Hurricane Season: Home Defense Even for Inland Areas

Author’s note to readers: Please do not consider this a how-to article or an article that is filled with endless lists of things to do to prepare. This is a mindset and awareness article for those desiring to be prepared.
A recent conversation occurred that was interesting. Discussing winter storms that hit two years ago prompted a person I know to state how he would like to get a generator to power the blower on the gas furnace of his home. He was talking to some friends that have more financial resources available than he does. The friends have financial resources to evacuate to a safe area across the country if needed. The person indicating his desire to get a generator does not. The more well-off  friends went for almost a week without electricity when the winter storms hit. The other person never lost power. However, he was considering what may have happened if he did.
The friends pretty much shot down his idea as spending money needlessly since his electricity never went off during the storms and that severe winter storms are few and far between in the area where they live. From their perspective, his money could be better spent on immediate needs since he was already struggling a bit to get by. The man, however, knew that the ability to heat and cool his old home relied on electricity and natural gas. He knew only of one instance in his lifetime when the gas was off but very many times when the electricity had been off. In a dire circumstance, he had a small propane heater rated for indoor use but no redundant means of cooling the home other than opening the windows. He has asthma, and hot indoor air aggravates it quite a bit. This man has a pet at home so would not evacuate to a place where the pet was not welcome. He was just making an attempt to think through some what-if scenarios out loud among friends.
Someone was asking me odds questions for survival scenarios once. As we discussed probabilities, I pointed out that to the individuals a situation does happen to, the odds suddenly become 100 percent to them. Risk assessment is only useful for making choices before something occurs. Before buying a home on a fault line, one may consider the risk of the home collapsing during an earthquake. If there is enough money in the budget for home buying, another home that is more sturdy or a home farther away from a fault line may be chosen. Tornadoes regularly coming closer to one’s home may have that vacation budget being spent on a storm shelter instead. Friends up the road who went a week without power in the dead of winter may have someone consider what might occur if his home was without power.
Over and over again, those in the middle of a geographic risk area become complacent, relying on infrastructure built by man to see them through the storms, whatever they may be. This author has relatives who moved to Florida that have hurricane parties. They are in the middle of the state and get together to imbibe alcoholic beverages while the winds blow. This is a risk most are unwilling to take. So far, it has caused them no harm from the storms. I cannot speak for their livers. The farther one lives from the coast, there is less worry about risk from hurricanes. However, the truth of the matter is that hurricanes can reach far inland with damaging winds and excessive amounts of precipitation.
I say precipitation because sometimes it comes in the form of snow inland at the end of a hurricane season. Hurricane season runs from July to November, with the worst of the storms usually coming along from August to October. The snow hurricane of October 9, 1904 dumped heavy snow in the northeast when the hurricane collided with cold air blowing down from the north.
I lived just over 300 miles inland from the Jersey Shore as a child. Hurricane Agnes of 1972 brought damaging wind and rain and almost killed my father. My dad and I went outside during a low point of the storm. Houses were about 20 feet apart in the suburb where we lived. As we walked between our house and a neighbor’s house, I was on my dad’s right side. A gust of wind brought a sheet of corrugated metal whipping between the houses at a high rate of speed. It passed over my head. If it had been a little to the left, it would have severely injured or decapitated my dad. Needless to say, we went back inside.
Flooding was everywhere. We were on a hill a block away from two creeks. Water was up to the stop sign at the bottom of the hill about 300 feet away. Neighbors with boats were going about, being nosy and helping those in deep water. I remember teenagers swimming in the brown water. Now as an adult, I know that the water was filled with raw sewage. If they knew, they did not care.
We were used to severe thunderstorms. High winds would regularly cause widespread minor damage such as fallen tree limbs and lost garbage cans. Localized heavier damage such as toppled trees and damaged roofs would be reported as well, but the people of the town where I grew up were not ready for the relentless rain and steady winds of the remnant of a hurricane that made landfall. Being 300 miles from the shore of an ocean causes one to feel safe from hurricanes. The NOAA.gov website reports that hurricane Hazel of 1954 had Washington D.C. reporting “78 mph sustained winds” and rainfall up to 11 inches as far north as Toronto, Canada. Hazel was first spotted at the Windward Island in the Caribbean.
Though most inland homes will not have to make a run to the local lumber supply store to buy plywood to batten down the hatches, there still exists the necessity to complete some simple preparedness plans so as to not be caught off guard. National Hurricane Preparedness Week was May 27 to June 2, 2012. I think that may have been a bit early for the average American. We seem to only get in gear when the threat is upon us.
When the snowflakes begin to fall here in Pennsylvania, the tire shops are swamped with motorists trying to get snow tires put on. When I was young and used to stock the dairy department in a big grocery store, I could tell when the weather was turning bad even though I could not see the weather conditions outside. All I had to do was watch the milk disappear from the refrigerators as customer after customer loaded up with extra milk. There is a running joke here in good old PA about how fast milk, bread, eggs and toilet paper disappear from stores when a storm is beginning.
Though food and a means to wipe one’s behind is a good start at preparedness, it is wholly inadequate. Obviously, inland dwellers such as myself who still live hundreds of miles from the shore do not have to worry about a storm surge inundating us with water. Coastal dwellers already know this stuff. If they do not, they should get educated or move. What I am trying to accomplish here is an awareness that it is very possible to live far away from an ocean and still sustain damage and injury caused by a hurricane.
Getting to higher ground during a storm surge applies in coastal areas. It applies to inland dwellers as well when flooding from the rains come. That 1972 flood put all the houses in my community that were close to the quiet old creek in the water. In 2004, I had to drive into West Virginia and then back into Pennsylvania because the regular access road to where I used to live was blocked by floodwater. A drive that was normally about a mile turned into an interstate adventure. My inconvenience was minor. My home was high on a hill. If it got flooded, we are talking a Noah event! I crossed the small bridge over a raging creek on the road to my home seconds before the creek rose above it.
However, some did not fare so well during the flooding. Fire Police officer John Brenckle who was reported to have had diabetes was exposed to flood waters as he performed his duties for his fire department. He was reported to have had a wound on his shin because of diabetes. He became infected with cellulitis and died. He was declared to have died in the line of duty a few months later. Floodwater rages with bacteria from sewer water and garbage that mixes with it making a stew that can kill, especially when it gets in through broken skin, the eyes, nose, mouth or other orifices.
Routinely we see news footage of people moving about in floodwater. They walk in it, wade through it and even swim through it. If the risk of avoiding the water is greater than going into it, just stay out of it. If you do come in contact with floodwater, inquire about prophylactic treatment with antibiotics, especially if there is an immune compromising illness such as diabetes. In fact, if flooding happens where you live even on occasion, ask your doctor about keeping a course of antibiotics on hand for such a situation. Once cellulitis gets well established, it may not respond to treatment.
As for what should be the obvious in home preparations for the hurricane season for inland dwellers, let us still go over a few things to get the mind in gear for tightening up the preparedness plans. Evacuation routes should be first on the list. Getting away is better than enduring. Use common sense. Evacuation routes should generally lead uphill. Ones that go to the lowest spots in an area will often be flooded. Do not discard the routes that lead through elevations considered as part of the flood plane; just do not solely rely on such routes. Tertiary (triple) redundancy is good for most situations.
Be sure to have redundant comms (communication) capability. Examples include cell phones, inexpensive public band two-way radios and NOAA weather radios. Do not throw away those old battery powered AM/FM radios that are hard to find now. They can be a real lifesaver in an emergency. Ones that have a hand crank or even solar panel are even better. Be sure to not rely on one piece of equipment. Have stuff like this in redundancy. Communication devices kept at home offer no help if one is stuck at work or school. Most every automobile at least has an AM/FM radio, but a backup is not a bad idea.
Keep that cell phone charged. Make it a habit to charge it every single night. I encounter so many people on a routine basis who have to borrow a phone to finish a call because their battery died. If you have an older phone and do not wish to get a new one, a new battery may be lifesaver. Replacement batteries can be costly for cell phones. Newer models do not even have user replaceable batteries. However, batteries lose their ability to sustain the same level of charge they did when new. If this is the case with your phone, get a supplemental battery pack, solar charger or hand crank charger. If nothing else, always keep both an AC and DC charger with you at all times (one that will work at home or the office, and one that works when plugged into the cigarette lighter socket of cars).
This next tip could have saved countless lives if it was heeded. It is a simple one actually, but one that is ignored by office workers everywhere. Either wear or keep ready good footwear. A good pair of waterproof hiking boots can make all the difference in attempting an escape from most any threat situation. Running in dress shoes, heels or barefoot can disable a person with one misstep. The footwear needs to cover the ankle and not be able to slip off as both dress shoes and regular athletic shoes can. Soles should be made of a tough material that is resistant to puncture and has a tread that will work outside and not be slick on indoor tiled surfaces. That last one is a matter of trial and error. Some boots have tread that works great in snow, mud, gravel and sand but is like being on ice skates when hardwood or tile floors are encountered.
Another simple thing to do every single day is to never go anywhere without a little food, water and first-aid supplies. First-aid supplies should include medications needed by those who suffer from chronic health conditions. Decide on how many doses to carry with you. Be sure to have them in prescription bottles or have a letter of prescribed medications from your doctor if any of the pharmaceutical items are controlled substances that can land you in jail. A painkiller for a bad back is an illegal drug when found on a person who does not have a prescription for it. Rather than ever be detained, be prepared to explain with proof.
A small bag can have items ready to control serious bleeding including Celox, a roll of Vet Wrap and some non-deodorant maxi-pads. Always carry a few pairs of nitrile gloves too. Be sure to regularly inspect supplies. Latex gloves deteriorate quite rapidly, and nitrile ones will deteriorate as well. Sterile packaging gets torn open and medications expire. Beware of the temperature ranges the items can survive in, and do not expose them to temperatures that are too high or low. The summer heat inside a car or the winter cold can render some supplies useless.
As for food, the food bar market makes it easy. There are so many choices for protein bars, breakfast bars and ones tied to sports nutrition marketing and even weight loss. They are packed with carbohydrates and protein to varying degrees. (Be sure to read the nutrition labeling.) They are easy to transport and replace. They are available in flavors, textures and types to suit most any taste. Be sure to keep them in one of the better zipper style bags to keep them safe from exposure to even a drop of floodwater. I say better zipper style bag because some brands perform rather poorly at keeping liquids in or out of the bag.
Bottled water is everywhere. However, you have to keep it out of flood water, or clean water will have to be sacrificed to disinfect the surfaces of the potable water containers before it can be opened and used for drinking. Remember, bacteria and viruses are microscopic. There could be enough pathogens in a drop of floodwater to kill more than one person. Food and water containers exposed to floodwater become a hazard. All important items in my daily Go Bag are sealed in zipper style bags.
Do not become an electrocution statistic. Water and electricity are a recipe for death. That lethal voltage carried by household current is safely used by human beings as long as those flowing electrons do not suddenly start moving through our bodies. It is not necessary to come in contact with a bare wire. Voltage leaks have killed numerous unsuspecting victims. It is why we have Ground Fault Interrupter Circuits (GFCIs) in wet or potentially wet areas.
An extension cord used for Christmas decorations can leak lethal voltage that will not trip a standard breaker. The cord on moist ground looks harmless until it is touched. Consumerwatch.com reports that 4000 injuries and 50 deaths are caused each year just from misusing extension cords. How much more risky is it to enter water caused by flooding that extends out in all directions, possibly to a source of live current?
There is plenty more to think about. These things are just some of the ones this author has noticed that many do not consider when making preparations. Hopefully this gets readers thinking thoroughly about what must be done to adequately prepare for weather-related threats at home, work, school and where we go for entertainment. All the best preparations at home are useless if we are caught without them while away from home.
Cody S. Alderson is a long-time regular contributor to The United States Concealed Carry Association. He is a private consultant and author based in southwestern Pennsylvania. Cody invites you to visit his website at www.aldersonarts.com.
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