I always feel a bit on edge before a big storm. I know that it's coming, but I never know what, exactly, to expect. I always end up acting a bit cagey and I don't really get much done except read every related news report I can find.
I know that it probably won't be terrible and that most likely the worst that will happen is that the power goes out for a few hours, but I've seen bad storms and I've had some close calls, so the nervousness always wins out a little more than it should.
One thing that makes me feel somewhat better about any weather related event is the fact that I make sure I'm prepared ahead of time.
Government websites will tell you to have enough food and water to last for 3 days. I think that's a really low number. In my opinion, it's best to have enough food and water for at least 14 days (the Red Cross recommends this, as well). That's two weeks and I don't think that it's unreasonable. It isn't unheard of for a storm (or other disaster event) to shut down an area for that length of time.
Let's go back to October of 2012 for a moment...
I was in Galloway, New Jersey finishing up some last minute packing and cleaning at my parents' house. My brother and I had finally found a buyer for it and he wanted to have closing fairly quickly. We had A LOT to do. Then, wouldn't you know, in the middle of all of that craziness this giant hurricane started heading our way.
At that point, we didn't have any cable or internet access at the house, so Darlene was keeping me updated on the storm via text messages. My brother and I REALLY didn't want to have to leave and return to our homes (eight hours away in opposite directions) and then drive back again to finish everything. Plus, we had very little time left before closing.
The day before the storm, I went to U-Haul to pick up some extra packing supplies. The line was nearly out the door. Everyone there was getting something storm-related. Some people were even trying to rent trucks to pack and evacuate. All I wanted was some bubble wrap and it took me somewhere close to an hour to pay for it. That's when I went to the library to check the weather report.
Yep. It was time to leave. I just had to make one quick stop at the grocery store (which was madness, sheer madness!) and then I'd be packing my car with as much as possible to head back to New Hampshire.
Over the next few days, I obsessively checked various news sites and facebook for updates on Sandy and, specifically, the Atlantic City area. I really couldn't believe the reports that I was reading and some of the photographs were absolutely devastating. Thankfully, Galloway was pretty much fine and the house was unscathed.
But gas shortages and rationing? Wow...I had never seen anything like that. When I did eventually head back, I had to plan out my trip so I knew exactly where in Connecticut I had to fill up so I could make it all the way down to Galloway without stopping.
The closing on the house went fine and, by the time I headed back to New Hampshire, the gas rationing had ended. Still, I was left feeling quite unsettled by some of the things I'd witnessed in person, in the news, and online.
One thing I noticed is that it seemed like no one in New Jersey and New York was the least bit prepared for a disaster event. No, really...like, at all. People were freaking out. That time I went to the grocery store the day before the storm? If I made a cartoon of that moment, it would involve people running around, pushing shopping carts, screaming, with their hair on fire.
Food, water, batteries, generators...stores were selling out of these items like crazy. People were posting online with offers to buy and sell. Then, when it was all over, it seems like people went back back into complacency. I recall seeing one person post that they had bought a generator, hadn't needed it, and wanted to sell it. Seriously? You might not want to keep that super-important item handy just in case you need it in the future?
Even after everything that happened, people still maintained that “it can't happen here” attitude.
So, getting back to the present, what would I recommend to have on hand just in case?
Food and water are the big ones. You need to be sure to have enough non-perishable food and water for your entire family, plus pets, for at least two weeks. You also need to take into account any extra water you might use, such as water for cooking.
You should also make sure to keep cash on hand. If an event knocks out power, you might not be able to use your debit or credit cards. Cash, though, will still be able to be accepted.
Speaking of the power going out, batteries, flashlights, and a hand-crank radio are all good things to have. I've even used that type of radio to charge my cell phone a bit.
Definitely take hygiene into account- be sure to have extra toilet paper and feminine products on hand. Also, ever since losing power for nearly a week after Hurricane Irene, I have some baby wipes stockpiled. If you don't have access to running water, those make a big difference.
If you think you're in a situation where you might be forced to evacuate, get all your important papers together and ready to go. You should also make yourself familiar with your local evacuation routes and any alternatives there might be.
The things I've listed are very basic and I've definitely gotten nowhere near covering everything you should have put away. There are very good sources out there that have checklists from the most basic to the most hardcore (like, “we're hunkering down for ten years”). It's up to you what you can and are willing to do, and also what makes sense for you in your current situation. You don't have to go out, today, and buy everything you need all at once, but you can add an extra item here and there when you do go shopping. That way you won't have to be a member of the frenzied masses who waited until the last minute or, even worse, got stuck without and left dependent on outside assistance.