As I began to research getting started with hurricane preparedness, I quickly became pretty overwhelmed. The lists on official government sites were huge and there are so many things to do. How do I know where to start when I have limited storage space and limited budget?
I finally realized – after going down a lot of rabbit holes – that I needed to start by just focusing on a few basic elements: power, food and water, and basic physical safety. Essentials focused on these basic areas now form the core of our family’s growing stash of hurricane preparedness supplies. (If you missed it, you can read why our family is hurricane prepping here.)
[Disclosure: Some links in this article are Amazon affiliate program links, which pay this site a commission at no cost to the reader when a purchase is made after a click.]
Need extra motivation to get your shopping done? In Florida, June 1st to 7th is our hurricane prep tax free holiday this year. So Florida residents who do their shopping starting Friday will save a bundle! For more information on what is tax free that week, visit Florida Revenue’s website.
We’ll start with the big stuff, and then move to the smaller stuff.
The most important thing you can do if you are homeowner to ensure your family’s long-term security after a storm is to make sure that you have adequate insurance. Regular homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover losses from flooding, which causes the majority of damage and deaths in hurricanes. So if you live in an area considered at risk for flooding you will need to buy flood insurance to be fully covered. Visit FEMA’s flood insurance FAQ to learn more about flood insurance.
In many areas, storm shutters are now required on new construction by local building code. But if your area doesn’t require them, or your home was built before the requirement, consider installing them. Shutters aren’t cheap, but they are a powerful safety measure to keep your home and family safe during a storm. (And bonus – you’ll most likely get a discount on your homeowner’s insurance!)
There are multiple kinds of hurricane shutters that range greatly in price. For a great primer on the different types, visit the Sun-Sentinel’s website.
We’ve personally had experience with the storm panel type of shutters with bolt attachments, since my mom has them for her home. They are somewhat heavy (especially on larger windows like the sliding glass door), and take a bit of wrestling to get on. It’s definitely a two person job, and I wouldn’t do it without work gloves and a power screw driver – with multiple batteries.
One massive downside of shutters is that once they are on, they turn the house into basically a cave. It’s dark, even in daylight, and you can’t see out. This causes extra problems when the power goes out, as it’s dark even in daytime, and it also can be scary to not be able to see what is going on outside during the storm. Cloaking your windows in metal can also turn your home into a giant faraday cage and destroy the cell reception – cutting you off when you need it most. We are attempting to mitigate these problems by ordering two Lexan panels as part of our own soon-to-be-installed storm panels. One window on the front and back of the house will each have one panel that is Lexan instead of metal. These panels will allow us to see out, and let a little light and a cell signal in. The Lexan panels cost a bit more than the metal ones (which is why we aren’t doing all of the windows that way) but we are hopeful that doing just a couple of panels with Lexan will be a good balance between cost and function.
As soon as the weather clears after a hurricane, you’ll hear a distinctive sound in any neighborhood where the power is out: the loud hum of generators. While not strictly necessary, they can certainly make life post-hurricane much more comfortable. The options for generators are as diverse as your budget, from whole house back-up generators to small portable generators.
All generators are not created equal – check the wattage to see if the one you are looking at will do what you want. Not sure how much wattage you need? Do you just want to run a lamp and a fan to keep cool, or keep your fridge running? Check out this wattage calculator to determine your generator needs. Form factor is also something to consider. Inverter generators (what most people call tailgate or camping generators) are smaller and more easily portable, but they cost more per watt they produce and they have smaller fuel tanks. Your intended use – and budget – will determine what type is right for you.
Flashlights & Lamps
Whether you’re trying to not walk into walls during a night time power outage, or to answer the question of what that scary crash was in the storm outside, owning a good flashlight (or two or three) is a must for safety and security in a storm. The go-to light source at our house is the Thru Nite Archer 2A, a small lightweight LED flashlight with a ridiculously powerful beam that is so powerful you can use it to count the needles on the top branches of our pine trees on a moonless night. It also has a strobe setting, and is water resistant enough to survive outside in the worst storm. And bonus – it’s also small and lightweight enough to feel comfortable in my small hands. This flashlight uses AA batteries but still gives hours of usage because of its power saving LED lamp. It eliminates the need to store huge D cell batteries, and means I only have to stockpile one type of battery for all my various emergency gadgets except my fans. (And as a bonus – the AA batteries are cheaper and easier to store!)
Flashlights are great but we learned pretty fast during Hurricane Irma that they aren’t the best light source for creating ambient light in a room at night, or using as an emergency nightlight for a child who is scared of the dark. So to back up our flashlights, we added two different types of VIBELIGHT LED collapsible lanterns to our hurricane supplies. One can switch between a tabletop lantern mode and a flashlight mode, and the other is a lantern that collapses down to hockey puck size. Both run on AA batteries, and alongside our flashlights, will give us light options in any situation.
Weather & AM/FM Radio
It may seem redundant with all the technology at our disposal these days, but a good old fashioned weather radio is still a good idea to ensure that you receive warnings for your area about dangerous weather conditions. We use this one by Midland. If you already have one, the start of storm season is a good time to give it a fresh back-up battery and test its network connection.
Losing power doesn’t just affect your lights, of course. It also affects your ability to get information from sources like the TV and internet. When power, internet and cell service become unreliable, a battery operated AM/FM radio is a reliable way to ensure that you can still access critical information from local emergency authorities. AM/FM function is available as a feature on some weather radios, or you can just buy a small pocket AM/FM radio for use in emergencies like we did.
All of the devices listed above, of course, are useless without batteries to power them. Even if you use environmentally conscious rechargeable batteries in your everyday life, you’ll probably want to stockpile regular disposable batteries for emergency use. They hold their charge longer in storage, and are much more affordable in the quantities needed for emergency use. I buy my bulk packs for emergency stockpiling on Amazon. Their prices are hard to beat.
Cellphones can be a lifeline in a storm, allowing you to continue to access weather and emergency information when the power and cable has gone out. They also allow you to stay in touch with friends and family to check in with those worried about your safety. But when power is out, there’s no way to recharge a cell phone. Power packs, portable battery units that you can plug your device into to charge, are your best friend in that situation.
Anker PowerCores are the current state of the art in power pack technology. We’ve been using several of their models over the past few years for travel and emergencies. If your phone is out of charge, just grab your USB cable and plug it into the pack to charge. PowerCores come in several sizes – smaller ones will charge your phone 3-5 times, and larger units will hold 6-8 charges or more. They can even charge tablets, too! (For extra power security in a long outage, Anker’s battery packs can be paired with their Solar Charger. This is definitely on my wish list!) I almost always have one of these packs, along with a charging cable, in my purse when I leave home in case of a dying phone battery.
Non-Perishable Food & Water
This item may be one of the easiest – and most important – on this list to stockpile, but also one of the most overlooked. Before the 2017 storm season, most experts suggested that you should be able to feed your household for 3 days in case of an emergency. After seeing what happened in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, some experts are now raising that number to 30 days. Whether you decide to aim for 3 days or 30 days, or split the difference somewhere in between, the ability to provide food and water for yourself and your family is an important part of staying safe in any disaster. (Don’t forget to provide for your four-legged family members in your planning!)
Even though a hurricane is a slow motion disaster where you will have warning and time to prepare, it is still wise to stockpile supplies. This is because at times like storms, stores tend to get inundated with people needing supplies – and the necessities disappear off the shelves fast.
It definitely can be a hit to the budget (and pantry space) to stockpile a lot of extra food and water. We try to keep our emergency food purchases largely to things that we use anyway (like canned chicken). I have been purchasing extras on good sales a bit at a time to increase my pantry stash. We just make sure to rotate them so we are using the oldest items first, and to replenish what we use so we aren’t depleting the stockpile.
Water takes up a lot of room to store in large quantities and I had to find somewhere besides my kitchen to store it. That of course is easier said than done in a place like Florida where we don’t have nice big basements to stash stuff! I realized I had some dead space in the back of our master closet that was kind of a black hole where hanging clothes went never to be seen again. I found a shelving unit at Target that fits back there just right and which has a high weight limit per shelf. It holds either six 1 gallon jugs or eight 3L Zephyr Hills bottles per shelf. This gives me the ability to store about 12-13 gallons of drinking water, nicely out of the way. Paired with the cases of bottles that we store regularly, it keeps us with a storm-sufficient supply stashed.
First Aid Kit
As I realized all too dramatically during Irma, having a really good first aid kit is imperative when living in a hurricane zone. Emergency services shut down during the height of a hurricane for the safety of the first responders. Service after a storm may be delayed by blocked roads and a backlog of calls. And of course this is all happening at the same time that stress is aggravating medical conditions and many of us are risking injury doing things like using power tools to clear debris.
There’s plenty of pre-packaged first aid kits available on places like Amazon. But they are mostly for basic household emergencies while you wait for EMS, not for disasters when you may have to fend for yourself for awhile, unless you buy a more advanced EMT type kit. Many of them are also packed with cheap generic supplies of questionable quality in an effort to raise the number of items they can advertise that they contain.
I decided to create my own custom kit using lists from the American Red Cross and outdoor outfitter REI and that was tailored to our family’s specific medical risks. I bought some of the supplies at my local drugstores, and some (like burn dressings & a SAM splint) I ordered off Amazon.
I initially chose a large fishing tackle box as the container for our first aid kit because I thought I’d like the compartmentalization. But after using the kit for awhile, it’s heavier and more unwieldy than I expected. I’m looking for ideas for another container for it.
Besides water damage from storm surge, one of the other things that happens to homes during hurricanes is roof damage. We’ve all seen the dramatic news footage of roofs being entirely blown off of homes during a hurricane. But more likely than that devastating scenario is that your home will experience mild to moderate shingle damage, possibly causing leaks and water infiltration. Drive around any neighborhood that has recently been hit by a serious hurricane, and you’ll see roofs dotted with blue tarps that are covering damage waiting to be repaired. Repairs can take months after storms while battles are fought with insurance companies and roofers are in high demand. In fact, at this very moment, packs of shingles are sitting on my neighbor’s roof waiting for roofers to come repair her Hurricane Irma damage from last fall – just in time for the new hurricane season to start!
Obviously, after a storm, blue tarps are in high demand. Having one or two on hand (along with the furring strips needed to securely nail them down) means that you can protect and cover damage right away – even before local stores reopen. And it guarantees that even if local home centers run short, you’ll have what you need to protect your home from further damage.
The items I listed above are basics for protecting life, limb and property during and directly after a hurricane. But a few other things can really help to make life easier – and more comfortable – when dealing with hurricanes and their effects.
Battery Operated Fans
You know what else besides the lights doesn’t work when the power goes out? Air conditioning. And of course, the worst hurricanes happen during the super hot and humid part of the year here in Florida. We’ve discovered that having some battery operated fans to move some air around really helps a lot. We’ve got fans by O2 Cool in two different sizes. The 5 inch ones are super-affordable (as low as $8 on Amazon) and are great for personal use. They even come in different colors so no fighting by the kids – or hot cranky adults – over whose fan is whose. The larger 10 inch fan isn’t quite as effective as a full room sized box fan, but it is large enough to cover a small area.
Cooler and Blue Ice
This isn’t an absolute necessity if you have your non-perishable food stash built up, but it sure can make you more comfortable in a power outage. Whether it’s used to extend the life of some of the food in your refrigerator so you have time to eat it, or just to make life a bit more tolerable in the heat with cold drinks, a good cooler can be worth its weight in gold after a storm. Finding the right size, though is a balancing act. It’s tempting to want to buy one big enough to fit lots of your refrigerator contents in, but when ice is in short supply it’s difficult to keep a large one cold. We’ve found our 48 quart Rubbermaid cooler to be a good size for us. One feature to look out for in coolers – a lot of less expensive large coolers don’t have a drain at the bottom for removing the water from melted ice. This means you have to turn them upside down to drain them, a real pain that also makes it harder to keep these coolers and their contents cold. Check for a drain before buying!
And don’t forget to stock up too on some blue ice blocks, since they won’t melt as fast as real ice in the heat. Bigger ones will stay frozen longer, and these are surprisingly affordable places like Walmart and Target.
Are you a coffee addict? This is something that a surprising number of people forget about in their hurricane prep. But when you can’t take a warm shower, and are cranky from being hot and sweaty, you know what makes life even more fun? Caffeine withdrawal because the coffee maker doesn’t work with the power out. So while you are planning your non-perishable food & water stash, you might want to give some thought to how to get your caffeine fix with the power out. Whether it is stashing some Coke, or buying a traditional camp stove and coffee maker for camping, you’ll be glad you planned ahead when the time comes.
Black Contractor Bags
Clean up after hurricanes can be messy, even if you don’t have a lot of damage. Whether you are emptying out a fridge full of spoiled food, or picking up debris in the yard, black contractor bags are your friend! Stock up before the storm and you’ll be ready to get to work right away when the storm passes.
There’s not just things to buy to be prepared for a hurricane. There’s also things to do. Stop back tomorrow to find out what in my next article on hurricane preparation!