If you live in a coastal city, you are probably familiar with the nerve-wracking tension that results when a hurricane approaches. ‘Is it coming here? When will it make landfall? Should we evacuate?’ Although the slow speed of most hurricanes means they give a few days warning, there is always a great deal of uncertainty about the exact location a storm will target.
Hurricane preparation is a must for all who live in these areas. If an evacuation is ordered, will you be ready? Many people died during Hurricane Katrina because they were unwilling or unable to leave their homes when told to do so. If you live on a fixed-income or your income is low, you may feel overwhelmed when you read instructions on how to prepare for a storm. “Keep gas in your car” – what if you don’t have a car? The list of suggested supplies is extensive, and if your income is such that you can barely pay your bills, that list can be daunting. What can you do?
Frugal hurricane preparation is not simple, but with forethought it can be done. Preparation for a hurricane has four major components: transportation, destination, supplies, and communication. Here are some ideas for addressing these issues on a tight budget.
The first component of frugal hurricane preparation is transportation. If the order is given to evacuate your area, how would you do it? If you have a car, the suggestions given on websites are good. Keep as much gas in your car as you can. Also, keep extra oil, water, belts, and whatever similar supplies apply to your vehicle. You may need to purchase these supplies over time (as well as other supplies below), but the important first step is to know what you need and make a plan to buy it.
If you do not have a car, explore other transportation options. Do you have nearby friends or relatives with a car that you can ride with? You could share expenses with them; if you plan to do so, begin setting aside money now. If you cannot get a ride with others, consider public transportation. Do you live in an area that has bus or train service? If so, find out how much it would cost for each family member to travel to a safe place. Again, you will need to set aside money for this. Saving money is very difficult if your income is barely sufficient already. However, remember that your life and the lives of your family members are at stake. See the resources below for ideas about saving money.
If you are planning to evacuate using public transportation, make sure that you keep a close eye on weather conditions. It is best not to wait until the mandatory evacuation order has been given, as transportation options may be limited at that point.
The second aspect of frugal hurricane preparation is your destination. Regardless of your transportation method, you should have an idea of where you are going. Finding a place to stay with friends or relatives who live at least 150-200 miles inland is your best bet. Alternatively, travel to a large city which is likely to set up shelters for evacuees. Tune to your radio after evacuation begins to find out where the shelters are located. As a last resort, you can find a place to camp. However, when storms move inland they frequently dump large amounts of rain; hail, high winds, and tornadoes are also possible. It is very important to take shelter in a well-built structure if at all possible.
Third, when planning your frugal hurricane preparation, remember that you need supplies to sustain you during the evacuation period. Most sources recommend at least a 3-day supply of food and water for each member of your family. Carrying this, plus clothing, medicines, first aid kit, and other supplies, will be very difficult without a car. Keep non-essentials to a minimum, and try to limit the volume of supplies to the amount you can carry in a backpack. Each member of your family should have their own backpack, even small children. They can carry lighter supplies; children who are in school probably have backpacks already.
Choose food that is non-perishable and can be eaten without heat, water, or other preparation. However, make sure that it is food your family will eat. Sanitary supplies such as toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, diapers, and trash bags are very important especially if you will be in a shelter. Disease spreads easily in shelters and sanitation is essential. Similarly, you should have your own first aid supplies, for the trip as well as time in a shelter or another location. A basic first aid kit can be purchased for $10-$15.
Other supplies include medications, special supplies for infants, elderly, or disabled persons, and fun items to boost morale. Make sure that if you have small children you take along their favorite stuffed toys or “blankies”!
Fourth in your frugal hurricane preparation, consider communication needs. If you have a cell phone, keep it charged. However, remember that cell phones may not function if high winds damage the cell towers. You should carry quarters or a phone card so that you can contact family members who are concerned about your safety. An AM radio is also important so that you can keep track of instructions from emergency agencies. Keep batteries on hand for the radio, but don’t leave the batteries in it because they could leak and damage the circuitry. An AM radio is best for this purpose because AM signals can travel farther and are less likely to be inhibited by heavy rain and other atmospheric events. Portable AM radios can be purchased for $5-$10.
Finally, find out (before you need to know) what emergency plans have been established in your local area and how to get help. There is much that government and private agencies can do to help those in the path of a hurricane’s destruction, but if you prepare ahead of time, you will not need to rely entirely on outside aid. Remember, it can happen in your area! Be prepared!