuff like bandaids and painkillers and a first aid kit. If you have a medically fragile person in your home, notify your police or fire department and your local utility company, so that they will put you on the priority list or check on you. If you know about medically fragile people in your community, check in on them.

9. Be prepared to take in refugees - people who get trapped away from home, people who have no heat or food or water, or those who have to evacuate other areas. If you can put aside a little extra for them, great. If not, even a little companionship, shared body heat and a cup of tea are worth a lot in a crisis. Get out extra bedding and some easy to cook food for busy houses.

11. Have an evacuation plan, and get packed - everyone gets a bag with medications, a change of clothes, pjs, a book and beloved toy or comfort item, and a bit of food and water. If you have to go to a shelter or go to a family member, this gives you some leeway. Keep an eye on communications and go as soon as an evacuation order is issued. Buy local maps and plan a route, and make communications plans - ie, "I'll call you on your cell and you stop and pick David up at school on the way home as soon as I hear the order..." Make sure you have a crank radio or other good source of information available even if the power is out.

11. Stay together, and have meet-up and communication plans when you are not. Remember, cell communications can go down, so figure out one or two places for everyone to call in. Make sure the kids no what to do in an emergency, and that everyone knows where to meet up if you get separated. Encourage extended family or friends in danger zones to come to you early - so they don't get trapped in evacuation traffic. Don't let anyone go off alone, even on rescue missions or to help in a crisis - buddy system, buddy system, buddy system. Talk to your neighbors about this ahead of time, and make plans for getting organized and working together.

12. Try to relax and enjoy yourself. Sure, it may be a pain, but it is also an adventure. Everyone will be a lot less freaked out if you make it as fun as possible - eat all the ice cream before it melts, play board games, sing, make jokes about the peanut butter sandwiches. Don't panic - just be sensible and keep safe. human beings survived without electricity for a long time. You'll most likely be fine.

This is the short version - the longer and better version of this comes in Kathy Harrison's wonderful book _Just in Case_ - where she discusses all kinds of readiness in warm and reassuring and helpful terms.

Have a safe storm, everyone!


More like this

We're just about at the one year anniversary of the Northeastern power outage that had many people out this way out for a week or two last year, and what's the forecast up at our place? Snow, followed by sleet and icy rain and more ice. This seems like a recipe for trouble. Being of a vaguely…
The most important thing about the power outages in the mid-Atlantic is that no one expected them to be this bad, so no one was ready.  The storms on Friday were stronger than expected, so no one, including the power company, was prepared.  That meant that for 3 million homes, the loss of…
We live in a very strange society in many ways. Think about how weird it is that almost any kind of personal preparation for the future that doesn't involve putting money in the stock market is viewed as survivalism, and as the territory of crazy people with guns. How strange is it that the…
Note: A cold, wet day in November seems like as good a day as any to talk about owning a wood cookstove, re-running a piece I first wrote in 2007. When people come to my house, they are often a little disappointed to see that it looks pretty much like other houses. But the wood cookstove really…

Good lists. I lived through several hurricanes as a kid, and well remember my mother filling all the bathtubs before it hit.

Hey, you could stage an Apocalypse Challenge! Just go ahead an pretend the zombies are on their way; ready or not; here we go.

Good list.

One thing to remember about disaster prep communications is that text messaging usually works well when cell phone lines are overloaded or even down. And if your phone supports email, that is often also available when cell lines are down. (Plus it uses less battery life.)

In the wake of the April tornados in the southeast, most land line phone service was down as well as power, and even water in some places. Cell phones were about the only thing working to stay in touch -- and many cell towers were knocked out but the grid was redundant enough to support some level of service most places.

Glad you reminded people that hurricanes can cause a lot of havoc inland, even after they get downgraded to tropical depressions. Agnes in 1972 flooded Harrisburg, PA and caused several deaths. Everyone remembers Ike smashed Galveston in 2008, but how many people remember that both St. Louis and Cincinnati got flooding rains and deaths from Ike too?

For sewage it is a big step in the right direction to separate urine from feces. Urine can be diluted and poured out to water vegetation. Spread it around to avoid nitrogen overload and smells.

Feces can be deposit on a bed of carbon-rich compost. Dry leaves, hay, sawdust, even shredded newspaper work well but because it is dry, stores indefinitely, and is easy to use and highly absorbent I like peat moss. It is a bit pricy but a compressed cube in plastic lasts a long time.

I use a five gallon bucket, lay a bed of a couple of inches in the bottom and lightly cover any deposits with peat to keep the smell down. Do NOT put the lid on as this causes the feces to rot in the wrong way and produces the worse smell imaginable when you reopen the lid. Separating urine, covering with peat and leaving the lid off limits moisture and allows what little there is an feces to evaporate. Done right the smell isn't bad. Most times you have to get your nose down into the bucket to smell much. Even then it is mostly the earthy smell of compost.

You can line the bucket but if you aim well and keep deposits in the center of the bucket the bucket stays clean enough. If you have kids or difficulty aiming a liner makes cleaning the bucket easier. Lining the sides and bottom with newspaper keeps the bucket clean and it is free and compostable. A plastic bag will also work but if it leaks anything trapped between the plastic bag and bucket will, kept wet and lacking oxygen, smell very bad.

Art - thanks for this very specific and informative primer. It's not the kind of thing I would think of, but it is good to know how to compost solids.

Sharon, my earthquake reporter has a 2.2 quake on Aug 23; just about centered on you. "10:35 GMT"; however that translates into EST. Did anybody there feel it? In all ensuing quake excitement, I'm startled it isn't being featured on CNN, and whatnot.

You're just so competitive. I got a tornado; so YOU have to have a hurricane, AND and earthquake. Hmpf. :-)

Sterno is not a viable cooking fuel. I tried it out on a cross-country camping trip and I found that it doesn't generate enough heat to cook or boil water unless conditions are perfect (no wind and a warm ambient temperature) and even then it takes a long time to get things hot. A Coleman stove or a quality backpacking stove is what people should get, and they should learn to use it before they are in an emergency situation. And when you cook, cutting things into smaller pieces will help them cook faster so you use less fuel.

And people need to know that cooking stoves, ovens, generators and fuel-burning heat sources all generate carbon monoxide which is a toxic gas. When people use those devices they need to make sure that they have some window open so the carbon monoxide doesn't kill them.

If the power is out, when it gets dark glow sticks are a safe source of light. They aren't bright enough to read by, but they will keep you from running into the furniture. And they last all night. It's best to get the kind sold at camping stores because they are brighter than the ones from the dollar store or the party store. Also, a good energy-saving solution is to sleep when it's dark and be awake when it's light. That way you don't waste energy lighting up the night.

Freeze some water in a pot or a pan to make some blocks of ice. This will help keep your freezer cold and/or you can put them in the cooler to keep your food cold.

When I shop for a storm, I like to buy some fruits and vegetables that keep well without refrigeration or that take some time to ripen. I get things like mangoes, oranges, acorn squash, potatoes and onions.

Thanks for the list -- we have access to a gas stove, but I think I'll heat up some water and put it in thermoses anyway -- a nice convenience for tea, etc., when many other "conveniences" are unavailable. Actually, when I remember to, I put leftover water from morning tea into a thermos in case I want another cuppa later in the day, but for the hurricane, more than one thermos would be good.

And note to myself -- refresh my memory on which way to turn the knob on the oil lamps -- good to know if you need to use it in the middle of the night. I also have candles set up though, so I _can_ always get one of those to use, and see which way to turn the knob :D Dropping the wick into the base is a pain.

By Heather G (not verified) on 25 Aug 2011 #permalink

Ca Dozo - Sterno isn't ideal, but it has several benefits. 1. you can use it in a house, important if there's a big storm outside and 2. it is available in grocery stores. Sure, I advocate better equipment, but if you are just getting started today, Sterno will give you warm soup and hot tea. And yes, I forgot to mention thatyou can't use the other stuff in the house.

Art, that's exactly right - this is a primer, for people who haven't thought about this stuff, but I'd always prefer composting human waste over throwing it in a landfill.


I am so glad I started reading your blog about 6 months ago! I feel so prepared! I have a week's worth of water for my family of four stored, as well as food, propane for my grill, a full gas tank plus a gas can full, candles, oil lamps, and battery operated light sabers (lol we sell them on eBay)...the first bands are beginning to hit us now. I was able to spend the day making sure our inventory is all off the floor and sandbagging the bay doors at our warehouse. I didn't have to go to the store, either! Thank you so much!

Set up a notification system using someone outside the affected area as the hub. Calls LEAVING a disaster area are more likely to get through than calls trying to enter it.

EXAMPLE: Use Aunt Susan in Boise ... you call her and she lets you know who has and has not checked in.

As QUICKLY as possible, register with an "I'm OK" website so your friends and family don't spend a couple of weeks looking for you.

To store lots of water, put a heavy-duty trash bag in a box or trash can or just lay it on the floor, fill it with potable water, and twist the top shut.

You can't move the unsupported bags, but you can scoop or siphon water out of them.

By Tsu Dho Nimh (not verified) on 26 Aug 2011 #permalink

Ok, I'm making my play for being known as a great Prophet. Irene is going to be a fizzle. I'm pontifignosticating. :-)

It's been losing energy steadily since the Bahamas; the upper end predictions of it hitting Category 4 didn't turn out- yesterday at this time they were predicting it would still be a Cat 3 right now, making landfall in North Carolina; but- it's a puny Cat 1. Hurricane cells lose force when they hit land. Current official predictions are it will still be Cat 1 as it runs over New York City; but I'll betcha it will only be a middling tropical storm by then; peak sustained winds below 60 mph.

Sure, it'll make messes and do damage. But; the real damage will be- all those folks required to evacuate; and all the folks who desperately ran out to buy a generator so their ice cream wouldn't melt; will be pissed off, big time. And, so, next time- of course there will be a next time- everybody, Mayors included, will drag their feet about evacuating, since the weather folks "cried wolf" this time- and that time; the hurricane WON'T fizzle- it'll be a bigger disaster. Much bigger.

The press is pretty predictable- already there are tons of stories about the hurricane that "didn't happen" - and interviews with the primate on the streets who is now more scornful of the "authorities" than before the storm.

My guess here though, is that there are areas we're not really hearing much from yet- like the entire state of Vermont, apparently - that really got very badly hurt by the rain; devastated. Sharon- you're close enough to the bad flooding for us to be worried about you out here. Particularly since you've got that spot on your farm that's usually too wet- hope you made it through ok.

Yes, Sharon, I'm with Greenpa - I notice the town that "washed away" is just down from the Schoharie Reservoir so in your backyard... Keeping fingers crossed for you and your community...

By Christina (not verified) on 29 Aug 2011 #permalink

Does anybody have news of Sharon and family? How did they make it through the storm? I presume she hasn't blogged because her power is down. If anybody hears from her, please let us know. Worried about them seeing all the bad news about Schoharie County...

By Rod Dreher (not verified) on 30 Aug 2011 #permalink

She just posted on Facebook that they are mostly dry and power is back on. I'm sure she'll be doing a blog update soon.

Hi, with all due respect to this good post, helpful as it was in its time, I just don't get this continued popularity. In my sidebar here, month after month, I keep seeing:

The Latest Readers' Picks

1. Planning for Irene : Casaubon's Book

etc. Congrats on principle, but it's weird ... any clues? tx, best wishes.

Hi, with all due respect to this good post, helpful as it was in its time, I just don't get this continued popularity. In my sidebar here, month after month, I keep seeing:

The Latest Readers' Picks

1. Planning for Irene : Casaubon's Book