Letter Re: Irma – After Action Report


As Alfred E. Neuman say’s, “What? Me worry?” I live in North Central Florida, so usually by the time a hurricane reaches us, it’s dwindled in strength. Having read Mr. Rawl’s blog for many years, I do prepare. Oddly, this time around, employers let most of the employees leave work Friday, even though the event wasn’t expected until sometime on Saturday. It ended up being later. Guess hurricanes work on their own schedule.

Friday, I went to Walmart to do some last minute stock ups. Tarps were gone. Water was gone. Camp stoves were gone. Batteries were still in stock, but the bread and milk aisles were gone, and tape (for windows) was mostly gone.

People were moving north. Gas stations were doing a brisk business. By Saturday there was an element of fear among travelers you could almost taste. Businesses were mostly closed.

Sunday night/Monday morning Irma rocked into town. It was no stealth operation. Somewhere around 11AM Saturday, it got so bad that emergency personnel were pulled off the road and told to hunker down and wait.

Monday morning everyone just took stock of the destruction. Not much was moving. Mostly people were in a mild form of shock.

Here are my personal lessons learned.

  • At least with my cooler, only expect about 2.5 days of coolness. If you have lifesaving meds, you need another plan.
  • Chainsaws – when trees break in wacky ways and you don’t do tree work enough, you have to have a rescue chainsaw for when yours gets bound up.
  • We have a big 55 gallon plastic drum, which is also a water catcher on the corner of the house. It’s used to water plants but also emergency flush water as we are on an electric powered well.
  • Without running water, don’t ever underestimate the amount of time you’re going to be carrying and moving water. Don’t underestimate the amount of water you will need.
  • While I had plenty of snack type food to carry us through for a couple of days, without the power and no camp stove that gets old. Even if you do cook, in bad weather clean up becomes an issue. So at least pack a week’s worth of MREs. No cooking is needed, and you just throw the remains in a plastic bag.
  • Power and Internet (phone and wired) will be the first to go. When you are used to duckduckgoing for answers to “how long will milk be good, if left on the counter?”, a battery powered radio is a poor substitute.
  • Don’t forget to fill up on gas, diesel. Not only will travelers be buying it up, but so will your neighbors in bulk to run their generators.
  • Have a battery pack or solar charger for your cell phone. It will probably be the only link of communication you have, and what might normally take a week to discharge will be gone in a day if it’s got to push enough juice to make it to the next cell tower, cause your closest is laying on the ground.
  • I live near county road 301, which connects interstate 75 and 95. When those two interstates got backed up, officials thought a good ideal would be to divert people to 301. Gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants along this route are setup to handle locals and a few passersby, not the golden horde. The result was resources needed for the local community were picked clean by out of towners. So, recognize that at any time your area can be filled with people and the limited resources available locally can be picked clean in hours.
  • Last thought– you’re from the big city and you’re blowing through some local Hicksville. Don’t get ugly with natives. That can only end poorly for you.


  1. Very sound advice from someone “on the front.”
    I am in Michigan and it never ceases to amaze me that as many times as people go through severe storms, or as in your case hurricanes, they still refuse to prepare and scramble just ahead of the event to gather supplies.

    It is the quintessential definition of insanity… doing the same thing over and over yet expecting a different outcome. Fortunately you have a step up on them and can watch from the sidelines.
    Nice article.

  2. Learning that the golden horde can and will be diverted down your quiet country road was a real eye opener to me. We live a few miles off a 4-lane highway outside of a city of around 160,000. There was a wreck on the highway blocking both northbound lanes. We had bumper to bumper, 60 mile an hour traffic down our road for an hour. I had crossed the road to get the mail when it started. Thankfully a nice man stopped and let me back across, or I would of had to stand there until it ended. When my husband got home from work and I told him about it, we both looked at each other and said, “We gotta move.” We thought we were far enough off the highway to be relatively safe from a mass exodus. God showed us we’re not. Thankfully it was only a short test. The next one could be much, much worse.

    1. Same problem getting out of our driveway onto the highway when traffic backs up. I address it by wearing a safety vest and holding a floggers paddle. SO far people always stop and let the wife drive the truck out and I jump in.

  3. Also after action report: Tampa didn’t get hit like we anticipated, but at least people prepared this time – as in, I tried to pick up a few things at Costco the Tuesday before and couldn’t get a place to park, much less get in the store!
    We were prepared and never lost power, but other family members weren’t so blessed, so we were home base for a few days. We gave away hurricane clips and window plywood (my husband grateful we invested in impact windows in the last few years); passed out and replenished frozen 2-liter bottles to family for coolers (I keep a shelf full in my freezer); families added to my full freezer so we had more than enough food; filled up the empty beds; loaned out battery powered fan, etc.
    Main problem we dealt with was the yard trash – branches and limbs (although a few trees went down in the neighborhood), and plants knocked down or uprooted.
    What I would do differently?
    -Forgot to buy a case of coffee drinks in case it was too windy to light up the camp stove in the morning!
    -Another family member had to empty the fridge and freezer; cleaned them, and then turned them off before leaving. – Note: unplug them also – if the door is open to prevent mold, when power goes back on, the light goes back on and heats up everything you thought would survive without refrigeration! -Thinking about buying a generator – for the refrigerator and freezer, and maybe a window AC because 90 degrees in the daytime makes a hot night for sleeping.

  4. I live in central FL as well (between Tampa and Orlando). Your experience was spot on. What you saw was definitely happening all over the state. It was amazing to see to desperation for gas. People were literally evacuating South Florida with 5 gallon gas cans on the roof of their cars because no one had gas to fill up. Every time a gas station would re-fuel their station, people descended on them like flies on rotting meat. Lines were getting crazy for cars to fill up. People kept “topping off” their tanks in fear there’d be no gas later… making things worse for lines and for how fast the fuel ran out. It makes you realize that having a nice supply of gas always on hand (and rotating out fuel so it doesn’t go bad) could go a long ways in an emergency situation.

  5. It sounds like you could use a generator or 2. A Honda 1000 would keep a refrigerator or chest freezer going and run for days on a 5 gallon can of gas running it only as needed. This generator is very quiet and the RPM steps down when there is no load telling you when to turn it off for a couple hours. It would run a small microwave too.

    Additionally a 5000 watt generator with a 240v capacity could be easily be set up to run your well pump. Noisy and gas hogs, but you would only need it for a few minutes at a time to recharge your pressure tank or run a larger microwave. It may even run a burner on your electric stove, but I’m not totally sure on that, I use gas.

  6. Good advice. Our problems up here is weeks with no power due to cold, ice, snow. That’s life in the arctic. I’m being deployed to P.R. and one of my detachments is heading to the V.I. for relief work and emcomms; for us learning to deal with the heat is going to be interesting. We’re bringing a field portable water purification unit with us as well … thank you for sharing your experience. I’ll use it for my planning on this deployment.

  7. You do not have to buy an extra chainsaw if the one you are using gets bound up. Just buy an extra chainsaw bar and chain, (before hand) If it gets bound up, just leave the bar in the tree, disconnect the motor from the stuck bar and put on the new one! I know this works, I’ve done it!

  8. Gas for Generators; what ever you THINK you need QUADRUPLE IT. I’m now living in a 29′ travel trailer. My 3500watt gennie just barely runs the AC, much less the water heater and the microwave. Just running the AC and the occasional water heater, It uses about ten gallons a DAY. Times 3 weeks? Yea, I only have 45 gallons stored. Lucky we got our power back in a week.

  9. I am mystified by people that don’t prep, and then clean out the stores just prior to the catastrophe. Human nature, I guess. But these same sheep buy insurance for their homes, cars, health, etc. so they understand the principle of insurance, which is all prepping means. The idea that approaching catastrophes are different from unseen ones is the ultimate fools paradise. If the front door is locked at night, but the back door is not, will an intruder take the time and trouble to try the back door as well as the front? Gambling with your family’s security is a losing proposition. Failing to aggressively provide for your family’s security is a death sentence.

  10. Thank you, SBC, for posting. As I live closer to I-75, I now call the “Golden Hoards”, Locusts. They will descend picking clean supplies leaving the state and then when a few supplies, gas etc., make it back to the local population after Irma, they will pick any supplies clean again returning to the state.
    And in the process clog relief and emergency efforts, cut into the long gas lines and display their ‘city’ ethics as most appeared to be from the continuous city of Palm Beach to Miami by their license plates. No offense intended and granted they were in panic mode. The cars tend to move en masse impulsive to check what they left behind, not waiting for flood waters to recede. There was a danger of roadways collapsing from flood waters (Northern Central Florida being largely limestone develops sinkholes from the water dissolving the limestone), Interstate 75 included. Warnings were issued to divert traffic to both the east and west coasts, roughly a two-hour detour, just in case. The list goes on.
    So lesson learned ‘what goes out comes back’, unlike JWR’s excellent novels where the unprepared masses wander aimlessly, ok I’m a fan.
    Ps. The State was slow to stock up on gas beforehand and various things like opening the south bound lanes sooner. Learn to listen to a reliable Weather forecaster. Arstechnica.com was good. Perhaps(?)as our weather forecasting may be still using Fortan computer programming language, this is something that needs to be looked into. No slight intended but the UK path model was closer in it’s prediction. Next time people will not take heed as closely remembering Irma’s forecasts they were way off.

  11. Here in North Central FL we had a mild hit but were completely unprepared for the massive influx of evacuees. The local Wal-Mart parking lot had 30-40 RV’s staying there, all the local RV parks were full. Gas ran out on Sunday morning trapping many of them here. First I-75 backed up and “Siri” was diverting everyone to US 27 then to US 98 (and even more rural route) by the end of the day the local county road that cuts through the national forest near the ranch was bumper to bumper, this is a 45 mile road that MIGHT see 500 cars in a day during summer holidays there is not a single gas station or store of any kind on the entire road. It empties out on the state hwy to get back to the interstate and there is a small 4 pump gas station on the corner, I was there topping of the Jeep when someone out on the road saw an opening (the line was very long) and dived right in in front of a local, it was a very tense 30 seconds before the line breaker figured out he wasn’t going to win an decided to beat a hasty retreat.
    I learned two things, first we are not as far from lines of drift as we thought we were and second our local infrastructure will fail almost immediately under outside stress

  12. When Irma started to hook back North the folks in South Alabama went through the same experiences the Florida Panhandle saw. People descended on the stores and basic prep supplies were soon exhausted. Working on a military reservation it was interesting to see the contrast between ‘on post’ and ‘off post’. The gas stations were busy running out of fuel repeatedly and bottled water was in high demand but available if you could get on post. There was a lot calmer attitude – I don’t think because there are more dedicated prep minded folks but because existance without all the luxuries of American life is familiar to at least one family member and they know having a few extra days of food is a reasonable thing to do.

  13. I never thought of the small communities being gutted of supplies when people are forced to evacuate.
    I do road trips every year and these small oasis are great for fuel or coffee and bathroom breaks but I can see them being stripped bare if traffic was increased 500 to 1000 fold.

    I always travel with a minimum 3 day food supply and have a 450 mile range. No I must add another couple of days of food and maybe carry a new fuel container just in case.

    Good information. As the old saying goes, learn from the mistakes of others since you will never live long enough to make them all yourself.

  14. I thought I was ready, owned 2 generators, had even switched my water well pump from the below ground 220 volt pump to 110 volt pump above ground, so I could run it off of my large power inverter if needed. Military background and so on. However, once I received all of the James Wesley, Rawles books on audio, I became schooled up on how I really did have a long way to go, to get up to speed. My long drive to work actually was now a treat, as I would get in my truck, I couldn’t wait to see what I might learn on my ride this time while listening to the Patriot series.

    Fast forward, living an hour from the coast in SC, when Irma was about to hit…no worries. Not to sound uncaring, but I could just sit on the porch and watch the world burn down around me.
    And to think, a year ago, I had never heard of James Wesley, Rawles. Thank you Mr. Rawles and thank you to the whole Survival Blog team.

  15. JWR, I believe if I were you I would consider Old Huey Driver’s acknowledgement that you were the reason for his current excellent preparedness situation as the highest complement. I thank you too!

  16. I was lucky enough to arrive on August 26th to the East Coast of FL…Thanks JWR, I knew just what to do. In short order we had the water, food, solar charging units, lights and from Tuesday on we just watched. We were out of gas around here on Tuesday evening, Glad we made it through as well as we did…….

  17. Voice and internet will often fail, but text messaging will often remain usable. The reason is that the former need a constant connection to operate; text needs only a few milliseconds to transmit or receive. If a tower has power, or if it can connect to a farther tower with even a week signal, it might get through.

    I worked at Sprint during Katrina. Those towers are built with bad weather in mind. Just not Cat 5 hurricanes and tornadoes. But most have independent generators onsite.

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