Governor Terry McAuliffe has declared a state of emergency in case Hurricane Irma hits Virginia. Here's what you can do to prepare for a worst-case scenario.
Currently, the most recent projections predict that Hurricane Irma will make landfall in Florida and avoid directly hitting Virginia. Nevertheless, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has issued a state of emergency in preparation for the worst.
Whether Virginians will face the brunt of Hurricane Irma or just torrential rains from the storm's outer bands, here are five things you can do right now to prepare yourself.
No. 1 -- Store at least three days worth of drinking water.
This is potentially the easiest thing you can do to keep your family prepared for Hurricane Irma or any future storms. It is generally recommended that people drink at least 64 ounces (two quarts) of water a day. That comes out to approximately eight glasses of water.
If you have a dog, your pet could need as many as 16 ounces of water a day per 10 pounds. So, if you have a forty pound Springer Spaniel, you'd basically need to treat your pet as another human in terms of preparing for the storm. Cats typically only need a few ounces of water a day, especially if you feed them wet food (which is usually 80 percent water).
These are just baseline recommendations. Extremely hot or cold temperatures will require more water, as will physical exercise.
One of the biggest fears during a hurricane is that the storm will knock out water treatment centers, usually through flood water contamination. Even if you forget to stock up on water before a major storm, you can still fill up bottles, jars, or whatever kitchen containers you have, as long as state and local officials believe the water supply is still safe. If you know you're going to need a lot of water, you can also plug up your bathtub and fill it with water. While this is not the most palatable or hygienic option, it is an easy way to get store a lot of water quickly. A number of companies also sell affordable tub-sized water bladders
that can be used in the event of an emergency and safely store up to 100 gallons of drinking water in a single tub.
No. 2 -- Store at least three days worth of food.
In the days leading up to any storm, grocery shelves usually go bare. People tend to go for the same two items -- milk and bread -- regardless of whether they typically eat milk and bread.
If having a warm, well-balanced meal is important to you, there are a number of survival food companies that sell freeze-dried meals that are ready to eat in minutes with nothing but hot water. Military-surplus Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) even come with their own heating element. Otherwise, canned foods from the grocery store are a great long-term storage option that you can always cycle out when you cook dinners. If you have pets, remember to keep extra pet food on hand.
Chances are, you have enough canned food in your pantry or freezer to last three days. During any storm, when the odds of losing power are high, you should always start off by eating what food is left in your fridge or freezer. It doesn't take long for frozen and refrigerated food to spoil, so only eat these foods if your power is still on or if you have only just lost electricity.
A great way to prepare for power loss is to take a cup of water and freeze it. Keep it in the freezer and place a penny or some other coin on top of the ice. That way, if you lose power, you will be able to tell because the coin will have sunk to the bottom of the cup. The deeper the coin, the longer the power has been out. If you have to evacuate during a storm, you won't be home to notice if power goes out. If the lights are on when you get home, you'll have no way of knowing whether the food in your freezer spoiled and then re-froze. But if you use the penny trick, and you see that the penny is frozen in the middle or bottom of the glass, that tells you that you lost and then regained power and that your frozen food is not safe to eat.
People always forget to do No. 4 ...
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No. 3 -- Charge up your phones and devices.
If power does go out during a storm, you will lose the ability to charge your cellular devices. Other devices like tablets or laptops may have a charge, but without electricity, your internet router will be down.
Keep your cell phone charged in the lead-up to any major storm. Cell phone battery backups have become affordable -- less than $10 in some cases -- giving you the option to recharge your phone if power goes out, as long as your backup battery is charged ahead of time.
If you want to maintain your internet connection during power flickers and outages, consider purchasing an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). These are battery-backups designed to safeguard computers and other electronics from power outages. For under $50, you can purchase a small UPS
designed to not only keep your internet router up and running for at least two hours, but also allow you to charge your handheld devices.
If you have a real emergency during a natural disaster, your phone dies, and you have no way to call for help, you can also charge your phone in your car. But this should truly be left as a last resort.
No. 4 -- Fill up your gas tank.
The 21st century has afforded us many luxuries. However, the supply chain for gasoline hasn't changed much. Gas stations still receive new shipments of gasoline every couple of days. Under normal circumstances, it takes a station those two-to-three days to run out of gasoline. If, however, refineries shut down, the deliveries stop, and people are frantically trying to stock up on gas, a station can be pumped dry in a matter of hours.
In Florida, gas stations ran out of fuel days before Hurricane Irma was predicted to make landfall. Don't wait for a state of emergency to fill up the tank. If you are driving on three quarters of a tank of gas, fill it up.
You can also fill up portable gas cans if you have a generator or are worried about being able to drive long distances, but make sure to only take what you need. You're not the only one who is going to need fuel, and the last thing you want is for a family to be stranded because you and others took more gasoline than you actually needed.
If your survival plan relies on a generator, make sure you have enough fuel to keep the generator running for at least three days. Know your generator's power output, and make sure you set your power priorities (i.e., refrigerator over Xbox).
No. 5 could actually be the most important.
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No. 5 -- Fully read your insurance policies.
This is a big one. Most people have no idea what their homeowners, flood, or rental insurance policies say until a disaster hits and they need to make a claim.
I recently had an apartment fire, and while I was completely covered, I learned a lot about my insurance policy that I didn't already know. For example, if a missile hits my house, I'm covered. But if that missile has a nuclear warhead, even if it doesn't go off, I'm not covered. That's obviously a silly example, but you will be surprised to learn what is and is not covered in your policies.
For example, most homeowner's insurance policies do not cover flood damage. Homeowners need to purchase flood insurance through the federal government in order to receive that coverage. However, many homeowners or rental insurance policies do cover flooding caused by fire sprinklers or if a storm creates a hole in your wall or ceiling and rainwaters pour into your house.
If you live in a flood plane and don't have flood coverage, it is a really good idea to stack as many valuables as you can on upper floors, attics, or on top of tall furniture.
Hurricane Irma is not expected to hit Virginia with the force required to cause widespread flooding like we saw in the Houston area with Hurricane Harvey. If you don't have flood insurance, it is unlikely that you'd be able to purchase insurance that would cover you for Irma. However, there is no time like the present. If you live in a flood-prone area, flood insurance will be expensive, but also worth it. If you live outside of a flood area, flood insurance will be relatively cheap. Even if it isn't statistically necessary, it will provide you peace of mind in future storms.
It is still too early to tell whether Hurricane Irma will affect Virginia, and if it does, it certainly won't hit the Commonwealth with the same strength it had in the Caribbean. However, these tips aren't limited to Hurricane Irma. Whether it's a hurricane, tornado, or just a regular-old-storm, you never know when you might lose power and have to hunker down for a few days.
While there are certainly many other steps to take in preparation for a storm -- such as refilling medications -- these basics will keep you prepared and, in a worst-case-scenario, could keep you alive.
Anything else we should have listed? Let us know in the comments below!