Keeping it real since 2014

Mastering Disaster: Preparing for Hurricanes

Crap. Hurricanes *might* affect me. The way I deal with anxiety or fear in any form is listing the things I can control, and focusing on those actions. September is National Preparedness Month. This September, National Preparedness Month (NPM) will focus on planning, with an overarching theme “Disasters Don’t Plan Ahead. You Can.”

News about natural disasters hit home with more magnitude now that I’m a homeowner. Before I was always in a rental apartment, several floors above the ground. Worrying about hurricanes, flooding, even power outages weren’t a priority for me. But now that I’ve invested money and literally blood and sweat into my house, I don’t want to take any chances.

During this month I’ll be building my emergency kit, assessing risks around the house, and completing other emergency preparedness items that I’ll blog about. Hopefully my friends and family can benefit from some of this information and become more prepared for hurricanes and other disasters.

If you don’t trust me, here’s two great links to check out:

https://www.ready.gov/september

https://www.ready.gov/hurricanes

Safety

  • The United States National Weather Service advises “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” for flash floods, it recommends that people get out of the area of a flash flood, rather than trying to cross it. Many people tend to underestimate the dangers of flash floods. What makes flash floods most dangerous is their sudden nature and fast-moving water. A vehicle provides little to no protection against being swept away; it may make people overconfident and less likely to avoid the flash flood.
  • Put Together an Emergency Kit and Evacuation Plan If you believe water will begin to accumulate in your home, shut off power at the main electrical panel in your home
  • Make an inventory including photos of your expensive/important possessions in your home to make filing a claim easier.
  • Be aware that mold can develop within 24 to 48 hours of a flood.  Since the effect of mold on people can vary greatly, either because of the amount or type of mold, you can not rely on sampling and culturing to know your health risk.
  • Water is heavy (10lbs a gallon), don’t hurt yourself cleaning up
  • If the home is habitable, take precautions to keep yourself and your family safe from injury. Use flashlights to move around dark rooms, for example. If the home isn’t habitable, don’t try to stay there. Move to a shelter or alternate location. Consult your insurer to find out what provisions the company will make for temporary housing while your home is being repaired.

Do I need flood insurance?

Groundwater flood damage typically isn’t covered by conventional homeowners’ insurance policies. Most insurance (I have USAA), require that you purchase a separate flood insurance policy.

If you’re in a flood plain, and you have a mortgage, you likely do have the insurance because mortgage companies require it. This is called The National Flood Insurance Program, learn more about that here: https://www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program

Don’t wait for an impending storm to purchase federal flood insurance. There’s usually a 30-day waiting period. Some private policies offer a 15-day waiting period.

Do I live in a flood zone, and what are the chances a hurricane could affect me?

 

You can check your home’s elevation and determine whether or not you live in a flood zone here: https://msc.fema.gov/portal

Ask yourself how much rain do we normally get? Alexandria, Virginia, gets 42 inches of rain per year. The US average is 39. Snowfall is 15 inches. The average US city gets 26 inches of snow per year. The number of days with any measurable precipitation is 73. Houston’s average rain was approximately 50 inches, but Hurricane Harvey dropped 50 inches in FOUR days.

What were the most destructive hurricanes in the history of my city?

Hurricane of August 27, 1667 is considered one of the most severe hurricanes to hit Virginia, but few scientific details exist from that time.

Powerful Hurricane 1896: In Washington, the southeast wind suddenly jumped from 30 mph to hurricane-force late in the evening of September 29.

Hurricane of August 23, 1933. Potomac River that flooded portions of Washington and Alexandria, Virginia under 10 feet of water. In Alexandria, the Torpedo Factory and the Ford Motor Company were under six feet of water. wind suddenly jumped from 30 mph to hurricane-force late in the evening of September 29.

Hurricane Hazel, October 15, 1954.: raging southeast winds caused water to back up on the Potomac and spill out of its banks in several locations. Many riverfront buildings were flooded in Alexandria, and Route 1 and Mt. Vernon Highway were inundated. In addition, floodwaters up to five feet in depth covered Hains Point.

Hurricane Agnes June 1972: In Virginia, portions of nearly every major artery were closed due to flooding, including Routes 29-211, Route 7, Route 1, Interstate 66 and Interstate 95.  Sixteen people died in floodwater.

Hurricane Isabel, September 2003: Quantico, Virginia recorded a wind of 78 mph.

What’s a flash flood anyway?

Flash floods are distinguished from regular floods by a timescale of less than six hours. A flash flood is a rapid flooding of geomorphic low-lying areas: washes, rivers, dry lakes and basins. It may be caused by heavy rain associated with a severe thunderstorm, hurricane, tropical storm, or meltwater from ice or snow flowing over ice sheets or snowfields.

What do storm messages mean?

Listening to the weather forecast, it is important to understand the meaning of watches and warnings.

HURRICANE WATCH: Hurricane conditions are possible , usually within 36 hours.

HURRICANE WARNING: Hurricane conditions are expected, usually within 24 hours.

SHORT TERM WATCHES AND WARNINGS: provide detailed information on specific hurricane threats, such as tornadoes, floods, and high winds.

How do I prepare for a hurricane if I’ve only got a few days?

Full list here: https://www.ready.gov/hurricanes

  • Bring loose, lightweight objects inside that could become projectiles in high winds (e.g., patio furniture, garbage cans); anchor objects that would be unsafe to bring inside (e.g., propane tanks); and trim or remove trees close enough to fall on the building.
  • Cover all of your home’s windows. Permanent storm shutters offer the best protection for windows. A second option is to board up windows with 5/8” exterior grade or marine plywood, cut to fit and ready to install.
  • Hurricane winds can cause trees and branches to fall, so before hurricane season trim or remove damaged trees and limbs to keep you and your property safe.
  • Secure loose rain gutters and downspouts and clear any clogged areas or debris to prevent water damage to your property.
  • Reduce property damage by retrofitting to secure and reinforce the roof, windows and doors, including the garage doors.
  • Purchase a portable generator or install a generator for use during power outages. Remember to keep generators and other alternate power/heat sources outside, at least 20 feet away from windows and doors and protected from moisture; and NEVER try to power the house wiring by plugging a generator into a wall outlet.
  • Consider building a FEMA safe room or ICC 500 storm shelter designed for protection from high-winds and in locations above flooding levels.
  • Turn the refrigerator to maximum cold and open only when necessary.
  • Fill bathtub and large containers with water for sanitary purposes.
  • If winds become strong, stay away from windows and doors. Go to an interior first-floor room such as a bathroom or closet. Close all interior doors and brace external doors.

What if I’m told to evacuate?

  • Know where to go. If you are ordered to evacuate, know the local hurricane evacuation route(s) to take and have a plan for where you can stay. Contact your local emergency management agency for more information.
  • Put together a go-bag: disaster supply kit, including a flashlight, batteries, cash, first aid supplies, medications, and copies of your critical information if you need to evacuate
  • If you are not in an area that is advised to evacuate and you decide to stay in your home, plan for adequate supplies in case you lose power and water for several days and you are not able to leave due to flooding or blocked roads.
  • Make a family emergency communication plan.
  • Many communities have text or email alerting systems for emergency notifications. To find out what alerts are available in your area, search the Internet with your town, city, or county name and the word “alerts.”

How would I get ready for a hurricane if I’m handy and I’ve got a few weeks to weatherize the house for a hurricane?

Close foundation cracks with mortar and masonry caulk or hydraulic cement

Invest in a battery-powered sump pump.

Move expensive items to a safer location. If you have a second floor or an attic, moving furniture, photographs, and artwork to a higher level will protect your possessions in all but the most severe floods.

Elevate furnaces and water pumps when they’re installed, if possible, to a height of 12 inches above the highest known flood level for your area, suggests FEMA.

Anchor your fuel tanks. Unanchored tanks can float, rupture, and release fuel.

Install sewer or septic line check valves. They allow waste to flow only one way. Plan to spend $100 or more per valve to have a pro install them, or do it yourself for $10-$15 each to ensure sewage can’t back up into the standing water in your home.

What should I buy for an emergency kit?

  • Keep canned food in a cool, dry place
  • Store boxed food in tightly closed plastic or metal containers
  • Replace expired items as needed
  • Re-think your needs every year and update your kit as your family’s needs change.

Water – one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation

Food – at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food

Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert

Flashlight

First aid kit

Extra batteries

Whistle to signal for help

Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place

Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation

Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities

Manual can opener for food

Local maps

Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery

What would I do if there was a flood?

Notify your insurer soon as possible after the flood. Contact headquarters if it’s a regional issue.

Whether a flood is caused by ground water, falling water, or home water system malfunction, there are some best practices you’ll need to employ within the first 24 hours after the flood to ensure the safety of your home and family and give you the best outcome possible with your insurance company.

If the flood was serious enough for you to leave your home, be sure you stay safe upon your return. The Federal Emergency Management Agency warns that you should check for any visible structural damage, such as warping, loosened or cracked foundation elements, cracks, and holes before entering the home and contact utility companies if you suspect damage to water, gas, electric, and sewer lines.

In addition, it’s important to have a working flashlight and turn off all water and electrical sources within the home,

Even if the water in your home is clear, it could be contaminated by sewage or household chemicals. Ramirez recommends wearing waders, hip- or waist-high waterproof boots. In addition, wear rubber gloves to remove water-damaged possessions and to avoid contaminants

Use a sump pump, available from most hardware or home supply stores for $150 to $500, and a wet vac ($40 to $130).

As the homeowner, it’s your responsibility to secure the property so that no additional damage occurs. Put boards over broken windows and secure a tarp as protection if the roof has been damaged. Again, take photographs to prove to the insurance company that you have done everything possible to protect your home against further damage.

Document the damage and conversations at every stage of the process, note conversations, take photos, etc. Keep all documentation in one place so you can reference it.

Advise your insurance representative of the state of your home and any repairs you intend to do immediately. Be sure to follow the insurance company’s direction about whether or not to wait for an adjuster to inspect the property

More Information:

What to Do When Your House Floods: https://www.safewise.com/blog/what-to-do-when-your-house-floods/

What to Do in the First 24 Hours After a Flood: https://www.houselogic.com/finances-taxes/home-insurance/what-do-first-24-hours-after-flood/

Don’t Be Sorry You Didn’t Know This About Your Home Insurance: https://www.houselogic.com/finances-taxes/home-insurance/protect-yourself-and-your-home-flooding/

What Does Flood Insurance Cover? https://www.houselogic.com/finances-taxes/home-insurance/what-does-flood-insurance-cover/

Is My House in a Flood Zone? http://www.floodtools.com/Map.aspx

Alexandria, VA Average Rainfall: http://www.bestplaces.net/climate/city/virginia/alexandria

Washington D.C.’s 5 Worst Hurricanes and Rainfalls: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/post/washingtons-worst-five-hurricanes-and-tropical-storms/2011/08/23/gIQAR1ZtdJ_blog.html?utm_term=.9506b8a3b834

Alexandria VA Hurricane Preparation: https://www.alexandriava.gov/Hurricane

What’s My Elevation? http://veloroutes.org/elevation/

The National Flood Insurance Program: https://www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program

What’s my hurricane risk: https://community.fema.gov/hazard/hurricane-en_us/be-smart?lang=en_US

Build A Emergency Kit: https://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit

Red Cross Emergency Kits: http://www.redcross.org/get-help/prepare-for-emergencies/be-red-cross-ready/get-a-kit

Risk of Mold: https://www.cdc.gov/mold/dampness_facts.htm 

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