Lessons From Sandy


As we are watching the slow motion disaster that is the post Hurricane Sandy response a few observations have popped into my mind. Do with them as you will.

Except for in terms of loss of life, Sandy is a bigger disaster than Katrina. The response by local, state, and federal agencies seems to be just as bad, if not worse in the sense that we’ve had 7 years since Katrina and 20 since Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and it just seems nothing is better. Except for the military, the responses have been slow and erratic at best. Maybe it’s because of the upcoming election, but the media seems to be devoting far less coverage to this disaster and the lackluster response than the other two storms mentioned. There are probably other responses that were as ineffective, but these are the three that come to mind.

YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN. Depending on where you are, you can expect no help for the first 72 hours of a major disaster. Remember, the cops, EMTs, and fire fighters that we count on to help us in these situations generally live in or near the disaster area. If their homes and families are effected, where do you think that their priorities are going to be? It can take 12 or more hours for other local area assets to show up and that’s optimistic. FEMA and the rest? Days, several of them. Sandy is a week old and there are parts of New York and New Jersey that have yet to see anyone from any agency that has actually provided help.

Stock up on water, non perishable foods, flashlights, and other necessities. I like chemical light sticks because they are cheap, run for hours, and don’t have batteries. You can use them to walk around the house at night, use the bathroom, and locate each other in the dark. You can even mark obstacles that you don’t want to walk into or trip over.

Guns. The veneer of civilization is thin, very thin. Some people are predators and will steal what the need as soon as they see that the constraints of civilization have gone, even temporarily. Others are normally civilized, but they will reach a point where they are so hungry, cold, wet, and generally miserable that they will do things that they never would otherwise consider doing. Did you ever think you’d see people in New York City who are not homeless scrounging through dumpsters behind super markets? Me either. Desperate people do desperate things. Civilized people who prepare ahead of time are often amazed that other people who didn’t prepare ahead of time would consider stealing from them. Consider it and plan for it.

Emergency power. I’ve thought of buying a portable generator off and on for a few years, but haven’t done anything about it. Yet. Now of course is not a good time to buy a generator, but it’s a good time to do research. Like anything else that your life might depend on, don’t cheap out on buying one. Going back to my previous paragraph, make sure that you take steps to make sure it can’t be stolen from you. Make sure one of those steps is NOT running it inside your living space.

Water. Have plenty of it to drink in case your local water supply becomes contaminated or just unavailable. Buy some every month so you can drink the older stuff before it “expires”. I think that has more to do with the plastic bottles, but many brands seem to have expiration dates.

First Aid Kit and medications. I wrote about this here, here, and here. Also make sure that you have an ample supply of any prescription drugs you need to take. If you are a dialysis patient, try to have a back up plan in case your primary dialysis provider is closed, destroyed, or just inaccessible. Same with any other ongoing treatment you might need. I’ve said before that Mother Nature hates you and wants to kill you and this is never more evident than during natural disasters when the infrastructure that a lot of people depend on is disrupted.

Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate. I’ve heard all of the arguments for riding out the storm and I understand them. Giving your stuff all the protection in the world does no good if you’re dead. If you are in a place, such as within the storm surge of a hurricane, where it’s likely that your house is going to be swept out to see, what are you protecting? This is even more true if you are one of the people I mentioned above who depend on high tech equipment to live. Robert Heinlein wrote in one of his stories that the only way to survive a nuclear bomb is to be somewhere else when it goes off. The same principle applies here. Mrs. TOTWTYTR tells me that her plan if we lose power again is to go to a hotel for a few days. Good plan as long as the hotel has power. Other than that, maybe discussing an evacuation pre plan with some friends is a good idea. People you know and trust who will put you up and put up with you if the need arises. If you do that, plan to bring along bedding, food, water, and other supplies you’ll need.

Pets. Plan for them too. Even if that means letting them out to fend for themselves. I hate that idea, but if you can’t plan to stock enough food for them, along with whatever else they need for at least as long as you need to stock food for yourself, you have to find an alternative.

Fuel for your vehicles. During the winter I try never to have less than a half a tank of gas in my truck. I tell the Mrs. to do the same. I also keep a couple of warm blankets in the cars, just in case. A vehicle allows you to run away, but it also allows you to have a warm place in cold weather and electricity to recharge your cell phone and other vital electronics.

Those are my thoughts on the subject, I assume my readers have other (and probably better) ideas.


  1. Not as critical for “predicted” emergencies like hurricanes, but everyone in a family should have some non-local points of planned check-in. Often it’s easier to contact non-local people than local people. For example, if my AZ family is separated in a widespread emergency, we all know to check in with my IL-based father first, then try to reach one another.

    Related to that, text messaging often works when voice calls do not. Plus, it keeps the airwaves free for emergencies.

    Similarly, if you’re going to bug out, bug WAY THE HECK out (and try to bring ~48 hours’ worth of supplies per person). Riding out the storm in momma’s house only a few blocks away from yours may not help much if both are destroyed. When I lived in VA, my planned bug-out spots were family in MD (120 miles away) and IL (~800 miles away) depending on the severity of the event. When you have >24 hours’ notice of impending doom, it does no good to put on a brave face. If you must do so, though, please buy and wear an ID bracelet with some geographically-separated next-of-kin’s contact information on it.

  2. Light sticks on sale after Halloween $0.50 a stick. Not as good as dedicated lightsticks, let the kids use them next Halloween and get fresh ones after

  3. Good points, both of you. Another tip I saw today says don’t use candles because they can start a fire. Also, plan for your elimination needs. Fill the bath tub with water for washing and flushing, but not drinking. You might also have to construct a temporary toilet, but I don’t know how to do that.

  4. Temporary toilet? Home Depot bucket with a medium to heavy garbage bag liner. Make sure to get the lid too (reduces odor and insect attraction). Some companies have even made lids with seats built in (camping stores like Cabelas, I think). Dave Konig, a.k.a. The Social Medic, and I also have written about a couple disaster apps for smartphones on our blogs. Some of them will notify a predesignated contact if you don’t check in with them after a certain number of hours in a disaster zone. Others include a one-touch notification that the user can initiate.

    Drinking water can also be made with a camping canteen (ones with the filter built right in). Remember that Brita and Pur filters don’t eliminate bacteria and flagellates like camping filters.

    One other tip about cyalume lightsticks is they are intrinsically safe, so you can safely use them if you smell the odorant in natural gas. Don’t try that with the average flashlight.

    One recurrent thing I’ve heard numerous stories about during this storm and its wake is that people are still using generators and Hibachi/Charcoal briquet/propane BBQ’s and stoves indoors. Despite all the warnings that you find on social media, television and radio, and newspapers, people are still proving Darwin right by using these things in confined spaces.

    • I’ll have to look at those apps. Of course the person being contacted has to be on the grid, even if you aren’t. And anything that the produces CO should never be used inside.

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