Ten Things All Houstonians Should Have Now in Preparation for Hurricane Season

Sunday was the first day of Hurricane Season 2014. It is an annual ritual along the Gulf and Atlantic coastlines to get ready for potential tropical storms. Depressions can drop boatloads of rain, as can tropical storms (Allison, anyone?), so we would do well to be wary of even non-hurricane events. But when hurricanes do strike, they often leave us without power for days, sometimes without water and frequently stuck in a hot, steamy house for a couple of weeks.

That's why this is a good time to begin checking off your list of things you need in case of a hurricane. It may seem a bit silly to prepare, but it will be so much easier on you and your family if the worst happens. If nothing else, doing so will make you feel better.

10. Entertainment & Information Options

Must-Haves: Radio, Cards, Board Games Additional Options: Portable TV

When you are stuck in your home for a week or more without power, it can get boring. But before you reach that point, you're going to need a way to find out what is happening with the storm. Keep in mind that you may not have power or even cell service. A radio (with batteries -- see below) is a great option. And having some games to amuse the kids -- or to play with your neighbors -- is never a bad option. If you can spring for a little battery-operated TV or DVD player, go for it, Rockefeller.

9. Safe Storage

Must-Haves: Document Storage, Cloud Backup Additional Options: Waterproof Safe

Nothing can wipe out personal documents and computer technology like water. A flood or a leaky roof can destroy important documents and hard drives full of data. Making copies of your important documents before trouble starts is a great idea. Put them in a safe deposit box or, better yet, scan them into a computer and use a cloud backup service. A waterproof/fireproof safe isn't a bad idea, either.

This guy in the Heights was prepared after Ike hit.
This guy in the Heights was prepared after Ike hit.
Photo by Jeff Balke

8. Clean-Up Tools

Must-Haves: Basic Hand Tools, Rake, Broom Additional Options: Chainsaw, Power Tools

If you don't have the most basic of hand tools, go to Home Depot today and splurge the $25 or $30 it costs for a very simple set of tools including a hammer, screwdrivers and the like. If you own a home, get a broom and a rake -- mop, too -- because with high winds, stuff is gonna fall. I highly recommend some power tools as well such as a cordless drill and even a chainsaw (how else are you getting that broken limb off your car?), though keep in mind an electric one is cheaper but won't work if you don't have power.

7. Home Protection

Must-Haves: Insurance, Exterior Storage Additional Options: Plywood, Plylox

Some people go a bit overboard on the home protection during storms. Most of us don't need to worry that much about significant problems like falling trees, but winds do blow debris around and that can break windows. Your first line of defense is obviously insurance. If you live in a flood-prone region -- even if you are not required by law to have insurance -- the extra cash for flood protection is worth it. Also, cleaning up everything outside and storing it safely will give you some added protection. If you really feel the need, go to Lowe's or Home Depot with measurements of your windows and have them cut you plywood to fit, and grab some Plylox to fasten it to your house. Once you've done it, you never have to buy plywood again.

6. Contact Information & Plans

Must-Haves: Friends, Family, Insurance, Mortgage, Landlord, Evacuation Plans Additional Options: Key maps

Having basic contact information for your friends, family, insurance, landlord or mortgage company is essential, preferably written down rather than saved on an electronic device that needs power. Having a good evacuation plan if you are in a more vulnerable area, particularly if you have small children or elderly people living with you, is also very important. During the horrid evacuation of Hurricane Rita, I used a pair of Key maps (Harris and Montgomery County) to lay out a route to my mom's house in Montgomery County that took me only about two hours while others sat on I-45 for a dozen hours or more, not even getting out of the city. It's old-school but effective.  

With the whole first floor flooded, hopefully this guy has some extra food for a few days.
With the whole first floor flooded, hopefully this guy has some extra food for a few days.
Photo by Jeff Balke

5. Cooking & Food Storage Options

Must-Haves: Matches, Gallon Bottles of Water, Ice Chest Additional Options: Grill, Charcoal

If you are fortunate enough to have a gas range, you can light the burners and/or the pilot even if the mechanism that normally lights them is electric with a match or lighter. If not, get a portable charcoal grill and a good supply of charcoal. Food will stay good in most refrigerators for a couple of days if you don't open it too much. Having an ice chest for really vulnerable foods is a good idea. In lieu of ice, buy a dozen gallon bottles of water and freeze them. They can keep things cold a long time and as they thaw, you have fresh water to drink.

4. Alternate Light Sources

Must-Haves: Flashlight, Candles Additional Options: Lantern

In any power outage, it's a good idea to have a quality flashlight with fresh batteries (and extras), but for outages lasting more than a few hours, candles come in very handy. Oil lamps and lanterns are also extremely helpful. There are some LED lanterns that even run on batteries. Without lights in your home or ambient light from street lamps, that walk from the bedroom to the bathroom can be pretty damn treacherous.

3. Power Alternatives

Must-Haves: Batteries, Extension cords, Fuel, Car charger cables Additional Options: Generator, Backup Power Supply

As mentioned several times above, you will need plenty of batteries. Make sure to get them in sizes you need for your various appliances because nothing is as annoying as having the wrong batteries. Store them somewhere safe as well because some batteries can be a fire hazard. Extension cords are great when your neighbors have power but you don't. During Ike, I ran three or four of them across the street to my neighbors because my power came on first. It was a small extra energy cost, but a huge help for them. It's never a bad idea to have 10 or 20 gallons of gas stored just in case and having charger cables for your phone and other devices that work in the car is handy. Consider getting a generator or even just a back up battery supply for computer equipment. A good generator will let you keep your fridge and even a window a/c unit running!

2. Personal and Pet Safety Supplies

Must-Haves: Medication, First aid Additional Options: Pet carriers

Never go into storm season without important medications and first aid. Evacuations can be lengthy and you might not have a chance to get to a pharmacy for weeks after a storm. You should also prep for your pets as well. Don't leave them stranded. Get extra food and have good carriers if you need to evacuate with them. Cheap, throwaway litter boxes are also helpful for cats.

1. Alcohol

Must-Haves: Beer, Wine Additional Options: Tequila

Should this be No. 1 on my list? Probably not, but let's face it, when you are stuck without power for a few days or even a week, you will make yourself damn popular around your 'hood if you are able to make your house party central. And you'll care a lot less about how damn hot it is.

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