Ready or Not

Get ready, because it’s coming.

But, before you read further, please donate to one of the charities that are helping Haiti.  Haiti has just been devastated by Hurricane Matthew.  The people are homeless, villages are destroyed and crops swept away.  The Weather Channel has a long list of reputable charities such as Red Cross and Unicef that are in Haiti now, so choose your favorite.

Get Real

The problem with generic disaster prep advice is that it is supposed to cover everything.   It’s true that almost everything can happen in New York.  Learning about past disasters makes for some diverting reading.  Doomsday scenarios are fun, too.   What happens if Cumbra Vieja in the Canary islands  collapses, sending a 300 foot tidal wave over the entire U.S. East Coast?  Answer? We’re screwed.

Then there are the endless terrorist scenarios.  You can drive yourself crazy with those.  However, please do remember that you’re more likely to get hit by a bike than hurt in a terrorist attack.  Still, I agree that it’s terrifying.

Don’t worry too much about this one.

Time to get real. New York has two guaranteed disasters: blackouts, and hurricanes.  You can’t predict blackouts – they just happen.  But hurricanes give us lots of lead time.  Right now, Haiti is devastated, the Bahamas are destroyed, and Florida is getting hammered by a category 4 hurricane named Matthew.  New York will be hit, if not by Matthew, then by another hurricane:  Sandy was not the last one.  To quote my favorite cliché from the Discovery Channel documentaries:  “it’s not a matter of IF, but WHEN.”

There are some big advantages to riding out a hurricane in a New York City apartment instead of in a house.  There’s strength in numbers.  The buildings are bigger and, for the most part, fairly solid.  After Hurricane Sandy, most of New York City recovered power within 5 days (though not everyone).  Suburbs fared much worse – some houses in New Jersey and Long Island were without power for weeks.  But in New York, if you can get through 5 days, you’re good.  If you plan for 10 days, you’re way ahead of the game.

So here goes.  The best hurricane prep advice for New York City, and I wrote it myself.

Rule Number One:  Don’t panic.  Get your info from NOAA,,, or local news.  Hurricane path projection is not very accurate after 48 hours.  That means you’ll get at most 1 or 2 days to prepare.  Keep your eye on the news and twitter feeds, and start getting ready.  When it’s 24 hours away, and everyone you see in your local shops is talking about it, it’s coming.


Are you in an evacuation zone?  If so, then you will need to get ready to evacuate if the order comes.  Batten down your hatches (close your windows), pack what you can, and get to higher ground.   Your pictures and legal papers should already be scanned and stored

You can leave these home.

somewhere in the cloud.  Most legal documents are replaceable, if you have a copy stored safely in the cloud.  Sure, take them along if you want to minimize your headaches later.  If anyone tells you to travel with your bank statements, they are crazy.  Ignore crazy.

Take this one.

Mentally sort your possessions into valuable/worthless and replaceable/irreplaceable.  Next, decide how portable they are.  Your jewelry is valuable but replaceable.  However, it’s easy to carry.  Your expensive rug is valuable but not portable and could be replaced.  Your kids’ artwork is not valuable but it is irreplaceable and portable.  You get the idea.  Pictures on the wall can be made more portable if you remove the frames and pack them carefully into a portfolio with a handle.

Pack your things in a bag that you can carry easily by yourself or in a suitcase with wheels.  Wear comfy shoes, and figure out where you’re going to go and how you’re going to get there.  Try to get someplace where the power will stay on for the duration, and make sure your host is prepared with the “ride it out” list just in case (scroll down).


Pack and take:

  • 5 days of clean clothes and extra undies
  • Some basic camping equipment, such as cups, bowls, forks and spoons,  Swiss army knife
  • Small first aid kit
  • 300 dollars in ones, fines, and tens
  • Pet food if you have a pet
  • 2 weeks of medicine that you actually need (insulin yes, homeopathic remedies no)
  • Lightweight microfiber towel
  • Sleeping bag if you aren’t going to a hotel
  • Snacks & bottled of water
  • Your valuables
  • Sanitary wipes
  • Tampons and toilet paper
  • Your phones and chargers
  • Good old fashioned pen and paper
  • Disposable lighter
  • Duct tape
  • A small bottle of bleach and an eye dropper (see instructions below)

Ride it Out

Most people in New York do not live in an evacuation zone.  We just need to prepare and stay home for a few days.  Once the hurricane is gone, we may or may not have power.

Here’s what you need to do.

Store some water.  You don’t need to buy water.  This is New York City.  We have the best water source in the country, and it’s perfectly safe to drink.  However, it may get unpredictable after a hurricane, so you’ll need to store water in your apartment.water-cube

  • Buy 5 gallon water cubes and fill them. This is your drinking water.  Get one for everyone in the apartment, then fill them up well in advance.
  • Fill up the bathtub. First, put down some plastic sheets and a heavy weight to seal the drain.  This will help prevent leakage.  Your bathtub water is for you to take a sink-bath and to flush your toilet.

Buy food.  Here’s the food you will need:

  • Crackers and rice cakes
  • Aged cheese like cheddar and whatever processed cheese you can stomach – like american cheese, Laughing Cow.
  • Peanut butter and almond butter
  • Roasted nuts and dried fruit
  • Milk (cow, soy, almond) in boxes
  • Cold cereal
  • Canned tuna and oysters and sardines
  • Slim Jims and beef jerky
  • Veggie Booty
  • Carrot sticks (they’ll last without refrigeration for a day or two)
  • Hardboiled eggs (also OK for a day or so without refrigeration)
  • Apples:  they are yummy when you cut them up and put peanut butter on them.
  • Dark chocolate
  • Lots of cans of dog food or cat food for your pet.
  • Bake some oatmeal cookies or zucchini bread if you can do that kind of thing.

Do your laundry.  Nothing sucks worse than having dirty laundry, no clean clothes, and no way to get clean clothes.

You can’t go wrong with cash.

Get money.  Take out three hundred dollars in ones, fives, and tens.

Other Supplies

  • Buy cheap am/fm radios and the batteries that go with them. This will keep you in touch, and provide some entertainment.
  • Buy head flashlights and the batteries that go with them.
  • Do you have 14 days of meds you’ll need? If not, get it now.
  • One bottle of gel hand sanitizer per person in the apartment.
  • Large garbage bags
  • Sanitary wipes
  • Duct tape
  • Disposable lighter
  • Refresh your first aid supplies
  • External portable charger
  • Tampons and toilet paper
  • Good old fashioned pen and paper
  • Bleach and an eye dropper

How to purify water

Here’s the best way to purify water.  If you didn’t store enough water, and now you have to drink rain water or river water (eww!), do this.

Fill up your eyedropper with bleach.  For every liter of water, put in 2 drops of bleach.  Let the water sit for 30 minutes.

You can also boil it, of course.

 Get Ready

Now that you’re equipped, get ready to ride out the storm.  Taping your windows is pointless, but I usually fill my shopping cart with food, some clean clothes and bedding and keep it by the front door.  That way, if the windows blow out you can evacuate to the building’s hall or your neighbors’ place, shopping cart in tow.  I’ve never had this happen, thank goodness.  Stay inside until the storm is over, and you’ll be fine.

Hurricane Matthew – satellite image by @StuOstro



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