Post Written By LTJG Ryan T. White
In 1998, over the course of a typical afternoon a string of tornadoes hit middle Tennessee. Included was one storm that hit downtown Nashville. I was in the gymnasium at school practicing soccer with my team after class let out. The weather had been pretty nasty all day, but nothing prepared us for what was about to happen. Through the windows I could tell the sky had darkened, the wind had suddenly picked up, and the lights went out. The sounds I heard next, I will never forget. I can still recall the buzz of the lights trying to come back on, something I thought was the generator attempting to restart, the clashing of a few fan vent covers above the gym doors to the soccer field, and the sudden impact of the storm on the side of our building. It’s a noise I would most readily identify with a New York City subway train traveling full speed.
For tornadoes, there isn’t much of a warning. There isn’t much time to evacuate. There is only time to seek cover.
This is not necessarily the case for hurricanes. Hurricanes are tracked from their infancy. Their paths are predicted. The strength of the hurricane may vary, but the threat remains. Just as residents of small Kansas towns understand the threat of tornadoes in Tornado Alley, the residents of coastal towns understand the dangers of a hurricane.
Unlike tornadoes, hurricanes can be prepared for well in advance. The National Hurricane Center provides some areas to focus on when preparing for a hurricane. What can you do?
- It is essential to develop a family plan that is understood by each member of the family.
- Establish a “safe room” in the home for the family to seek refuge in. Choose an interior room without windows on the lowest level.
- Have an out-of-state friend designated who you can contact in the event of an emergency.
- If you have pets, plan for what to do with them.
- Have non-perishable food and supplies as well as plenty of fresh water.
- Keep a NOAA weather radio (and plenty of fresh batteries), to follow the developing situation.
- Keep a first aid kit that a family member understands how to use.
- Keep a “go to kit” or “Hurricane Kit” for other needs. Ready.gov provides outstanding information on what items to include in “Hurricane Kits” and how to better prepare for surviving a hurricane.
You should also discuss when to evacuate the path of a hurricane. Have a plan for how and with whom you are going to travel. You will want a full tank of gas in your car, knowledge of hurricane evacuation routes, and an understanding that early action is always best.
While family safety is paramount, it is also important to remember your house and property. FEMA provides some guidance for preparing your property for a hurricane. While not pleasing to the eye, ply wood is a temporary option to protect your windows (and anything inside those windows). A more permanent and visually appealing method is to install permanent storm shudders during the off season. Additionally, properly trimming trees and shrubs helps to prevent tree limbs from falling and damaging your property. Storm surges are also a concern when dealing with hurricane preparation. Put your valuables on higher ground and off the floor. Do you know if you are in a flood plain? Find out.
The Coast Guard initially prepares for hurricane season much like the community does. Coast Guard units put together “family plans” but the “family” is full of shipmates. Members monitor weather, track storms and get advisory updates regularly. They are briefed on what to expect for the hurricane season and how to prepare.
Coast Guard units maintain hurricane officers to develop and maintain hurricane plans. For Coast Guard cutters, these plans include safe ports that a cutter may move to, time frames to recall essential members of the command and crew, and initial actions to get underway or preposition for disaster response. While the Coast Guard may be degraded in its ability to respond immediately after some hurricanes, maintaining this state of readiness allows the Coast Guard to more effectively following hurricanes.
While there are many things you SHOULD do to prepare for a hurricane, there are also some DON’TS. Do not try to “ride out” the storm in your personal watercraft out at sea. While very large ships may be forced to stay at sea to avoid the storm or move out of it’s path, that does not mean you should take your 33’ fishing boat out. Seek a safe haven, adequately moor your boat or trailer and move it well in advance of an approaching hurricane.
Some people plan “hurricane parties”. While that sounds like fun, it really isn’t (save it for a theme party in the off season). During a severe storm, nobody is around, there likely is no electricity and the stores are closed. That warm beer won’t taste very good with salt water and petroleum mixed in after the first floor of your “party pad” has been washed out by the storm surge.
And, while the surf down at the local beach may be gnarly, the conditions are likely extreme. There is the distinct possibility that no one will be there to see your eternal wipe out, dude, or pull you out of the water when you get sucked out by rip tide.
Hurricane season is here. While we can all hope it will just blow by without anyone noticing, there is a very good chance that will happen. For that reason, prepare for the worst while hoping for the best and we can make dealing with it a breeze.