It’s hurricane season, and 2017 has been a killer. Whether you’re facing turmoil, what should you keep in your garage to make sure you’re prepared?
Survival courses, including those led by former SERE instructors (like the brilliant course at Mountain Shepherd) teach the seven survival priorities: Positive Mental Attitude, First Aid, Shelter, Fire, Signaling, Water, and Food.
Preparedness starts in the garage
Positive mental attitude is enhanced with knowledge of what’s going on around you. Be sure you have the tools needed to stay comfortable and entertained. This means not just having a TV or radio to hear the latest on your situation. Also, keep books, magazines, games, and coloring books stored in a waterproof place in your garage. Many times, local TV or internet service may go out, but a small handheld radio can keep you informed. In emergencies, many radio stations will simultaneous broadcast information from local TV news outlets (sometimes called ‘simulcasting’).
If you have kids, the positive mental attitude comes from being able to shift their focus from the scary storm. Try to portray the experience into a special stay at home camping trip. Be sure to stock up on special treats and games to keep them entertained.
First aid means more than having basic items like Band-Aids. Store medicine for pain, headaches, burns and rashes, and stomach upset. Also, keep a deep supply of medications you need on a regular basis. Ask your doctor for an extra week or two supply ahead of an emergency. And, be sure to rotate your garage stockpile before it expires. First aid is also preventative: keep heavy boots, gloves and rain gear to avoid injuries after the storm.
Shelter and Fire
Shelter means your home in this case, so batten down the hatches! Reinforce windows if possible with plywood, and clear all debris near your home. Bring in lawn furniture and trash cans, and take down dead tree limbs near the home. Bring in all lawn ornaments and moveable plants as these things can become missiles in heavy winds. Check drainage as well, and make sure gutters are cleared. Confirm that existing ways to keep water away from and out of your house are in the best possible condition.
Home improvement stores sell painter’s tarps which are huge pieces of plastic laid inside to keep floors clean. These are incredibly useful in the event of a roof leak during the storm.
Evacuation considerations and the use of fire
If you need to evacuate, follow all instructions from local first responders and law enforcement. Learn ahead of time where the closest evacuation point is, share it with your family. Make sure you know a couple routes to get there, and that you can bring your pets. After Katrina, many shelters have added a capability to allow people to bring their pets, but be sure to check!
Fire in this instance is all about being able to purify water and prepare food. Make sure you have enough charcoal or gas to use your barbecue for a week or more. A small camping stove will let you boil water for purification and food. In the event of a storm during the colder months, fire could be used for heating as well. And, if you use a stove or barbecue, be sure to keep it outside because the fumes could be dangerous!
Signaling can be used primarily as your cell phone. Make sure you have several ways to keep your phone charged. External batteries must be charged ahead of time. And, keep solar powered chargers and batteries in the garage. While you may not have a standalone gas generator, you likely have a car. So, make sure you have a full tank and USB adapters so you can use it for charging.
We’ve seen that when major storms come, cell phone service gets knocked out. A week after Hurricane Harvey had left the Houston area, over 170,000 people were still without cell service. A small handheld ham radio can keep you in touch with neighbors. A handheld can keep you in the know since many can monitor NOAA weather channels. Be sure to have plenty of backup power for your radio, too. This usually means AAA batteries or a solar charger to keep your radio running.
An HF radio will keep you in touch with people outside of the immediate storm area. And, HF can help you communicate messages to loved ones through people who still have working infrastructure. Keep that radio powered with an external power supply like a UPS or external battery pack.
Water and food
Water is more crucial than food – and there are several ways to ensure you’re stocked up. A normally active person uses at least half a gallon per day. You’ll want another half-gallon for basic sanitation (like flushing toilets, washing hands, and cleaning dishes). In addition to jugs and cases of water from the store, consider something like the WaterBob. This lets you fill your bathtub ahead of the storm, and use that water for the long term. The average 100 gallons of water in your tub can last 4 people for over two weeks.
Don’t forget ice! Make sure your ice maker is full, and fill any empty space in your freezer with ice. Your fridge and freezer will hold the cold longer after a power outage if they are full. That’s because air doesn’t retain cold as well as water or food. So, stock them up, even if it’s simply with water and ice cubes.
Food is obviously a human need, but people can go weeks without food. That said, doing so is no fun, so be sure to have food stocked up in the garage. It may seem smart at the time to have 100 identical meals. But, you and your family will quickly hate the same meal after a few days. Keep some snacks and a variety of meals, whether freeze-dried, or low maintenance. Canned goods, dry soup, peanut butter and crackers are always handy to have on hand. Look at foods you and your family already eat, and just stock up on extra portions. FEMA has this handy brochure outlining water and food requirements to expect in a disaster.
What else to keep stocked
I live in central Florida during the 2004 hurricane season, and learned what to keep in your garage. The first unique thing is a few boxes of heavy duty lawn and leaf bags. They help to store valuable items you want to keep dry. For valuable stuff, double bag it, then put it in the dishwasher or clothes dryer. These machines are designed with water tight seals and provide extra protection. After the storm, you can use them to start collecting debris from inside and outside.
Get CASH. When stores start to reopen, they may not be able to take credit and debit cards. Cash is king, so keep a stockpile of bills. And, don’t keep anything larger than a $20 – this isn’t the time to be asking for change.
Tools are a huge help. If you have a chainsaw in the garage, that will be a huge help. Know how to turn off the utilities to your home, and that you have the tools required. If you turn off the gas remember you need someone from the utility to turn it back on for you.