Now that life is returning to "normal" for many of us here in southeast Florida, I wanted to organize my post-hurricane thoughts and attempt to address some storm-specific issues, both for my own benefit and (hopefully) to help anyone else living in areas threatened by the occasional typhoon, cyclone, hurricane, or whatever you call them in your hemisphere.

Obviously, a lot of what I've been thinking about lately is just general preparedness, disaster relief, et cetera, so I'll try to limit my rambling observations to Irma-related items, and add relevant comments to existing forum topics. I hope others with different experiences and perspectives will add to this post-hurricane discussion so that we can all better respond to the next major storm. And there will be a next major storm.

One of the things that sets hurricanes apart from other natural disasters is that we usually get plenty of advance warning before they hit. That gives people time to put up storm shutters and prepare for the event and the aftermath. It also gives people time to totally freak out on a massive scale. After seeing images coming out of post-hurricane Houston, Floridians seemed more concerned than they've been about other storm warnings in recent years. In the days leading up to Irma's arrival, reactions seemed to be evenly split between Panic and Denial (usually it's Denial and Annoyance).

As I mentioned in another discussion thread, I went through Hurricane Andrew, and that experience changed the way I react to potential storms. Before we were even in the official Irma forecast cone, I was checking my shutter hardware and buying fresh batteries. While many of my neighbors were at the beach enjoying a three day weekend, I was filling up our vehicles and spare fuel cans. By Tuesday morning, gas lines were starting to appear in Broward. By Thursday, long lines of frustrated motorists surrounded the few stations that still had some fuel. I don't remember seeing so many people deciding to gas up and get out of town before.

I was surprised by the public response, and if I had waited to gas up, I would've lost valuable preparation time waiting in lines. Or I might not have been able to get as much fuel as I wanted. Either way, avoiding unnecessary pre-storm stress was helpful. Lesson learned: stay informed and act early.

As for staying informed, this is the first hurricane season that I've relied on Twitter for storm updates. Despite my general dislike of the platform, I've managed to find some valuable sources of information - and I've also managed to avoid getting sucked into time-wasting, energy-sucking political arguments. In addition to following the National Hurricane Center, I subscribe to individual tropical weather nerds and surf forecasters, as well as various local government agencies, politicians, and reporters. Together, they provide a wealth of useful intelligence not available via generic weather forecasts, attention-seeking "storm chasers," or emergency broadcasts.

Even though we didn't get the direct hit that had been predicted, Irma really beat up our neighborhood. We lost electrical power and all phone service (landline and cellular) during the storm itself, and the street in front of our home was completely blocked by fallen trees and branches. Fortunately, our house didn't suffer any structural damage, but some neighbors weren't so lucky:


They had put up storm shutters (and perhaps did everything else possible to prepare), but now their house is wrecked. We experienced a relatively mild impact from Irma (winds were less than 100 mph here) in southeast Broward county, so seeing that tree knocked over was a bit of a shock.

We were also fortunate with our vehicles. We don't have a garage, or even a carport, which means our Land Rovers are vulnerable to wind, rain, and everything else. While some people took their cars to long-term parking at the airport, that seemed like it would be taking up space for airline passengers who were actually trying to evacuate. Instead, we took advantage of our city's public garage in downtown (as did a local car dealership, which eventually resulted in civil penalties and criminal charges after the resulting social media storm). I'm not sure if our city leaders will continue to offer free garage space to residents when the next major storm warning is issued, but at least it worked this time. Given the fact that Irma veered away from us, my wife and I felt okay (but not great) about parking one of our trucks immediately adjacent to the house during the storm, on the protected (downwind) side, so we'd have it available as soon as the winds died down. I would've preferred to have had it in a garage, protected by a reinforced door, but that's not currently an option.

Irma also caused our city to issue a boil water order. Before the storm, I filled up the containers we had on hand, and went to our storage unit to retrieve more. Surprise! Our local public storage facility decided to cease operations at noon on Thursday. Major planning failure on my part. We were okay with what we had, but if it had taken the city longer to effect repairs, I would've been a lot less comfortable with our supply situation. Another lesson: if you're going to need it (or just want it), keep it on you or on your own property.

The boil water order, by the way, was largely ignored by our neighbors, who either didn't get the message (because they weren't getting emails or text messages and they don't listen to AM radio) or chose to dismiss it because it was inconvenient. Also, people who don't know how to start a camp fire find it difficult to boil water without a functioning electric stove or microwave oven. And “stocking up” on bottled water seems to be generally interpreted as buying a sixpack of smartwater at Publix, which doesn't last very long when you have a thirsty family. I'm not going to let my neighbor's kids suffer because their parents suck at hurricane preparation, however, so unless things get really Mad Max after a storm, I'll have enough to share (or to build strategic alliances in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, which is a separate discussion).

The city also enacted a post-hurricane curfew, which – like the boil water order – was ignored by a lot of people. But it did seem to discourage some folks from driving around in the dark and running into storm debris and downed trees, so that was helpful. It also caused the neighbors take a dim view of any strangers wandering outside after 2200.

If the moderators are okay with this, I'll continue with my hurricane-related ruminations later this evening.




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Original Post

DJOHN covers many important points as have others in the main thread. We expect LF members to get ready earlier than the average Floridian. If you filled up your vehicles, had spare fuel, water and ice you were ahead of the game. Batteries are always available early in the season and FL has sales tax free days on some preparation items before hurricane season.

As well prepared as we like to be, there is some element of luck and good fortune involved. My two nightmare scenarios are a direct hit on Metro-Dade or on Pinellas County ( Clearwater-St Petersburg).  Both are low lying areas with many unprepared people and difficult transportation systems.  Andrew passed well south of Miami which saved many lives.  Homestead was basically destroyed .

I live two counties north of DJOHN and in the 2004/2005 hurricane craziness, there was a strict 8 PM curfew that was actively enforced.  Unless you had a Red Cross or official ID,  a person out after 8 went right to the county lockup.  This might not be possible in Broward County, but it was in Martin.  We had two Cat 3 eyes cross in virtually the same spot, something that I believe is unprecedented in US history.

Whatever preparations or plan you decide upon, do it early.  For Matthew in 2016, we lost power hours before the storm got even close.  If you did not have your preparations done, you lost. Matthew passed south Florida with only mild damage, but it hit South and North Carolina pretty hard.

Sometimes, it is dumb luck that one area gets destroyed while another area is safe.  Tornado activity is very high around hurricanes, and if you get hit with one all your preparations are for naught.  I lived in Kansas for 10 years and I think much of the damage that you see in photos of Irma was caused by tornados and wind shear events.




My Port St. Lucie friend had a plan.  A friend in Alabama to go to.  Full tank of gas in her Honda Pilot and another 5 gallon can in the back.  Food, water, gun (which made her one of the family in Alabama!), paper maps and a route which didn't depend on the interstates.  Prior to heading back home, she checked the Florida DOT website for blockages, gas stations, etc.  She had a generator in her garage in case it was needed.  Her house is 20' above sea level, something that was part of her planning when she was looking at houses.  As a result of planning, and luck where Irma went, she had no damage, no flooding and power.  What she could plan and prepare for, she did.

punctum posted:

Excellent start to the thread.  

Re: building relationships post disaster.  That is indeed worth a thread on its own.

Not to mention establishing said relationships beforehand.

There is a book titled 'Emergency' by Strauss;keywords=Emergency

One of the lines in the book was an instructor telling his class to find out who the tradies (carpenters, gas fitters, builders etc) are in their neighbourhood & become friends with them....thus you have have an inside track on priorities come any widespread reconstruction.

The book it's self is an odd mixture of meh (fearing Bush, offshore citizenship...) and fascinating: an apparent US Liberal who decides after 9/11-Katrina it is going to be up to him to save his arse...and how set sets about to learn this. The conclusion was not what I expected.

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I was surprised at this storm preparations as well. I topped my cans off and got some new plywood for shutters and was done by Monday morning a week before the storm. Then I inventoried other critical supplies, and bought accordingly Tuesday I  rehearsed power generation with the family, hung shutters, and conducted another lay out of supplies then resupplied. Wednesday I watched the panic begin, my wife even got sucked up into the panic but the inventories and the rehearsals I conducted with her helped. She new there was a plan and the plan can work. Friday I went into the hospital and stayed till after the storm passed Monday afternoon.

Having a solid plan that is known and can be followed helps. I only got in a gas line once and that was because I was out and about after the storm hit, and needed gas and did not want to use my reserve.

We will be conducting after actions, inventory and resupply next week.

Another consequence of the public storage unit closing prematurely (and my assuming that I'd have access to any items I had cached there) was that I was unable to retrieve some dog crates that I had planned to use for our cats. Instead, we simply had to rely on the smaller pet carriers we always keep at home, but it would've been better to have the larger cages on hand. We live in an older house (circa 1926), which definitely predates the post-Andrew building codes, so I worry about structural failures during a major hurricane or a tornado; having our pets contained seems like a good idea in the event that we lose a window - or worse.

You might've seen news stories about people evacuating prior to Irma and leaving their pets behind. Dogs were left chained to trees in some instances. If you have pets, please make a plan that includes them, and whatever water, food, litter, or medicine they'll need.

On a related note, figure out how to clean up after your pets - even during the storm. Irma was predicted to be a slow-moving hurricane, which would have meant dangerously high winds for 12+ hours in some areas. I didn't want to ride out that kind of storm smelling nervous cat vomit (or anything else), so I bought a shiny new metal garbage can (plus extra gloves, paper towels, and garbage bags) specifically for waste disposal. It proved to be a great investment. Especially after the lights and air conditioning went out. A large ammo can would've worked, too, but I prefer to use my large ammo cans for storing large amounts of ammo.

After Irma, when all of the surrounding streets were blacked out, and we had no phone service (landline or cell), I realized that as much as I love our cats, they're not as useful as a single guard dog in those circumstances. Luckily, most of our neighbors have large, vigilant, vocal dogs that serve as a canine security network for the entire block. Strangers do not walk down our street unnoticed, and they know that we know they're there. I really like having a neighborhood distant early warning system.

Unlike some other communities, we didn't have any local reports of looting or other criminal activity after the storm. I was mentally preparing for a post-Andrew scenario with widespread destruction, impassable roads, and no emergency services; I'm grateful that we had only one hurricane-related house fire in the area, and that the city fire department was able to contain it despite the hazardous weather conditions.

More tomorrow. This migraine is kicking my ass. 

Reading the responses so far, I'm definitely going to be better prepared for the next hurricane!

Two things I realized later would have been good to have.

More trash bags.  The heavy duty lawn and garden type.  So many uses.  I should keep a minimum of 50 around all the time.

I need a pair of water oriented boots, fast draining/drying that have nail resistant soles and maybe protected toes.  Lots of high water that can't be seen through, lots of debris in places.  Waders can be overly hot, wetsuit boots don't quite cut it for protection.  Anyone have any suggestions?

As a first repsonder we flew into Orlando the day before the hurricane.  Trying to find supplies was a challenge but we succeeded by thinking outside of the box.  Having been in a few Walgreens I knew they had some food and water stuff. Pulled into the first Walgreens.  It was busy but they had food and water. They had 2 pallets of water, Gatorade on the shelf and a variety of no cook no storage requirement food.

Curfew affected us too. Trying to find stuff as business were closing was difficult.

Rode the hurricane out in the hotel, no big issues there other than loss of power and some water damage.  Moved down to the Ft Myers area where we were colocated with FL Forest Service crews. They were providing food, water and ice to different distribution sites.  They commented that they were barely being used and shut most down after a few days.

Again curfew made things difficult for us because stores and restaurants were closed when we finished our shift.

Another item to prepare yourself for is driving during a power outage. Getting through some intersections was scary because people were not stopping at intersections with traffic lights that were out.  Was really bad during dark hours.   Also people didn't understand how to handle a 4 way stop. Didn't know when to go, were impatient and 5 or 6 people go etc.


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