What Preparedness Lessons Did You Learn From Hurricane Sandy?

We’re interested in hearing from our east coast readers about how they rode out Hurricane Sandy. How did the storm impact you? How did your preparations work out? Is there anything you would do differently next time?

Hurricane Sandy was a reminder to us to take a look at our preparedness. We may not have monster storms here in Los Angeles, but we certainly are overdue for a big earthquake. It’s been a long time since we’ve taken a look at our supplies and emergency equipment. I’m considering a drill–living without power/gas/water for a few days to see what we can improve.

Update. On the Root Simple Facebook page reader Josh Barton left the following account:

I’m in the St.George area of Staten Island, about a 7 minute walk to the water. I live at the top of a hill, so I wasn’t worried about flooding, but I think I should buy a raft just in case it doors ever flood in the lower parts (Esp if I move somewhere else. So it’d be good to research what areas were flooded during Irene and Sandy).

During the storm I had my phone and tablet attached to chargers until the peer went out for me at 9pm.

Because my windows face north, and the wind was blowing north, my windows were on good shape, thankfully. In the future, this is something I will always have to look in to. Before the storm I looked up how fat wind needs to travel to break windows and then I constantly checked the wind speed via the weather on my phone.

After the power went out, I hooked my phone up to a battery backup (ZaggSparq 2.0) and then went to bed shortly afterwards.

My first mistake was leaving the phone on overnight. I should have turned it off to conserve power. It used up more power than I was expecting, so I had about 2 full charges left after that.

I own a bike, thankfully, so my first priority was to go to the ferry terminal so I could either charge up there our go in to the city and find a Starbucks our Barnes & Noble to plug in to. I wasn’t expecting to see the ferry terminal closed with no ETA on when it would open! That meant I was stranded inn Staten Island since I don’t have a car and buses weren’t running. That was a major blow for me.

The next day I decided to check out this deli I always pass on my way hone because I knew they had free wifi and I saw they had a cafe level (I’ve never been in there before). Thankfully, they were open, had power, and wifi!

From this I learned a few more things:

1) don’t assume power will be restored anytime soon. I should have bought an emergency radio/flashlight with a hand crank generator that a phone can be plugged in to. Until I find that deli, I was concerned I would lose touch with my mother and a few close friends (I know no one on this island and very few in NYC).

2) Make note of places that have outlets. Since I was able to get on Facebook, I was able to see what others were doing for power (public libraries, and a few people grouped around a chase ATM with an outlet)

3) when going to somewhere that has an outlet, bring a power strip! Do not fall upon the mercy of waiting or being restricted to how many outlets you can use (I wanted to charge my phone, tablet, phone backup charger, and batteries).

4) either prepare emergency food ahead of time or keep an emergency food supply. Based on how Tonga have been in NYC, I’d say a week’s worth of food is good.

5) something I’ve wanted for a while, but never had the funds for (or forgot about) is a solar powered generator. That sure would have made my life a lot easier this week!

6) have an evacuation plan. I have no idea how to get out of Staten Island by bus. I always take the ferry because it’s close and convenient.

7) what happened in Breezy Point, Queens (a 6 alarm fire that destroyed a block of houses) could happen anywhere. Make sure that the stuff that’s priceless too you us kept safe. Very safe. I’m lucky compared to some people!

Before moving to NYC, survival was a concern for me. It’s not as easy as when you’re in a house and you have more room and you can install solar panels or keep a large generator on hand. Despite this concern, I think I failed by 50%. The two big things I did right though was I have a Berkey gravity filter, so in the event there was no water, I could have easily gotten untreated water from a stream (you could also get water from a fire hydrant. A few days before the storm I saw someone filing up buckets of water from a hydrant for unknown reasons), I had an alternative means of transportation so if need be, I cold have traveled a large distance, and I was good on food.

In the future, I hope to be better prepared. I got off easy and was able to learn from this.

I typed all this out on my phone, so hopefully predictive text didn’t mangle any words

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12 Comments

  1. I’m in central NYS, about 250 miles from NYC. What I learned from this whole thing – or actually, was reminded of – is to ignore the local media, who, as usual seemed to see their job as instilling panic in the public. The NOAA/NWS was a much more reliable and rational source of information about how bad the storm would be. In fact, their forecast was spot on: winds of 35 – 40 mph and 1/2″ or rain (or less) Monday night. My garden rain gauge had 1/4″ of water in it on Tuesday AM. There were scattered power outages in our area, but everyone had power back within 24 hours. Local power crews are now working downstate and in NJ.

    Areas to the south and west of us (Binghamton and into Pennsylvania, southwestern NYS, and up into Michigan and Ontario on the west side of the storm) received much more rain and even some snow. It was, relatively speaking, pretty much a non-event in our area, much to the disappointment of the local media I think. By the time these hurricanes get to us, they’re fizzling fast; in fact they’re always tropical storm/depression strength by then. We’ve gotten far worse from summer thunderstorm fronts.

    I made sure the car had gas in it, I filled 7, 1 gal. jugs with water and put 4 bags of ice in the freezer. If need be I’d fill my (camping) cooler with ice and I’d be able to keep food and condiments for a good 5 days (the ice lasts 4 days in summer heat with ice water too cold to hold your hand in after).

    The reality is, though, that almost everyone here is unprepared to go days without electricity, gas, or water in the event of a real, long-term emergency. It would be nice to have full backup systems for everything, but true preparedness is probably cost prohibitive.

  2. I am on the west coast, so like you folks, I watched it all happening from a distance. I have a good friend in Ohio though, far from the storm’s center, who nonetheless lost power and who is still without power as we speak. By the time her power is restored, it will have been out in her neighborhood for at least 7 days. BUT….she has a generator, and so life has gone on. That is the lesson I learned: Buy a generator, one capable of generating at least enough juice to run our well pump and refrigerator. And to have that generator run off propane — not gasoline. She says the gas lines are horrible there right now. We don’t live in hurricane country, but we DO live in earthquake country, and possibility of the power being out a week or more is certainly not out of the question, should the “big one” hit. If anything good at all comes out of this storm, it should be that others across the nation see it and get prepared for whatever Mother Nature may throw out at them in the days and years to come.

  3. My daughter lives in Dyker Heights in Brooklyn. She never lost power. However, a tree took out her tv,home phone, and internet. She and two children (17 and 11)have cell phones. She only missed 1/2 day’s work–Monday afternoon. The children missed the whole week of school.

    I know that during past storms she has said they have several flashlights and candles. She gets everything in one place before a storm, so she does not have to rummage around in the dark, so I can only think she did the same this time.

    She was calm enough that she took a nap on Monday afternoon so she would not be so tired if anything really catastrophic during Monday night. That makes me think she did not wait until the 11th hour to prepare.

    I have not asked about food and water because I know she would have gotten that if she did not have it.
    after 911 they prepared for the worst case scenario out of fear. As of Friday afternoon, she has more than half a tank of gasoline. She drives to work every day. The news said Brooklyn was flooded, but she has seen no water in the streets during her 20 minute drive to work. Remember, she was out Tuesday morning, driving to work.

    Since we are only texting right now, I have not gotten any other details. But, she was lucky. Her cell phone did start dying on Wed night, so on Thursday, she bought a new one.

    She was incredibly lucky. Luck made all the difference.

  4. I live in Jersey City. We lost our power for 63 hours and had a a foot of water in our basement, killing our furnace and water heater. Here’s a quick list of things that we had prepared and how they fared the test of a hurricane, rated Good, Fair, Poor:

    *Good: LL Bean camp light (powered by 4 D batteries). We have kept two of these around ever since living through 9/11. They can illuminate an entire room and provided some cheer on a few very dark evenings. I replace the batteries in them every Fall when I change the smoke detector’s batteries.

    *Good: Head lamp. Very good for getting around the apartment and cooking. I hadn’t really thought about the batteries beforehand and luckily they were fresh.

    *Good. Emergency cash. My wife and I always have a small envelope with $60 in our wallets for emergencies (ever since the New York black-out). We ended up never having to use it, but many of the ATMs around us are very short on cash.

    *Fair. Camp stove and kerosene. Grill + charcoal. I have both of these things around thinking I could use them for cooking in an emergency. I never needed to use them, but they would have been tough to use in the first couple days. I live in an apartment building and couldn’t use them inside (too dangerous. Outside it was very windy and rainy, not ideal for a small little grill or camp stove.

    *Poor. Not enough gas in the car. I didn’t need to use our car and I haven’t moved it since the storm. But I never thought to fill it up before the storm and looking at all the gas shortages here in Jersey, I’m just waiting for things to simmer down before venturing out in it.

    Good. Laptop as battery. Once we lost power and internet connection I decided that our laptop was better used as a battery for our phones (which had occasional data connection) than as a source of entertainment. I know people who ran their laptop batteries down watching movies, meanwhile we were able to charge three cells phones over the course of 2.5 days with two laptops (via the USB cable).

    Good. Gas stove. Not something I thought of as important in an emergency, but the fact that we had a gas stove was very helpful. even without electricity I could light the stove with a match and cook and boil water. Hot food and hot water on a dark cold night was very welcome.

    Good. Berkey water purifier. We have a 2 gallon, stainless steel water purifier that is supposed to remove 99.9999999% of pathogenic bacteria. We normally just use it as a convenient way to get clean water in our kitchen. Although Jersey City didn’t have any water problems during the storm, it was comforting to know that we would be able to handle some contaminated water.

    Good. Duct tape. I had to duct tape some cable wires down — stayed taped during the hurricane winds.

    Good. Radio with batteries. Our dark evenings were spent listening to the radio. Very comforting. We have a hand crank radio that we never had to use because our batteries lasted.

    Poor. Solar charger. I have a solar panel that charges a small batter that can be used for batteries or cell phones. The problem is, the three days after the storm were cloudy so I wasn’t charging anything. I’m now looking for some more mechanical solutions.

    Good. Canning Pot. One things we did each day (still do without heat) is boil a huge pot of water on the stove and then turn the heat off. The hot pot of water radiates heat adding a little warmth to the kitchen. Plus, we use a small sauce pan to ladle out hot water for cleaning and washing up. Sounds small, but having hot water to wash dishes is very comforting when everything else is a mess.

  5. Anon above provides an excellent list. I live in NE MD, about 50 miles south of Philadelphia, and was spared the brunt of the storm but still had over 7″ of rain and was without power for a day. Sounds so simple, but if you have a generator, do the regular maintenance. Found out it was low on oil after the power was out. Fortunately I a had a quart in the shed else the sumps would have flooded.

    • you were out just a day? i’m envious! i’m IN Baltimore City and we were out for 4 days…and the only reason our power was restored so quickly was it affected a few businesses.

      normally, we lose power for anywhere from 5-7 days.

  6. We’re here in northeast Pennsylvania, far from NYC or the Jersey shore, but we’re going into Day 6 of Darkness. We don’t expect to have any power for at least another day or two – the power company has yet to remove the transformer that was blown off the pole in the center of our (very small) village and still sits on in the middle of the main drag. It’s not much of a drag, but it’s all we’ve got.

    What I learned: all of the years that I gently suggested to the husband that we should think about replacing our aged generator were wasted. I should have insisted, nay, nagged, but he’s an electrician (35 years in industrial construction), so he knows everything and always told me I was being alarmist. I believe I’ve won that argument, but it’s a hollow victory.

    We are immensely pleased with the quality of our Ryobi rechargeable batteries and the compatible flashlights and radio. They charge easily, even from our generator, and hold a charge for a long time. The radio has been a lifeline. It’s no exaggeration to say that being able to listen to NPR, especially “Car Talk” and “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me”, has saved our sanity and given us a small sense of normalcy.

    We did have the foresight to a) fill both of our 20-pound LP gas canisters before the storm, so we are able to cook and heat water on the burner of our gas grill and b) fill three 5-gallon gas cans which are powering our generator. There have been no gas lines here as there are in NJ and NY, but having the gas on hand is a comfort.

    We heat with wood anyway, so the cold nights (low 30′s and upper 20′s) have not been an issue.

    As the previous poster mentions, a large pot for heating water is terrific. Mine is a 2 gallon enamel pot I usually use for soap making, but it tolerates the gas burner well and has meant the difference between washing (dishes and ourselves) in comfort as opposed to freezing cold water.

    Many, many years ago I bought a laundry wringer with clamps. It was expensive at the time, but it’s more than paid for itself many times over. Once again I am using it in washing small sundry laundry items: socks, underwear, etc. which are then hung to dry by the woodstove.

  7. I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has taken time to comment here. I’ve learned a lot! And I send all of you my best wishes and hopes you’ll all be back to your normal routines soon.

  8. I live in California and was here for the Loma Prieta earthquake back in ’89 so I’ve always kept a few basics at the ready for a natural disaster. Bottled drinking water, canned food, candles.

    But after watching the coverage on Sandy I began saving the gallon jugs we used to recycle from my husbands “Simply Lemonade” habit and have begun washing and refilling them with water that can be used for utilitarian purposes like washing up or cleaning up potential kitchen messes that may occur during another earthquake. I already have three gallons at the ready and will continue until we have at least ten gallons of drinking water on hand at all times and ten gallons of utility water.

    Also, because I’ll soon have a teardrop camper I also recently purchased a Thetford porta potti. After losing water for several days after the Loma Prieta earthquake it taught me it’s best to have some type of backup option in place. A porta potti with enzymes that breakdown waste and remove odors along with special toilet paper that dissolves faster than standard paper are definitely a good thing to have on hand in case you lose water for more than a day. I even blogged about it last week: http://theflirtyguide.blogspot.com/2012/11/a-porta-potty-for-camping-natural.html.

    Am also planning on adding a 95 watt solar panel with 6 volt lawn tractor battery, a controller, inverter, transfer box and charger to the trailer as it will be handy to have both AC and DC power on board and can double as our emergency back up power source.

  9. During Sandy, neighbors were great. Lessons learned, have hand crank radio, light that charges phones. Heat your home with pots of water. I was lucky to have gas stove. Freeze large jugs of water when storm approaching. They keep food colder longer. You never have enough light-we went through candles like nobodies business. Battery lanterns were essential. It’s exhausting. Generators take a lot of gasoline to run. Stock up before storm. You can’t syphon gas from cars anymore. You need gas cans. Have a map of your area. Lots of streets were blocked off either by mother nature, power outages or police. Lots of people called to check on us because we were in the heart of the storm. It wasted my phone charge but they were worried. Let people who aren’t in area inform others for you so you only talk to one person. .

    • Thanks for this, Kathy. Those are great tips– and I didn’t know that about gas siphoning.

  10. Suggest everyone who fears power outage and cold look into”Buddy Heaters” run off propane bottles. Work great on a 20lb grill tank.
    About 5years ago we lost power in the winter in NC from an ice storm. No power about a week. We heated two bedrooms and a bathroom where of a suite where my 80yo mother-in-law was staying. 21/2 days
    on one 20lb tank. No odor so sx of CO. Ceramic plates on heater probably the secret. Can store lots of propane tanks indefinitely
    A.W.A. Raleigh, N.C.

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