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Let’s pretend you have been watching the weather channel. After a week of fits and starts it becomes clear that the storm of the century (we seem to have a lot of those) is on its way. You have one week to prepare. Would you know where to begin? Most people don’t. At the last minute they scramble, often leaving out critical supplies because they procrastinate, certain the forecast is wrong. But in my experience, it is rare for anyone to complain about being too prepared. What follows is a step-by-step plan for preparing for a major storm, one that is likely to be accompanied by power outages and service interruptions, impassable roads and unavailable emergency response.

  1. Make a decision: Do you evacuate or shelter in place? Many things will impact your decision. How close are you to the where the brunt of the storm of the storm will be felt? Do you have vulnerable seniors or a fragile newborn to care for? How well situated is your home for the kind of storm you are expecting? If you decide to leave, decide on a destination, pack your bags and leave early. You do not want to be looking for gas and stuck in traffic jams as the storm approaches.
  2. Address communication: The most important thing you can have is good information. Get an emergency radio. Chose one that is designed to use alternative charging sources (hand-crank) and have fresh batteries. Get the batteries early. They run out quickly. Have a means to recharge your cell phone and update your contact list. Designate a family member outside the impact zone to act as a clearing house for family check-ins.
  3. Secure you shelter: If you stay, do a walk around the exterior of your home. Put away or secure anything loose. Your yard should be free of anything that could become a projectile. Tape or cover windows if high winds are expected. Plywood disappears as quickly as batteries. Park your car under cover and have the tank filled with gas. Park facing out. Clean and organize the interior. Have laundry caught up, the refrigerator cleaned out and the freezer fully loaded. Organize it so things that thaw quickly like ice cream and fruit are easy to remove if the power goes out. Fill empty space with jugs of water. As it thaws, you can use it for drinking. Get your supplies organized. Have a flashlight in each room. You don’t want to be fumbling in the dark for critical supplies.
  4. Water: Plan on a gallon per person per day for at least seven days. More is better. Bottled water will fly off the shelves. You can fill your own containers to save money and time standing in line. You can flush toilets with dirty water if necessary. Buy disposable dishes, wet wipes, hand sanitizer and paper towels to save on water for washing up. Don’t forget water for pets. A water filter is a big expense but if you fear a longer term shut down of services it can be a lifesaver.
  5. Food: Plan your menus around food that needs little preparation and no refrigeration. Small packages that eliminate leftovers are better than family size. Get groceries well before the lines form. Remember beverages and comfort food. At meal times, set the table and clean up right after. It will normalize the experience and help with morale.
  6. Cooking: A camp stove is a good cooking option for the short term. Have plenty of fuel, matches and a manual can opener on hand. Try it out before the storm. There is a learning curve and you want to be comfortable with using it.
  7. Lighting: There are so many options. Battery powered lanterns, oil lamps, solar lanterns, and camp lights. Candles are a poor choice. They give little light and present a danger unless closely supervised Make sure you have enough batteries and matches. If using oil lamps, trim the wicks, clean the chimneys and fill the reservoir before the storm hits.
  8. Heat: If this is a winter storm you will need to address how you will keep warm. If you have a wood stove, make sure you have your wood under cover and accessible. Have CO2 and smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in critical locations. Make sure any heater you use is rated for indoor use and follow all safety guidelines. You can manage in very cold temperatures if you are healthy, dress in layers and consume warm food and beverages. It is easier to keep a small space warm than it is a whole house so isolate one room to heat if necessary.
  9. Entertainment: Get out games, books, cards, puzzles and crafts to pass the time. This might be the perfect time to organize your photographs or start a chapter book that everyone can enjoy. A few new things can be a good distraction for fearful children. Including everyone in chores. As much as possible, keep to a routine.
  10. Your Preparedness Notebook: Have this handy should you have to grab and go in a hurry. I have written extensively about these notebooks and what they should contain. Current pictures of your home’s interior and exterior as well as an inventory of valuable possessions should be included for insurance purposes. Make sure you have your insurance policy and agent’s contact information in case you need to file a claim.

Major storms are hard on families. After the storm, talk about what the experience was like. Keeping a journal, taking pictures and connecting with neighbors can help with the recovery process. Contributing to the recovery effort, donating supplies and otherwise being proactive returns a sense of power after feeling at the mercy of nature.

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