What can go wrong with my well-laid hurricane plans?

wiseGEEK Writing Contest

Having lived on the Gulf Coast of Florida for twenty-one years, I have become well-aware that the best hurricane plan in the world can take some unexpected and highly unpleasant turns. No one can anticipate every eventuality, but here are some snafu’s I have experienced or seen others experience.

First of all, there can be a number gasoline-related problems:

“The Rules” say to as much as possible keep your car’s gas tank filled to capacity throughout hurricane season. Experience has shown that in hurricane-weary areas, at the first possibility of a storm the masses slam the gas stations. They do this not only to fill up their vehicles with gas, but often to fill up numerous portable gasoline containers as well. This gas hoarding can become truly outrageous, with some zealous individuals buying up to $400.00 in gasoline. Needless to say, when this kind of panicked buying is going on, gas station after gas station runs out of gas, resulting in desperate individuals combing town in search of gas, and tempers flaring at the pumps.

One way to avoid this, of course, is to invest in containers of gasoline well before any hurricane event is about to take place. Some do exactly that, but I myself am leery of storing the equivalent of a bomb in my garage!

Assuming you decide to evacuate for the storm and have a full tank of gas, plus a spare container or two in your trunk, you might think you have it made. You pack the car and you’re off. Or so you think. The truth is likely to be that you’re off to go no more than a few miles, and then you’re going to be stalled on that vast parking lot that is euphemistically called the evacuation route. You can leave your engine running and burn up your gasoline going nowhere fast. Or you can turn off your car, get out, walk around, and wring your hands. If you have enough portable containers of gas, you just might survive this leg of the mess. Otherwise, there you are, out of gas, waiting for the hurricane out on the highway in the dubious protection of your car.

Part of the solution for all this misery is for only those people who truly need to evacuate to do so. Every else should consider “sheltering in place” and leaving the roadways clear for those who really need to use them. If you live in a sturdy shelter which is NOT in a flood zone or within reach of the storm surge and you do not have “special needs” then you PROBABLY do not need to evacuate. (Again, everyone needs to carefully evaluate their own situation in making this important decision. The time to evaluate and decide is before hurricane season even starts!)

Those who decide to ride out the storm in their homes may purchase generators to provide some electricity after the hurricane is over, in case power is lost. Needless to say, these generators are useless if you don’t have fuel to run them. Individuals will need to make the decision whether or not they will risk storing large amounts of gasoline on their property. The alternative is to deal with sweltering heat and humidity after the storm, until power can be restored. The wait might be a day or two—but can be a week or two!

A reminder here: gasoline stored for long periods can go bad; you can purchase additives to mixed in with the stored fuel to keep this from happening.

While gasoline-related problems are most likely to cause the major snafus with your hurricane plans, plenty of other problems, large and small, can happen. When I was evacuating for Hurricane Opal, I got a flat tire. That was after my son, who had never experienced asthma before, had breathing difficulties because of being confined in a closed car with three dogs and two cats. Of course, that was really not that much of a problem since traffic was moving so slowly that he simply opened the door, stepped out of the car, and got in the car with some neighbors who were evacuating with us! Some kind men changed the tire for me, but instead of an actual spare, I had only one of those “doughnut” spares and was informed I couldn’t travel far on that. So my lovely motel reservations and reservations at a kennel in the town I was evacuating to were all for naught. I did have food and water for my pets, but no litter box or cat litter, since I thought I would be boarding my animals.

Solution: always anticipate the worst possible scenario and plan for that. Never assume, when you’re evacuating, that you’re actually going to get where you have planned to go.

Which brings us to a grimly serious point here: if you are a person with special needs, such as the requirement for an oxygen machine, you cannot afford for the “worst possible scenario” to take place. If your situation is such that you’ll need to evacuate, you must do so before the need is completely clear, so that the roadways WILL be clear. Many people will have the luxury of waiting to see how strong the storm is likely to be before they decide to evacuate, but you are not one of those people. (Ditto for those who live in mobile homes or other non-sturdy shelters, or who live in flood zones or within reach of the storm surge. Every time you’ll need to evacuate. Yes, doing so is expensive and a hassle, but beats the heck out of being dead!)

In spite of such potentially unexpected problems, “the Rules” are still good to follow. The bottom line is to PREPARE----and to do so well before the first storm is out there headed toward land. The OTHER bottom line is to anticipate your preparations falling through, and prepare for that as best you can!

submitted by Denese S. Wong