Four Letters Re: Hurricane Irene Lessons Learned

Mr. Rawles,
I am in northwest N.J. I wasn’t affected as badly by the hurricane as others were, but I did learn a few lessons about my preparedness.

1. Inspect your gear on a regular basis. I live on a dead-end street, and the road goes over a country stream, which flows underneath through a 2-foot culvert with a paved berm built over the top of it. Yesterday, that country stream became a 40-foot wide river about 10 inches deep and flowing rapidly over the road surface. To get across that, I got out my waders — and discovered that mice had chewed some holes in them. They were still usable for getting through that water, but I can never use them again to go fishing. P.S.: inspect one’s bug-out bag regularly; also inspect food storage containers, including the back side and the bottom, to ensure they haven’t been compromised. I plan on doing this once a month going forward.

2. Mindset change: don’t skimp on temporary arrangements. I have lots of supplies for preparedness, but when the situation is going to be temporary — for example, power will be out for 6 or 8 hours, instead of multiple days — one thinks, “I don’t really want to drag out (gear, supplies, etc.) to set up, only to have to clean and put away everything tomorrow.” Wrong attitude. If you need light, set yourself up to have plenty of light. If you need an alternative cooking arrangement, set it up. Not only does it fix your mindset, but it gives you good opportunities to (a) train in “actual” survival, (b) test/inventory your stuff, and (c) train yourself in expedient setup/breakdown of your gear.

3. You never have enough light. Have a candle (safe to burn unattended) or other light in each room you’ll be using, multiple lights in any room or space where you’ll be spending most of your time or doing any kind of work, and always have a light source that you can carry with you at all times. For the last, I like a Petzl headband lamp. If it’s too uncomfortable to wear continuously, it fits easily in your pocket.

4. A fully charged laptop is a great tool to recharge your cell phone or smart phone during power outages. More: I got (and was able to give) lots of information with a smart phone during an extended power outage.

5. Perform (or augment) your preps at least two seasons ahead of time. Start stocking up winter items during the summer and vice versa. Not only will you be more prepared, but you’re likely to find better prices.

6. Change your fuel. I have a 2-gallon gas can that I use only for my chainsaw. When I was getting ready for the hurricane, I realized that the gas in the can had been in there for 2 or 3 years, so I had to get rid of it (my mechanic took it) and get some fresh gas. New rule I’ve implemented: first weekend of the month, I will empty the gas can into my car and refill it with fresh gas. Not only does it keep the gas fresh, but it ensures that I have 40-50 miles of emergency driving stored in a can in my garage.

7. Use your batteries. How many people stock up on batteries, rarely use them … and then discover, when the batteries are needed, that the expiration date was 6 years ago? In my experience, such batteries still work but have a markedly decreased useful life.

8. Set up some supplies/gear explicitly for temporary, “expected” emergencies. For example, if you know from past experience that you will always see at least one summer power outage lasting for 3 days, set up a specific section of gear for that situation. That way, you don’t have to go through everything — in the dark, no less — saying, “I need (this) from the pantry, and (this) from the downstairs gear locker, and (this) from my under bed storage.” Have one shelf set aside for “summer power outage” in this example

9. Do training scenarios to review your preparedness. Say to yourself “There’s a hurricane forecast for 4 days from now” or “Forecasters are seeing a blizzard occurring 3 days from now.” Where am I deficient? What supplies do I need to restock? What outdoor preps (clean gutters, clear dead tree limbs, secure gear from wind, etc.) do I need to accomplish prior to that emergency? Not only is this good training — but if you write it down, you author a prep manual to which you can refer and that you can use to instruct others.

10. Charge anything that can be charged the night before. Cell/smart phones are handy for emergency communication (presuming the comm networks aren’t knocked out). Laptops enable you to do some work. A portable car starter battery can be used for its intended purpose or it can run an inverter. If everything’s charged before the emergency hits, your peace of mind is a little better. I’ve made this a mandatory “day-before-the-emergency” prep.

11. Get more money. This one is presenting difficulty for me. Like many readers of your blog, I have been struggling financially for several years — you probably remember that I’ve commented a couple of times on this topic. I’ve done, I think, a pretty good job of preparing on a very limited budget. But there are some things, pricier preps, on which you can’t skimp: you either pony up or you do without. For example, I’m in a pretty good position on food and water but deficient on quality hand tools, fuels, and durable clothing (and I’d love to have one of those Berkey filters!). I can’t magically make the prices go down, so my only option is to generate more cash and then purchase as wisely as my budget permits. Have to explore this further, as I’m already working two jobs, 7 days a week, just to survive.

One positive reflection: someone asked me a few days ago, “What are you doing to prepare for the hurricane?” Other than gassing up the car, cleaning the gutters, and filling the aforementioned gas can, I didn’t need to do or purchase anything.

One other note for preppers: don’t ever let anyone get away with calling you a “hoarder.” There is an important distinction: Preppers stock up 12 weeks or 12 months before an emergency; but people who stock up just 12 hours before the situation are the hoarders.

Best, – J.C.


Living on the east coast, Hurricane Irene was a concern. However, I wanted to share the wonderful sense of already being prepared (much thanks to your wonderful site). I called the wife and asked what I needed to pick up, she said: “nothing.” It was truly heartening to be able to drive past the crowded parking lots as the hordes swamped the supermarkets as the week progressed. Naturally I filled the fuel tank and extra gasoline cans. We had
minimal damage, trees and limbs down, and the power stayed on. My thoughts and prayers go out to those who were not so fortunate. – Ken


Good Day JWR,
I live and work in the people’s socialist republic of Neu Jersey, in the Central Region less than five miles from the Atlantic Ocean (the way the crow flies).  Being a prepper and working in the law enforcement field at a major penitentiary, I was in tune to what was going on from the initial projections.  Thursday and Friday before Hurricane Irene hit we were in statewide video conference after video conference.  All the figure heads were running around like a chicken without a head.  Each time one of them would ask me a stupid question; I would smirk and say something smart like “had you been paying attention to me over the last four years, we wouldn’t be in this situation now”.  To make a long story short, a smaller correctional facility in the Southern Region had to evacuate all 1,500 inmates – because they were housed in trailers.  Obviously that wouldn’t stand up to well to the more than 75mph winds.  In the end, all were successfully transported out with much fanfare, then returned with no bells and whistles today.  But, all department resources were dedicated to that effort – meaning the other dozen or so institutions were on our own.
We moved over 100 minimum security inmates out of our outlying camp and into the main facility Visiting Hall because they were housed in trailers.  We moved two of our medium security housing unit dormitories (another 100 inmates) inside the main complex to the Gymnasium due to the flooding.  Thankfully our food service staff had stockpiled approximately half a week’s worth of food and water and our maintenance staff was on site fixing damages that could be repaired in the storm.  Uniformed custody staff were held over (most volunteering due to the shortage of overtime in the last two years under Governor Christie) and the institution was run on an abbreviated schedule with no mishaps or problems other than a temporary power loss from outside the facility; which was counter acted by our in house generators.
On the personal front, I was dismayed at the Governor declaring a state of emergency on Thursday at noon.  Friday the major highways were shut down and nobody allowed South bound of certain points.  This was not due to a reverse lanes evacuation strategy.  Christie was on television over and over telling everyone and anyone it was a “mandatory evacuation” and that they better leave now.  Local police and fire and emergency medical services all went on abbreviated response postures.  Most followed FEMA guidelines that more than a 40 mph sustained wind equaled no emergency response.  Some municipalities established curfews.  Some emergency services ignored the FEMA response guidelines and ‘eyeballed’ the current conditions before determining if they would respond immediately or wait for better weather.  Regardless, the call volume significantly curtailed once the real storm front came into play.
During the tropical storm, there were/are many areas without power.  The typical areas subject to regular flooding are of course flooded.  Other areas not usually flooded had also experienced flooding.  We lost our cable service, thus no television, telephone, or Internet/E-Mail was working for about 24 hours.  Supposedly our telephone had battery backup for just such an instance, but that obviously was not the case.  Security problems would not have been an issue for us, but an actual serious fire or medical emergency would have been a problem.  Our cellular telephones never lost service, but had it gone on for a few days we would have been up the creek without a paddle.  Note to self: maintain at least ‘old fashioned’ Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) with at least one handset in the home for just such occasions.  If electrical power goes down, POTS still works.
My wife finally decided on Friday evening to go to the supermarket to pick up last minute things.  Surprise, surprise, the shelves were bare.  She works for a grocery store chain and came home Wednesday and Thursday and again on Friday stating this store and that store were closing and canceling deliveries.  Some are still closed as of this Monday evening due to no power.  While I have some food stores squirreled away and wasn’t really concerned, she most certainly was.  I used the moment as a teaching aid and informed her that this is the reason why I have been preaching regularly adding to the cupboards and pantry whenever non-perishable items are on sale.  Of course she never took me up on it, stating ‘yeah, right’ and the like.  So now I told her that she and the kids would not go hungry as I had plenty of MREs available and that now perhaps she would heed my suggestions.  She was praying this would get over quickly as MREs were not looking very appetizing to her.  Bottom line, store shelves were bare and were not getting restocked anytime soon.

Nursing Homes and group homes were evacuated in Southern New Jersey.  They sent them up to the Central and Northern Regions.  Rutgers University in New Brunswick put over 400 residents in two gymnasiums and the Mennen Arena in Morris County housed another 500 or so residents.  These were all moved by about 50 ambulances from Pennsylvania in on mutual aid compacts.  Likewise, the New Jersey Disaster Medical Assistance Teams was already deployed to North Carolina and the New Jersey EMS Task Force was deploying 100 ambulances to Virginia.  Apparently under FEMA edict, state resources cannot deploy to their own state in a disaster?  That sounded odd, but that’s what I was told.  The problem was there was not enough medical staff to go around, and the few who traveled with the ‘convoys’ were “not allowed” to assist other homes’ patients.  I am filing these little tidbits as well into my memory just in case I ever have to put a relative in a nursing or group home.  It was great that they were evacuated, but what was to be their fate upon reaching the evacuation center?
Locally, my town suffered numerous power outages killing street lights and snarling traffic after the storm.  Many homes were flooded and had to be evacuated.  Many stores and houses still do not have power, a friend only six blocks away was told they’ll be lucky to have power back by the next weekend.  The fire department is running around to numerous building foundation collapse calls.  Public Works is cutting down felled trees and big branches are being removed.  Sanitation is back on a normal schedule.  The police must be working beau coup overtime because most major intersections have officers directing traffic as the street lights were out.  We had battened down our hatches and secured all outside furniture and toys and the like on Friday so we had no major concerns other than perhaps some water leakage into the basement.  We didn’t even have that.  Other than our cable issue, we never lost power and had no other problems to speak of.  Being a prepper had us well ahead of the learning curve both at home and work.  While everyone was scrambling around like crazy, I was sitting back smoking a cigar and drinking a scotch.
Keep up the great work you do in keeping us informed and providing thought provoking topics to read and learn.
Sincerely, – The Last N.J. Conservative

Mr Rawles,
I’m not sure if you heard this news out of Pennsylvania but the Cabela’s at Hamburg was discounting generators by $180 due to public need.  I could be sinister and think they made more off sales from survival supplies to make up the difference, but they did go ahead and ship all available generators from across the country to the east coast.  I think this is a stand up company and they will get more of my business.
Thank you for your time. – Bradley A.