If you live in the Eastern US, particularly, but not exclusively the eastern coastal US, you need to be prepared for quite a storm. No one is sure what track Irene will take, or how much damage she will do, but everyone between New England and the Carolinas, potentially including NYC and NJ are in the potential landfall range for what is being described as a huge storm.
Most of the latest forecasts suggest the storm will avoid landfall in North Carolina. "However, this is a very dangerous storm and much of the East Coast, including North Carolina, should be prepared for a landfall," said Jeras.
Some computer models suggest New York or New Jersey could be hit.
"Everywhere from North Carolina to Massachusetts remains in the cone of uncertainty," said Jeras. "Worst case scenario, we could be looking at two landfalls, or we could be lucky and get a brush instead of a direct hit...
Even if Irene doesn't make landfall in the United States, it may very well bring flooding rains, damaging winds and power outages to the Northeast. Planning is critical and everyone needs to be ready with a disaster plan and a safety kit."
You should not assume that because you are inland, you won't have power outages or flooding - a number of hurricanes in the last two decades have caused significant inland damage as well.
Let's not see the disasters in New Orleans, Galveston and Houston of the last few years repeated in the East - preparedness can't save everyone from everything, but it can make a huge difference. Have evacuation capacity ready and be prepared to shelter in place. Be ready to reach out and help others - particularly those who are most vulnerable. Have food, water, medical and emergency supplies on hand - all those basics that are just common sense.
We don't always get a heads up like this about a potential threat - so many come unexpected upon us. When we do, it behooves us to remember that there's a lot we can do to keep safe, secure and be ready - and that lives depend on us taking action. The actions are simple, and easily become part of our basic routine - just like keeping school records or feeding the pets. But now is the time - whether you live in Irene's path or not, to make sure your preps are ready - so that you don't have to ask for help unless you really need it, so you can help others, so you can make sure that resources go to the most vulnerable.
Not sure what the basics are - here's a list:
Despite the fact that FEMA has *said* that in a crisis it may not be able to reach people immediately, despite the fact that an awful lot of Americans had extended outages last year, most Americans are woefully underprepared for an extended power outage or emergency. My hope is that you will not be among them. So let's go over the basics of getting ready.
1. Consider your water situation. The most serious problems caused by power outages are water related. If you are on a well and rely on electricity to pump water, or if the storm involves heavy rains or flooding and water contamination, you can expect to be without water. Everyone needs water, and you will be extremely unhappy without it, so use some common sense and get some. At a minimum, get some old soda bottles, clean them, and fill them with water when you know a storm is approaching. You can get larger containers as well. You can also drink the water from your hot water heater.
If you know that you may lose power, it only makes sense to fill the bathtub (if your tub holds water), buckets and pots so you've got plenty.
Stored water or treated water may not taste great - and keeping hydrated and warm is important. A stock of tea, coffee, or cocoa, or some Hi-C or Tang can make the water palatable.
Having a way to filter and treat water can be really helpful, but this a larger investment. Bleach will do for some things, boiling for others, but if industrial contamination is involved, it may not work - so try and have plenty of water on hand, and a good camping filter (not a Brita) would be wise.
2. You either need a way to cook without power, or you need lots of food that doesn't need cooking. You can cook outside on a grill or camp stove, but that won't be too much fun in a snow or sleet storm. If it is warm, you can use a solar oven once the weather settles down, but that won't help in a cold climate. If you have a woodstove, you can cook on top of it. Otherwise, some cans of sterno or a rocket stove (small homemade stove that uses tiny bits of biomass) are a good idea.
Have a thermos or two around, so that once you heat something - water, food, oatmeal, etc.. it stays warm.
3. If it is cold, you will need a way to keep warm. Bring in wood, or hook up your fuel source. A source of heat that doesn't depend on electricity is a good idea, or plenty of blankets, pets on the bed and someone to cuddle with. If you have no heat source, you will particularly want that sterno or something that allows you to boil water, so that you can heat your insides with tea, cocoa or coffee. Wrap kids up well in multiple layers, and sleep with them, or put them together. Babies should sleep up against you.
Remember, it is easier to heat yourself than it is to heat the room - you can put a brick near the woodstove or heater, and then wrap it in cloth and put it in your bed or under your feet to keep warm. You can put a cat on your lap or a dog next to you, or snuggle up to a honey. You can move close to the stove.
If it is hot, find ways to keep cool - sleep outside if it is safe to do so (obviously not during a storm), keep plenty hydrated, seek shade or water, put your feet in a bucket of cool water or wet a bandana and put it on your neck. Nurse babies often and make sure young children and the elderly drink and find shade.
4. Check out your lighting situation. Can you find your flashlight? Do you actually have batteries? Do you have oil and wicks for your oil lamps? If you have solar lights outside, you may be able to bring them inside during the evening. If you have notice, pick up extra batteries, and check your flashlight's condition.
If your kids panic in the dark, make sure you have a flashlight for them and spare batteries, lightsticks, or a nightlight with batteries. This is also good if you are prone to tripping over stuff.
5. All this burnable stuff - wood heat, propane heat, candles, oil lamps used by folks who don't use them every day ups your fire risk considerably. Check your smoke detector batteries and make sure you know how to use your fire extinguisher. Don't leave open flames around children or pets - supervise them carefully.
6. Have a plan for hygeine. You can fill the tub to flush the toilet - remember, you get one freebie from what's in the tank. It goes without saying that you should flush infrequently. Remember, the water you use for flushing doesn't have to be clean - you can use your dishwater after washing dishes.
If you know you are likely to lose power, do dishes and laundry, so that they don't pile up. If you use cloth diapers, consider picking up some disposables for the emergency if you are likely to be waterless.
Wash hands frequently, or use alcohol based hand sanitizer if you don't have enough water to wash.
If you can't flush, either put a garbage bag in the toilet and change it regularly, or set up humanure composting - find a place away from water sources and human habitation and collect human manure mixed with dry leaves, sawdust, shredded newspaper or some other high-carbon material. If you are in an urban area, you will probably want to set this up at the community level, and talk to your neighbors - remember, if they get sick, you probably will too.
A reserve of toilet paper is worth a lot in a crisis.
7. Make sure you know how to use tools safety, and that you are careful when doing unaccustomed labor. Every year some people kill themselves using chainsaws for the first time, or give themselves a heart attack shovelling snow. If you are going to be doing more exertion than normal, and you can take asprin, you might want to take one. Otherwise, just take breaks and stop before you are totally exhausted. Wear appropriate clothing to the weather and the job you are doing. Stop if you get tired - that's when you make mistakes.
Fill your gas tank before the storm - gas may be unavailable if the power outage is widespread. Fill an extra gas container as well - you may need it, particularly if you have to evacuate - remember evacuations for Hurricane Rita, where many people ran out of gas?
Also make sure before the storm that you know how to shut off your natural gas.
8. Have some food. If you have ever read this blog before, you should already have a reserve of food. If you haven't, go get one. The reality is that people are often stuck in their homes without food for days or even weeks - it happens *all the time* and IMHO, there's nothing wrong with taking help if you really need it, but it is a good deed to try not to need it, and to get out of the way so that the people who really can't help themselves get help.
If your food is in the freezer, eat it in this order. First, eat what's in the fridge, if you can't find a cold but non-freezing spot outside (remember, you may have natural refrigeration in the winter). Then eat what's in the freezer - but in the meantime, open it infrequently and cover it with heavy blankets to keep it as cold as possible. Food will last longer if your freezer is full, so you can freeze jugs of water, which you can then drink or use for washing. If you have a cookstove or grill, you can pressure can meat and other foods in the freezer, and if it is freezing outside, you can put food outside (if you have bears or roaming dogs, do what you need to to protect it). Otherwise, invite the neighbors in for dinner.
If you have to shop, don't waste money on bottled water - put water from the tap in empties. Instead, buy food that can be eaten quickly and simply with minimal preparation, and the ingredients for some comfort meals - stressed out people like familiar foods. Don't forget snacks - now is not the time to start anyone's diet or worry that the kids got a cookie.
If you've been reading me, you probably already have a supply of needed medications, but if you don't, get prescriptions filled before the storm. Make sure you have basic stuff like bandaids and painkillers and a first aid kit. If you have a medically fragile person in your home, notify your police or fire department and your local utility company, so that they will put you on the priority list or check on you. If you know about medically fragile people in your community, check in on them.
9. Be prepared to take in refugees - people who get trapped away from home, people who have no heat or food or water, or those who have to evacuate other areas. If you can put aside a little extra for them, great. If not, even a little companionship, shared body heat and a cup of tea are worth a lot in a crisis. Get out extra bedding and some easy to cook food for busy houses.
11. Have an evacuation plan, and get packed - everyone gets a bag with medications, a change of clothes, pjs, a book and beloved toy or comfort item, and a bit of food and water. If you have to go to a shelter or go to a family member, this gives you some leeway. Keep an eye on communications and go as soon as an evacuation order is issued. Buy local maps and plan a route, and make communications plans - ie, "I'll call you on your cell and you stop and pick David up at school on the way home as soon as I hear the order..." Make sure you have a crank radio or other good source of information available even if the power is out.
11. Stay together, and have meet-up and communication plans when you are not. Remember, cell communications can go down, so figure out one or two places for everyone to call in. Make sure the kids no what to do in an emergency, and that everyone knows where to meet up if you get separated. Encourage extended family or friends in danger zones to come to you early - so they don't get trapped in evacuation traffic. Don't let anyone go off alone, even on rescue missions or to help in a crisis - buddy system, buddy system, buddy system. Talk to your neighbors about this ahead of time, and make plans for getting organized and working together.
12. Try to relax and enjoy yourself. Sure, it may be a pain, but it is also an adventure. Everyone will be a lot less freaked out if you make it as fun as possible - eat all the ice cream before it melts, play board games, sing, make jokes about the peanut butter sandwiches. Don't panic - just be sensible and keep safe. human beings survived without electricity for a long time. You'll most likely be fine.
This is the short version - the longer and better version of this comes in Kathy Harrison's wonderful book _Just in Case_ - where she discusses all kinds of readiness in warm and reassuring and helpful terms.
Have a safe storm, everyone!