Like many in Florida, I am now Monday-morning-quarterbacking my experience with Hurricane Irma. I found areas where I did something right, intentionally or not, and others where I get to say, “Oh. NOW I get it.” I am grateful I have no property damage or bodily injury, and a chance to do a better job next time.
Below are four (of many) lessons I didn’t expect to learn from Irma.
Irma approached Florida two weeks ago. One week out, I dug up all the hurricane checklists I had and took inventory. But I became confused about which lists were for leaving the state, for staying at home, and for going to a shelter/friend’s home. I never thought I wouldn’t know which it was going to be. Leaving was not a simple option; neither was staying. As we debated, I bounced between the checklists, creating triple the prep anxiety.
Lesson #1: This could have been avoided with a kit prepared in advance for each option. (We ended up staying in our barely-non-evacuation zone home, shuttered and sandbagged to the max.)
What I Did Right: All the checklists say, “Flashlight.” I dug up as many flashlights as I could find. I checked the batteries. I replaced the batteries in the ones that didn’t work. The worst of the storm was to come at night, so before bed, I placed one on my bedside table and one on the kitchen counter underneath the light switch.
NOW I Get It #1: I quickly realized I was running low on batteries. Unfortunately I waited until the day before the hurricane to check my flashlights, and the batteries were gone from the store shelves five days before that.
NOW I Get It #2: When I thought about needing a flashlight, I imagined when the power has gone out before – it would be a handy supplement to dim natural light. What actually happened was the power went out in the middle of the night; the clouds were too thick for moonlight, and even then, the hurricane shutters blocked everything out. My house was a cave – I could not see my hand in front of my face. The flashlight was an absolute necessity, not a helpful little handy supplement. I could have used one for each room in the house.
Lesson #2: Change checklist to “Several flashlights.” Put on calendar on June 1: “Check flashlight batteries and battery supply.”
Food and Clothing
What I Did Right: The checklists say to have three days of food and clothing prepared. I planned ahead for having three days of healthy food for three people (we took in my boyfriend’s awesome and very grateful 92-year-old mother who has health issues), even if we had no power. I cooked most of the frozen food. I did all the laundry and ran the dishwasher up to the very last day.
NOW I Get It #1: I didn’t understand why 3 days of clothing were needed at a shelter/friend’s home when the storm is over in 24 hours. Now I recognize that:
- a) The time to go to a shelter is at least 24 hours before the 24 hours of wind, rain, and flooding starts – it reduces rushing and panic, and ensures you get a spot at the shelter you want (even if it’s a friend’s house). Once the tree branches start flying across the highway, you can’t go back for more underwear; and
- b) Just because the storm is over doesn’t mean you can get back to your home. (Failing to think of this is called “denial”.)
Lesson #3: Have 3 days of clothing packed just in case. Maybe 5.
On Your Own
One checklist says, “After an emergency, you may need to survive on your own for several days.”
What I Did Right: See above – The food and clothing and dishes thing. That’s about it.
NOW I Get It #1: When I read the above sentence, I thought, “Are you kidding? That’s for people who live in Podunk, Georgia.” Now I realize we were lucky we still had water and sewer running on generators for a half million people with no power. Otherwise, we could have been in survival mode without basic services (as I imagine the Keys, Puerto Rico, and islands are experiencing). I love camping and have been doing it since I was little, but I take way more time to prepare for camping trips than I did for this hurricane.
NOW I Get It #2: We moved to a new neighborhood exactly one year ago. We have met the neighbors, had them over for Superbowl, and waved as we were coming and going. We know them, sort of, but I had no idea how much we would come together in a crisis. I did not think of counting on my neighbors, nor did I give a thought to them counting on me. But as Irma’s track got clearer, we formed a texting group, even with the couple who just moved in 5 days ago. We checked in on each other as soon as the sun came up. One shared their freezer operating on a generator. Others immediately helped cut and clear fallen trees. We shared our stories and asked how we could help each other. As long as I live here, I know I will not have to survive “on my own.” Help is just across the street; and I would be grateful for the opportunity to give help right back.
Lesson #4: There are many more little lessons from Irma that I can recount, but this last one was the biggest V-8 moment of all. I am not all “on my own”; I am part of a caring community that pulls together, whether it’s unlucky tree karma in your yard or failing to buy batteries (and propane) in time. When I hear the same old story on the news from a natural disaster, “We all pulled together,” “This is a community who cares,” NOW I know what that kind of community feels like. Still, I will do a better job taking care of my needs so I can be better prepared to take care of others.
Now, I get it.