Every hurricane season one of my friends invariably confesses to being completely unprepared for a disaster, even though they live in a vulnerable coastal area. This column is for them.
It was first published in 2011 as Hurricane Irene was bearing down on the New York City metro area and people were laughing it up and holding hurricane parties. A year later, no one was laughing after the tropical storm now commonly known as Hurricane Sandy hammered this woefully unprepared area with its diminished winds and storm surge.
I'm updating this column again today because Hurricane Matthew is bearing down on the East Coast and appears to mean business. Most of you are not prepared. As always.
Read this column if you want to know what to expect from a major disaster, both before and after, and how best to brace for it.
I've covered 15 hurricanes in the field in my twenty-some years in the mainstream news media, and plenty of other floods and tornadoes.
I broke the iconic story of the worst natural disaster in U.S. history with my account of the first official body count inside St. Rita's Nursing Home in 2005, where Hurricane Katrina claimed 35 lives. I started out as an observer during the body count inside the dark and flooded facility, and wound up leading it as the locals recognized familiar faces in the bloated bodies.
Step 1: Getting Your Mind Right
Step No. 1 entails getting off your butt and understanding you won't be able to buy anything immediately before a devastating storm, or for days and possibly weeks afterward. That's why sensible people spend a few hours putting together an emergency kit ahead of time.
If you're accustomed to living in a very pampered society, like most people, try to understand that many of the things you take for granted are going to go away in the aftermath of a big storm. Like electricity, potable water, stores, clear roads, working phones and internet, and even 911.
Police and fire resources will be completely overwhelmed for a bit after a Katrina or Sandy. Meaning anywhere from a few day to several weeks.
There will not be an individual firefighter assigned to you. You won't be able to call 911 for help and get a timely response after landfall, and no one is going to come get you during the storm when you suddenly realize the hurricane party was a bad idea.
Likewise, hospitals will be overwhelmed. That means that if you're a senior citizen with health problems you can't bank on the idea of checking into a hospital or calling 911 for an ambulance when things get too rough.
The societal safety-net will not be functioning for a few days or weeks. It can take that long to restore power, repair traffic lights and power lines, and get gas stations and stores open again. You may not even be able to get out of the area on your own terms during this period.
The other dynamic you have to get your head around is that you are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.
Disasters are a numbers game. Most hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis will either miss you or peter out before they hit you.
That doesn't make the unprepared person more intelligent after a near miss. Any more than running through an active shooting range without getting shot makes you bulletproof.
Nothing makes me cringe so much as the idiots who appeared on television news broadcasts before Hurricane Irene in 2011 in New York City, bragging about their lack of preparation.
"I lived in Florida for 40 years without ever getting hit by a storm," explained one particularly special moron.
In my estimation, that simply means they're overdue. I just hope they remembered to call the same news show when their come-to-Jesus moment finally arrived with Sandy a year later and they didn't have an emergency kit.
The same educated idiot was probably one of the many New Yorkers screaming at the top of their lungs afterward about Hurricane Sandy being the worst storm in U.S. history.
Sandy wasn't even a hurricane when it made landfall south of the densely populated New York City metro area.
The city folks who live there just weren't prepared. Partly because of their regional prejudice against blue collar jobs and vocational skills.
The painful truth is that a fancy PhD or Masters Degree usually isn't much help after a hurricane. However, the skills and tools possessed by mechanics, carpenters, electricians, outdoorsmen, tow truck drivers, illegal immigrant day laborers, and construction workers are priceless.
If you know how to swap out a boat battery or run a generator properly you're going to be more valuable to your friends and relatives during this critical period than a brain surgeon. More so if you've prepared for the worst by laying in a proper emergency preparation kit.
My kit's not meant for the storms that miss. It's meant for the disastrous hurricane that hits your community head-on at full strength, which seems to happen about one out of every 10 times. It's not meant to reassure you and give you something to chat about with friends over a beer. It's meant to work when you need it.
I've got the the emergency kit down to a science. That allows my smartass friends and relatives to make fun of me right up until the day we actually get hit and they need to tap into my gear and expertise.
Then, to borrow a line from singer George Thorogood, "They get so nice. Lawd, they get lovey dovey."
Step No. 2: Power
I begin with portable power solutions. The first solution is a jumper pack like the Wagan 400 Power Dome (right). A device like this can be used to jump-start your vehicle and to fill the tires up with air, which makes it useful when there isn't an emergency, too.
The Wagan will run small appliances during an emergency, like fans and lights, and recharge cell phones. It costs about $100 and can be recharged from your car's power outlet.
It's a good idea to have a second, smaller inverter that you can use to convert any car battery into a power source. The ideal inverter for a novice is the 400 watt Powercup at left. It only costs about $15.
I use the Powercup to charge stuff up while I'm topping off the Wagan, which can take several hours. The best time to do this is when you're driving around in search of ice and gasoline after a storm.
In a pinch, you can give this smaller inverter to one of the smartasses who previously made fun of your disaster kit. I "loaned" out at least two small inverters and five flashlights during Hurricane Ike in 2008, which is essentially the same thing as giving them away.
Don't worry about getting them back, because you won't.
The third element in my portable power solution is a small solar charger like the old G24 Power Curve that can be used to recharge USB devices, like cell phones. These will continue to work even even after your car and generator are out of gasoline. They will run you about $30.
As you may have noticed, there's a bit of redundancy in my kit. The Wagan, Powercup and solar charger have some overlapping uses. That's intentional.
If money is no object you might consider purchasing a folding solar panel from Brunton, and pairing it with a charge monitor and Duracell Powerpack 600, which will run you a combined $450. Likewise, if you have the money and storage space you should buy a gasoline-powered generator for the home kit at a cost that starts at about $750.
Either way, you're also going to need at least one gas can, siphon, several long extension cords and power strips, and lots of duct tape.
You can forget about buying gas cans as a storm approaches, because they sell out very quickly. The best way to get gasoline after a big disaster is to rent a car at the airport, if any of the rental counters are still open.
I rented a different car on three consecutive mornings at Miami International Airport immediately after Hurricane Wilma, rather than wait four hours in line to buy 10 gallons of fuel. But I wasn't paying for it with my own money - my employer was covering those expenses.
So, if money is no option then this approach may be ideal for you.
A less costly option when there's no gasoline for sale is to siphon fuel into the gas can from the tanks of destroyed and abandoned vehicles. Don't even think about trying this with a vehicle that belongs to someone else if you value your health, even if it's been destroyed, because the owners won't try to understand your greed, immorality and stupidity.
They will hurt you, if they can.
While we're on the topic of power, make sure you print this article out before the power goes off. I tend to write long, which can be irritating when everything's fine and wonderful when it's not.
I can just about guarantee you'll read this whole thing after you lose power for a day or more. You're going to have a lot of time on your hands if it happens. So much so that once you finish this column you'll probably start in on the back of cereal boxes and toothpaste.
Step No. 3: Personal Safety
Violence and thievery are more extreme when people are frightened and the societal safety-net is in tatters. There are more people with firearms than you may realize. They're quicker to use them after a disaster when the unprepared and ruthless begin stealing generators, gas cans and fuel.
Speaking of violence, I don't incorporate firearms into my kit. This is partly because of the difficulties associated with carrying one into a disaster area by commercial air and partly because media employers forbid it. They'd rather hire a security professional to protect their people, for legal reasons.
I've never had any security problems while covering a hurricane, even when I was walking around downtown New Orleans in the dark with a open laptop searching for a decent cell signal during the Katrina mess. I've also seen enough suffering to know that I really don't want to kill another human being, which is why I don't have a handgun or shotgun at home.
I'm not saying it's the right way, I'm just saying it's my way.
I love to fish and enjoy bird-hunting, but blasting chunks of meat off my own countrymen is not the kind of memory I need rattling around inside my head for the rest of my life.
As a non-journalist you probably should have a firearm if you already know how to use and maintain one. Otherwise, don't bother. An unfamiliar firearm in novice hands is more likely to cause problems than solve them.
Everyone should have a pocketknife and crowbar for general use, which can be used defensively in a pinch, and a can of pepper spray for aggressive stray dogs.
Tape your windows and/or board them up. Also, make sure you bring in any outdoor furniture and other items that could be transformed into projectiles by strong winds. If you have a pool, you can just toss the outdoor furniture in there for safekeeping.
It's probably the safest place they could be.
Finally, if you don't know how to change a tire or patch a leak in one you should learn how quick, fast and in a hurry before the Internet cuts out. You can buy a cheap patch kit for less than $40. It's a super skill to have and not a hard one to master.
Even for a brain surgeon who has never turned a screwdriver because their hands are "magic."
Step No 4: Illumination
I favor simple lighting solutions utilizing solar power and lithium batteries, because they're small and light. The primary lighting element in my portable kit is a Wagan Solar Lantern, whichs costs about $45. I also lean heavily on baseball caps with an LED light in the brim (below) and headlamps, which I prefer to standard flashlights.
The reason is simple and crude. It's much easier to relieve yourself in the dark when both hands are free. A headlamp, or baseball cap with an LED light in the brim, makes that possible. They're about $15 each.
I prefer a lot of little lights to one or two big lights.
First, because it's amazing how bright even the smallest light is when you're in complete darkness. And second, because I enjoy having a lot of little lights to share with the people who used to made fun of my hurricane kit.
I've replaced the six zipper pulls on my backpack with small lights and compasses. I usually have two of three pocket-sized lights on my vest, too. Plenty of extra batteries too.
Step No. 5: Navigation
Navigation is always problematic after a disaster because hurricane and tornado winds beat the hell out of street signs and cell towers.
Yeah, I know. Your iPhone has GPS and map apps galore. Let's just assume for a second that the cell towers are all down, or your device is out of juice or broken. Now what are you going to do?
I carry a satellite GPS and a couple small compasses as backups. Another compass is also built into the dash of my vehicle, along with a temperature gauge and an inclinometer.
The inclinometer is pretty useless because you're already hanging forward in the seatbelts by the time it starts to register anything. The temperature gauge isn't much better, but it does give you something neat to point at and say "see, I told you it was friggin hot."
The compass is the real prize because some people may not be able to give you a specific address after a disaster, like emergency responders who are new to the area. They're more likely to rely on compass headings for general directions, as in head north until you see the abandoned Wal-Mart tractor trailer in the middle of the road.
You're also going to want a map of your area. Meaning an old school, hard copy, paper map.
Step No. 6: Keeping Cool
Officially, the U.S. hurricane season starts June 1 and lasts through Nov. 30, but since warm water adds fuel to storms, the most severe typically occur in the summer. That means it's likely to be sweltering when the power fails and your AC and refrigerator shut off.
You're going to need a cooling solution. I rely on a battery-powered camp fan. It's often the difference between sleeping at night and tossing and turning in sweaty discomfort, and will only set you back about $10 or $15.
Summer heat is more bearable when you have air moving over your body, and you desperately need a good night's sleep when you're working your ass off each day. It only takes a small amount to do the trick.
You can use your car's air conditioning for emergency cool-downs whenever you feel like the heat is simply becoming too much. However, you shouldn't sleep in the car with the motor running, even if you can spare the gasoline, due to the risk of being sickened or killed by exhaust fumes.
Another way to stay cool is to hang a wet bandana around your neck. The evaporation process will cool you off.
Be careful about ingesting large amounts of heavy, heated food when there's no cold water or air conditioning. I ran into a little trouble during Katrina by gobbling down a can of raviolis that had been warmed in the trunk of my car by the Louisiana sun.
It was a bigger deal than you would think, at least to me, simply because it was so damn hot and because I'm not one of those people who can make themselves throw up by sticking a finger down their throat.
I hadn't slept more than four hours total in three days. It was at least 98 degrees in the shade and I was sitting on the hot pavement waiting for Vice President Dick Cheney to show up for a big press conference near one of the levee breaches.
If I'd become noticeably sick in front of the other reporters and photographers, I'm sure my employer would have sent me home. And if I had left the area to search for cold water and air conditioning my employer might have been beaten by the competition.
So I stayed, and pretended everything was just fine (I'm holding the pad on the far right of the pic at right).
Those damn raviolis sat in my belly like a heating pad until I was able to find some cold water.
All my water was lukewarm. So, I walked over to a nearby debris-removal site and discreetly explained my dilemma to the fellow working-class guy directing traffic there and asked for "help." He immediately came through for me with an ice cold water bottle and let me sit under an umbrella in his lawn chair for a few minutes until my belly cooled off.
The moral of that story is don't be shy about asking your fellow survivors for help when you run into trouble. The key word to use is "help."
Don't beat around the bush and don't ask for too much. In my experience, a prepared individual will often help another prepared individual. Whereas a lot of prepared people have no use for someone who is simply content to parasite off their fellow man.
Step No. 7: Communication
The best communications solution is a satellite phone, but they're out of most people's price range. So, you're more likely to use what you have everyday, a cell phone and a land-line.
Hurricanes and tornados play havoc with cell towers, making it difficult to hold signals long enough for a voice conversation. The answer is to rely instead on texting, which just takes a nano-second and demands much less bandwidth from damaged cell towers.
I used this technique successfully after getting lost in the mountains outside Taos Ski Village, in New Mexico, during a hike on Nov. 23, 2007. It worked like a charm, despite my being at an altitude of more than 12,000 feet.
Three hikers died on Oregon's Mount Hood just three weeks later at 9,000 feet because they used voice instead of texting. They got through when they called for help, but couldn't hold the cell signal more than a few seconds. That's not long enough to say much in a verbal conversation, but it's enough time to transmit a book via text message.
Another surprising solution is the land-line telephone. These old-style phones are more reliable than cells after a disaster because they run off wires and work even when the power is out.
Walkie-talkies are useful, too. They only work for line-of-sight, which means the users can't be too far apart, but they save a lot of time. The truckers' trusty CB radio also is helpful.
Step No. 8: Water
The next step in your kit is food and water. I don't carry water on the plane with me when I'm flying in to cover a storm due to weight restrictions. However, my home kit features several cases of water bottles, a large water cooler bottle, duct tape and several bags of ice.
I pour the ice in my large cooler with the bottles before the storm hits and duct tape it closed. When the power fails, I transfer the contents of my fridge into the cooler, too, and duct tape it closed again. The ice usually lasts two days.
I use a cooler like the one below, which can be purchased for about $50 at warehouse stores like Costco, BJ's and Sam's Club.
The large water bottle is not for drinking. It's so you have something you can use to carry and store non-potable water retrieved from a pool, puddle or pond. You're going to use this water to flush the toilet and clean stuff up after you exhaust the water in your tub.
A pail works just as well and is an easier way of transferring water to the toilet tank from the tub, but is not always readily available to me as a reporter.
Remove the top off the toilet cabinet and pour water into the tank until it lifts the float inside. You should be able to flush your toilet normally afterward.
If you don't see a float, just look for the water line on the inside of the tank and subtract a few inches. The idea is to use the miniumum amount of water necessary, unless you have a pool or a lake nearby.
Another approach is to fill the tank almost to overflowing and just lift the handle a little bit. This can get you two or even three flushes between refills.
Some toilets will also work if you just fill the bowl directly, which is easier than filling the tank.
You'll have to figure out what method works best for your toilet by trial and error. Trust me, once the power goes out you're going to have a lot of time on your hands for experimentation.
It's important to remember that you neither want to use potable water to flush the toilet nor for cleaning. It's far too valuable.
You should also purchase something called a survival straw that will allow you to safely drink non-potable water if you run out of drinking water. The straw should cost less than $20. Water purification tablets can be used for the same purpose.
Finally, you're going to want a case or two of canned mandarin oranges or fruit salad. They go in the cooler too and will really refresh you after a storm, because the cans contain both the fruit and the liquid it's packed in.
Step No. 9: Personal Hygiene
Personal hygiene is another area that should be addressed in your kit. It's very important to stay as clean as you can, both medically and psychologically.
Keeping yourself and your place as clean and organized as possible is one of the big differences between being someone who takes themselves seriously and wants to be taken seriously by others, and being a moron.
You don't need to grow a beard to prove you're a survivor or keep wearing the same clothes until you look like Charlie Sheen in the film "Platoon." You also need to make sure the bathroom doesn't turn into a pigsty just because people can't see the urine stains on the floor and the stray specks of feces on the toilet in the dark.
During Katrina, I actually spent 20 minutes on my hands and knees, cleaning up the urine on the bathroom floor of the unpowered, uncleaned and sweltering hotel room we had secured in downtown New Orleans. It was an unpleasant task, but one that made a huge difference to our modest quality of life.
You're going to need soap, purell, baby wipes, fluid for your contacts, sunscreen, insect repellent, lactaid pills, and allergy medicine. If you use an item when you're camping or swimming at the beach, you'll need it after a disaster.
You should use the non-potable water to keep yourself clean in combination with a box of baby wipes, a bottle of purell hand santizer, soap, toothbrush and disposable razor.
It helps to take a sponge bath before bed if you can spare the water. Don't even bother toweling off if it's hot. You'll sleep better.
If you have women and small children in your group, you're going to need diapers and sanitary napkins. You need to keep an eye on the kids, too, and make sure they don't run around barefoot after the storm, when there will be nails and broken glass all over the place.
Step. 10: Food
Food preparation is another important area. I typically rely on Powerade, beef jerky and peanut butter when I'm in the field.
I never carry military rations into a disaster area with me, which are called Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MREs), because they're readily available once the government disaster response shifts into top gear. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also can be counted on to deliver hundreds of thousands of water bottles.
Each MRE has between 1,200 and 3,000 calories, which is enough for a whole day and then some. If you try to eat one each for breakfast, lunch and dinner you're going to get really fat, even in a disaster.
MREs are encased in thick protective plastic. You can literally pick one off the ground, cut away the plastic container, and consume the contents without harmful effects.
At home, my wife and I use a propane-based camp stove for food preparation when the power is out. You can also use a charcoal grill. This is important on Day 2 as I'll explain lower in the column.
Sports drinks are better than water in terms of keeping you hydrated. Pedialyte is better than both.
You don't want to drink too much Pedialyte though, because it has a lot of electrolytes and can be overdone. I try to keep one bottle in reserve for use when I'm really dehydrated.
I always include a small container of instant coffee and a bunch of cigars in my portable kit. The coffee is for me. The cigars are both for my consumption when I need some energy fast, and for trade.
A lot of middle-aged male managers will trade for a cigar in a disaster area, especially military officers and noncoms. So, cigars are more useful than cash in some cases.
Trading with government officials is an art in itself. A lot of them won't trade with you straight up, because they're hardwired to think they can get in trouble for anything. However, if you give them one or two cigars and ask for nothing in return they're often much more receptive to subsequent requests for a favor after a decent interval.
Step. 11: Identifying and avoiding reflexive rule followers
One of the biggest hazards of any post-disaster environment is the reflexive-rule follower. These folks can't think for themselves and are incapable of distinguishing between "being right" and "doing right." They can literally kill you if you allow them to make decisions for you.
The bottom line is that some normal rules have no application in a post-disaster environment and must be discarded quick, fast and in a hurry. This is a tough adjustment for people who embrace blind obedience.
During Hurricane Katrina, there were several evacuation bus drivers who refused to allow people with pets aboard in New Orleans, even after the water was a a foot high, because normal rules of operation prohibited them. There's little doubt that some people who refused to abandon their pets, especially senior citizens living alone, died because they deferred to these reflexive-rule followers.
There were more buses than drivers at that time and one teen just got in a bus parked at the depot, picked up a load of his neighbors, and drove them five hours to a shelter in Houston. Problem friggin solved. It wouldn't have happened if he had waited for the government to fulfill all the legal requirements before he could have driven an idle bus from a soon-to-be flooded transit depot.
Likewise, the Merchant Marine officers of a military sealift ship based in New Orleans took it upon themselves to begin sharing their 1 million gallons of gasoline with local fire and police departments, and hospitals, without federal authorization. Parts of the city would have burned down if they had continued to wait for authorization (they actually waited a day) instead of using their own initiative and common sense.
The day after Hurricane Wilma hit South Florida, a relative of mine who heads a Fort Lauderdale condo association was going to stop its retired residents from running generators and using charcoal grills to cook food on their porches.
Because both activities were prohibited by the condo association rules. She would have lost all credibility if I hadn't managed to talk her out of enforcing these pre-disaster regs. She also would have hindered her people's survival.
The same flexible mindset applies to driving on the wrong side of the road to get out of a flooded area or one littered with debris. You simply have to think for yourself.
Try to understand the spirit in which pre-disaster rules were written as well as the letter of the law, and do what you have to do. For example, I am 100 percent sure that the rule for driving on the right side of the road is not meant to force you to drive needlessly through dangerous floodwaters, when the other side of a road is high, dry and empty.
And yet people do it.
Ask yourself what the law is meant to accomplish. I can guarantee you its sponsors weren't trying to prevent you and your family from fleeing to safety or feeding yourselves after a disaster.
The government is simply overwhelmed immediately after a big disaster, and there are a lot of government employees who will put keeping their jobs ahead of helping you out by mindlessly following every rule. There's no point in getting mad at them - I'm not advocating anarchy - but at a certain point you need to remember the old saying that "god helps those who help themselves."
This is a good time to talk about looting. I don't care what the legal terminology is - there's a big difference between looting and taking the essentials you need to survive from a damaged store with no staff from whom to purchase them.
We're talking about food, water, medical supplies, wagons, medicine, diapers and similar essential items.
We're not talking about the big screen televisions and pornographic DVDs that littered the area outside the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina.
I still shake my head in amazement when I try to figure out what the people who took all those pornographic DVDs - and there were hundreds of them - were thinking. How were they planning to watch them on the crowded sidewalks outside the Superdome with no power?
Personally, I think the takers had to be adolescents - because no one else is capable of simultaneously being that horny and that stupid. All of which raises another point - what to do with teens.
I think you have to keep them very busy and under strict adult supervision whenever possible. As long as they're working on a task, teens are less likely to become despondent or destructive.
So, give them a steady stream of busy work.
Step No. 12: Whatever You Do, Don't Ever Do This
In the event you should ever find yourself in a desperate way in a nearly deserted, hard-hit area, with no transportation, and no first responders it's critical that you never head over to its abandoned airport.
Because we cannot have you breaking into the key drop boxes at the rental car counters. Same goes for U-Haul truck rental locations, local neighborhood car rental storefronts, and the like.
If you do, you should absolutely never head outside afterwards with a handful of keys and click the remotes until you find an undamaged vehicle. Preferably one with a full tank of gasoline that you can use to get out of Dodge.
I dunno. Just don't do it. Even if it's a case of life and death and your newborn baby is dying of dehydration or your elderly grandmother's meds need to be refrigerated and you have no power.
Don't do it. Let them die slowly and painfully instead like the reflexive rule follower you are.
Don't rationalize this kind of MacGyver out-of-the-box problem-solving by thinking that you'll actually be doing the rental company a favor by driving their vehicle to the first operational location you come to.
Don't assume the damaged rental location and all its vehicles will be totaled out by the insurance adjusters in a few weeks because the place has been ripped to pieces and there are trees through the windshields of most of the vehicles and the like.
Because that that would be wrong. Any news reporter or news organization which tells you otherwise is out of line.
Step. 13: Miscellaneous
Your gear should include a small first-aid kit. In addition to the normal Band-Aids and the like, it should contain DEET insect repellent, Bacitracin disinfectant, and sunscreen.
There's a wealth of other items worth having if you have the space, time and money to add them. My list includes a rainsuit, hiking boots, rubber boots, a couple small towels, wet wipes, a fisherman's vest, tow straps. eyeglass repair kit, multitool, and extra socks, underwear and T-shirts.
You go through clothing fast when you're wading through floodwaters, because it's usually contaminated with oil and sewage. Floodwater contamination in New Orleans was so bad immediately after Hurricane Katrina that our clothes dried into rigid, vertical shapes when they were hung up to dry.
I still recall sitting outside our filthy St. Charles Avenue hotel in downtown New Orleans as a group of cops arrived from out-of-town to help with Hurricane Katrina.
I was waiting for a colleague to pull up with a carload of supplies. I was only wearing a fishing vest, shorts and press pass (right) because it was all I had. My T-shirts and underwear had either rotted apart or assumed sandcastle shapes after exposure to the polluted floodwaters and sweltering temperatures. They were like cardboard.
One of the burly cops walking past me into the unlit lobby apparently thought I was making a fashion statement.
"Nice guns," he quipped with a smirk, smelling of Old Spice and air conditioning.
I spent the next 20 minutes staring at my biceps and trying to craft a witty comeback. I'm still working on it 11 years later.
If you're putting together a home kit, you should also lay in several gallon bottles of bleach, which can be mixed with water to create a boot wash in a small cooler on your front porch.
You're going to want a ton of duct tape and rope. How much depends on whether your kit is portable or home-based. If it's home-based, you should add a couple tarps, a staple gun and a chainsaw.
I was able to cover my loft windows in the dark with a tarp and staple gun in about 20 minutes at the height of Hurricane Ike in Houston in 2008. When it seemed like the duct-taped windows were about to give way at the height of the storm..
The chainsaw is for cutting up the downed trees which may block the roads in your neighorhood. With the right vehicle, you should be able to drag the resulting sections of timber out of the right-of-way with a tow rope or chain.
There seems to be some confusion about whether or not people should still place a couple strips of duct tape across their windows as many have been doing for decades.
The "experts" who say taping is no longer necessary aren't doing us any favors in my estimation. Their logic is that new home windows are a lot like car windows, which means they're less likely to cut you when they shatter.
The first problem with that information is that most dwellings don't have new windows. The second problem is most people don't actually know how old their windows are - especially renters. I know I don't.
I've seen the new windows break and the strips of tape really seemed to help keep the shards together in a useful way. So, pretty please, tape your friggin windows no matter what the talking heads tell you. It could help and it definitely won't hurt.
The tape gets harder to remove over time and can be a pain after a few days, but a razor-blade scraper will do the job in combination with a bottle of windex and some paper towels.
Continue Reading: Part 2 of The Ultimate Hurricane Survival Guide