by Tim Smith
The window that has been cracked for months, the door that doesn’t shut properly and the overgrown tree in the middle of the garden. We all have those jobs around the house that we never seem to get around to doing.
Yet the little things that are a minor nuisance for most of the year can suddenly become major problems if a hurricane comes. That damaged window and ill-fitting door could leave you and your family badly exposed to the elements, while branches can easily break from the overgrown tree and become dangerous missiles.
According to Bermuda’s national disaster coordinator Steve Cosham, staying on top of your odd jobs is one of the most important aspects of preparing for a storm. “If you have got something in your house that’s on your honey-do list to repair, don’t put it off, especially in hurricane season,” says Cosham, who heads up the Bermuda Government’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Mitigation Team.
“It might be your shutters or doors. You may notice a hinge is a bit loose—take whatever action you need to tighten it up. Some people say they don’t have the time to prepare. That’s not true. You have the time but you sometimes don’t put it in the right priority,” Cosham adds.
Even if it turns out there isn’t a hurricane, it won’t be a waste of your time because we have winter storms in March with winds of over 100mph. “These things need to be done anyway,” Cosham reminds.
Assuming you’ve not left those Do It Yourself tasks until the last minute, in the lead-up to a storm you should turn your attention to ensuring your hurricane toolkit is in good order. Your kit will generally be tailored to suit your needs, but Cosham provides the following advice on essential items:
First aid kit. Ensure it is fully stocked and check in with the Red Cross or St. John Ambulance if you require recertification.
Water. You will need three gallons per person, per day. Buy large bottles or fill baths, pots and pans. Alternatively, use a bucket and rope to access your tank water.
Food. Stock up on enough non-perishable food that does not need cooking to last for seven days. Ensure you have thought about everyone’s special dietary requirements.
If you have no electricity, you can plan to use your barbecue or camping stove outside after the storm has passed. If you don’t have one, try asking your neighbour if you can share theirs. Ensure you have a spare gas canister if you are planning to use the barbecue.
Medication. Check prescription renewal dates and get enough to last three weeks from your pharmacist.
Flashlights. Check that they work and that you have the correct batteries as back-up.
Portable radio. Make sure you have enough batteries so you can listen to the Emergency Broadcast Facility on 100.1 FM.
Personal hygiene. Stock up on toiletries, hand sanitizer, medical gloves, trash bags and other personal items.
Cell phone. A solar-powered USB charger can prove very useful if you have no electricity. If you have an analogue landline, check it is still working.
Pet food and medication supply. Make sure you have a good plan to look after your pet throughout the storm.
Games and books. You may need something to keep the family entertained if you lose power for a long time.
Tools such as cordless drills, hammers, nails and plywood, to repair any damage after the storm.
Cosham advises wrapping valuables in a waterproof bag and storing them inside a waterproof container in a place within your home that is unlikely to be impacted by the storm, such as a closet under the staircase. Documents such as passports, birth and marriage certificates, bank, house and insurance documents should also be kept in a safe, waterproof pouch.
“It’s all about preparing your home and family so you are not impacted as much by the hurricane,” says Cosham. “Have a family meeting so everyone is on the same page. You might forget something, but the children might remember it.”
Dean Rubaine, a warrant officer with the Royal Bermuda Regiment, who sits on the Disaster Risk Reduction Team, warns against the false economy of avoiding doing jobs around the house. “You get those people who deliberately won’t spend money or make the effort to do the repair until the hurricane is almost here,” he says. “These are all things that some people think about after the storm starts. You have to make sure you give yourself enough time.”
People who have experienced multiple storms will know that their personal needs vary depending on their property. Cosham says: “Everybody has their own personal circumstances. When I first came here 30 years ago, everyone was filling up their baths with water, so that’s what I did. But I had a tank next to the door so after a while I thought, why am I doing this? People need to adapt to the situation.”
Once you’re confident your own home is prepared for the storm, it’s time to think about other people in your community. “After you have thought about yourself and the family you live with, it’s about other relatives around the island. How can you help them prepare?” says Cosham. “Check on your community and neighbours. Go through their list, like you did with your own. It may well be your mom who is elderly. She can’t use a toolkit, but you can leave it there for someone else to use who might be helping her.”
If you are concerned about your financial security, you should also check with your insurance company to make sure you have enough homeowners insurance to repair or even replace your home. Make sure you also have coverage for your car, cycle and boat. “If your house and vehicle are uninsured and damaged you will need money to repair them,” Cosham says. “The people who have insurance are the people who recover quickly and properly.”