How to Prepare for a NYC Hurricane

Staying Informed

Making it through a hurricane in NYC (or any other natural disaster) is 90 percent about being prepared, and following evacuation orders. As was the case with Hurricane Sandy, warnings from government and weather services should be taken with great regard. Yes, sometimes (often) storms change course, lose intensity, etc. However, as many people found out with Hurricane Sandy, all it takes is one storm to make you wish you had paid heed to the warnings.

Some great sources to keep up to date on storms are NOAA, The Weather Channel, AccuWeather as well as Weather Underground. Local news sites are also good sources. Once the power goes out, any local radio station will be broadcasting storm info, as long as they can stay on the air. Do these sources sometimes "hype" the weather for ratings? Perhaps, or perhaps in recent years we've just been lucky with most storms bypassing NYC. Again, better to be prepared and not need to be, than be caught (as many were) unprepared to deal with both a hurricane, and the aftermath.

A Few Basic Hurricane Facts to Remember

First, most hurricane damage is not caused by wind, but by water. Those of you on high floors may be safe from flooding, however, that doesn't mean the basement and first floor of your building isn't. The same for all of the restaurants, stores, etc. in your neighborhood. 

Second, putting a giant X on your windows with duct tape (or any other kind of tape) is a complete waste of time. It will not prevent your windows from breaking in a storm (if you don't believe me, you can find videos online to prove it). There is a product called Hurricane Tape that is effective, not in stopping a window from breaking, per se, but in preventing it from crashing into your home and leaving a huge hole for the storm to blow into the room. However, you must cover the ENTIRE window with it--something that takes much more time than putting a giant "X" of tape up. 

Third, getting through the storm is only half the battle. Being prepared to not have access to electricity, running water, transportation, local stores, etc. for severeal days, or a week, is where most people fail in being prepared.

Preparing for a Hurricane

1.) Check to find out if you are in a evacuation zone. Links to various maps can be found below.

2.) Make sure you have all important papers (ID's, passports, birth certificates, social security cards, insurance papers, familiy photos etc.) in one place that you can grab quickly in the even you need to evacuate before or after the storm. If you are not evacuating, but are in a flood risk area, move these papers to the highest floor, or the highest shelf in your kitchen cabinets.

3.) If you're in a flood zone and on a lower floor, unplug valuable electronic equipment. Shuttting off gas appliances is also recommended. If you're in a house, move electronics to a higher floor. It's also a good idea to move tools to a higher floor.

4.) After a hurricane or major storm, you may be on your own for several days or a week. Don't count on the government, or utilitiy company, or police and fire departments to be able to help your right away. They will be overwhelmed. Be patient, be prepared.

5.) If you are staying in your apartment or house, you should have the following on items on hand. Remember, you could be without power (and possibly water) for days, and all local businesses may be shut down as well.

  • Water. The rule of thumb is 1 gallon per person, per day. Residents of houses and smaller buildings may have gravity fed water systems, in which case you won't lose water pressure. However, keep in mind that the water treatment plant may go offline, leaving you with untreated water. Also, if you live in a mid- or high-rise, your water is delivered via pumps. When the electricity goes out, so does your water. No baths, no toilets, no drinking water. In addition to buying bottled water, you can fill empty soda bottles for drinking water, and fill your bathtub or a trash can for water to use for bathing, flushing the toilet, etc.
  • Prepared, Non-perishable Food. If you have an electric stove, or use the microwave, you won't be able to cook while the power is out. And most likely you won't be able to order out either. So having enough food on hand for a week, that doesn't require refrigeration or cooking, is essential. While it's easy to stock up on "junk" food (and it's better than starving), try to keep a mix of healthier foods as well. Suggestions include fresh or canned fruit, granola bars, dried fruit, peanut butter, bread, crackers. If you're in a house, or have outdoor space in your apartment, a grill or propane stove to prepare food will be useful.
  • Prescriptions, First Aid Kit and Vitamins. Make sure you have at least a week's supply of any medication you are taking. Pharmacies may be closed if the power is out. A standard First Aid Kit might be needed, especially if you go outside after the storm and hurt yourself in the debris. Also, since you will be under stress, and possibly not eating as well as usual, vitamins are recommended.
  • Clean Laundry, and Baby Wipes. No power means no laundry, or laundromat. If you don't have running water, don't have enough to sponge bath with set aside, baby wipes are another alternative to keeping clean.
  • Flashlight(s) and Extra Batteries. Candles will also work, although there is always the risk of fire.
  • Games, Cards, Books, Non-electronic Entertainment. After a couple of days of sitting at home with no power, you'll go stir crazy, or be ready to kill your roommate(s) or family members. Have something to keep you busy. Sufing the internet on your phone, or playing games, will suck up battery power in less than a day, so unless you have plenty of backup power available (see the next item on our list), limit your phone/tablet use to important updates, and not entertainment.
  • Radio (and Batteries), Solar Phone Chargers, Weather Radios, Generator. Social media and texting was crucial to keeping in touch wtih people when the power went out during Hurricane Sandy. However, as we all know, your phone won't stay charged forever. There are extra battery packs you can buy, as well as solar phone chargers. Weather radios are hand cranked, and don't require batteries, and are a great way to keep in touch with what is going on outside your apartment once the power goes out. Some more advanced models even allow you to charge your cell phone and tablet via the hand crank. If you have a house, a generator is an option... but ONLY if you have a house. Even then, you will need to have enough gas on hand to run it for several days.
  • Cash. Some stores may open after the storm, but if the power is out, they will only accept cash, since they won't be able to verify your charge card or debit card. ATMs won't be running, banks will be closed. Now is NOT the time to smash open your jar of pennies. If possible, try to have at least a couple of hundred dollars on you. If you don't need it.... well, eventually you'll spend it, or put it back in the bank later.
  • Fire Extinquisher. Not a bad idea to have one anyway, but after a storm, downed trees and flooding may keep the fire deparatment from being able to reach you. A fire extinguisher may just put out the fire completely, or slow it down enough until help can arrive.
  • Pepper Spray, or other Defense Items. Most people in a storm will pitch in, and watch our for each other. However, others may try to take advantage of the situation via looting. Protect yourself.
  • Flood Insurance. If you're in flood zone, even if you're in a high rise, in addtion to your homeowner's policy, and your renter's insurance, you should have flood insurance. Many people were surprised to learn after Hurricane Sandy that renter's (and homeowners) insurance doesn't cover damage caused by flooding, directly or indirectly. And renters, your landlord's insurance only convers the building, NOT the contents of your apartment. I'm on the 35th floor, you say, I won't need it. Well, what if your building has to be evacuated due to flood damage, and you have to stay in a hotel. Your normal insurance will almost surely refuse to cover those expenses, as they are due to flooding.
  • Extra Cans of Gasoline. As we saw after Hurricane Sandy, the supply lines for gas stations was disrupted, and gas for cars and generators become scare. Store extra gasoline in garages or outside, and only in approved cans. It is very dangerous and flammable. 

As you can see, preparing for a hurricane can potentially be time consuming. Don't wait until the last minute, when lines are long, and supplies are low. Some items (such as a weather radio, flashlight, batteries, fire extinquisher, solar chargers, etc.) are items you should have in an emergency kit, or have on hand anyway.

Flood and Evacuation Zones

If there are calls for evacuations, please first take the time to find out what flood zone you are in. There are multiple zones, based on expected storm intensity, tidal levels during the storm, etc.. If you’re in one of these areas and are told to evacuate it is always advised that you do so--even if you live on a higher floor. Remember, flooding will cause extensive damage to the local infrastructure, effectively shutting down your entire neighborhood for days.

NYC Evacuation Zones: http://maps.nyc.gov/hurricane/

Nassau & Suffolk County Flood Zones: http://www.nassaucountyny.gov/agencies/oem/Docs/PDF/nys_storm_surge_zones.pdf

Northern New Jersey Flood Zones (zoom in to find your area): http://fema.maps.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?webmap=2f0a884bfb434d76af8c15c26541a545&extent=-74.4471,40.7984,-73.7206,41.0868

Westchester County Evacuation Zones: http://giswww.westchestergov.com/gismap/default.aspx?

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