In this writing I will be referencing Hurricane Michael. This is not just a narrative about my experiences with this hurricane but rather a reflection on my life experiences as a prepared individual, family, and neighborhood.
Throughout my life I could probably be defined as an individual more prepared for unexpected events than most others. That was not necessarily by design but rather necessity and lifestyle. I was raised in a large family and we always needed to make ends meet.
As an adult I have been blessed with an abundant life without much adversity or concern until I heard about the Y2K threat. Most everyone considered me a fool for my concerns about what could have happened at that time but fortunately nothing did happen. I felt it was a call to action to prepare for what could come to be.
Complacency Had Set It
Since 2000 I have been actively preparing for anything I could possibly imagine to happen. Not necessarily the end of the world, but for a reasonably major disaster.
After nearly 20 years of actively fulfilling lists of required items to ride out most anything I could conceive I can only describe my attitude as complacent. Most items I had tested and learned to use then had safely stored and tried to properly rotate. I even felt I knew where everything was even if not really well labeled and organized.
Early in 2018 I began to feel there was not much point in continuing to procure more supplies but felt it was still prudent to develop my knowledge and skills. To an extent I was struggling with how much “stuff” was really necessary to acquire and store. Consequently, when shopping, I less frequently purchased extra food, batteries, ammo, and medical supplies. And actually I nearly stopped researching and looking for gaps in my preparedness supplies. It was not that I had decided it wasn’t important to be prepared but more that I felt I was probably prepared enough.
Then suddenly Hurricane Michael was upon us. And I do mean suddenly. During hurricane season I watch tropical storms closely. What I discovered was that on weekends I spend less time in my office and therefore hadn’t been watching closely enough. Now I see more complacency. Monday morning October 8th, my wife came into my office and asked what I thought we should do about the approaching hurricane. My response was “what hurricane?” And at the time it looked like a Cat 2 storm, problematic but not catastrophic. Complacency? Being a building contractor I spent Monday and Tuesday securing my job sites which any contractor should do for even a tropical storm. That left me just Wednesday morning to prepare our homestead.
All of a sudden my instincts kicked in. We battened down the hatches, made a last minute run to fill gas tanks and pick up some fresh food. Thank God I pulled my primary generator out of the shed, tested it’s operation and decided to put it in the barn. The shed was later crushed by several large trees and the generator would have been lost.
My wife and I have decided that we will not leave our home regardless of the intensity of any disaster we encounter. The primary reason is I don’t want to be separated from my preps and my community. Those that left were unable to get back home to protect their property and make immediate repairs. Before dark we were able to make initial repairs, connect the generator and basically hold down the fort and the neighborhood. By Thursday, the day after, we were able to dry in roofs and care for the neighborhood animals that had been left behind.
We have learned and are still learning many lessons from Hurricane Michael. First and foremost is being prepared is every bit as important as we can possibly imagine. And by this I mean not merely storing supplies, equipment and skills but living a prepared lifestyle. A little over four years ago we purchased our property and built our home, but it is more a homestead. It is not finished, and probably never will be in my lifetime. Very many decisions were based on sustainable qualities.
Many neighbors and friends felt I was unreasonable with the extent, money, and effort designed and built into our home and property. However, we survived winds reported to be consistent (not gusts) of 187 miles per hour, with higher gusts and some tornado activity. This house was designed and built to withstand intense and severe conditions by choice. Just hours after the storm we were able to cook, had clean water, refrigeration, and hot showers. The point is, it is very difficult to react to an emergency if you don’t live, use and practice what will be required before a disaster hits. In some ways, the night after the storm was just another day.
I had reached the point of being fatigued with the concept of redundancy. That is no longer true and redundancy is extremely if not the most important practice to have in place to becoming and staying prepared. The day after the storm a neighbor and I spent hours in sweltering heat cutting trees in order to clear about 450 feet of road just to get up to the next neighbor. I have no idea how many trees we cut at least 45 and they were all large oaks and pine. Most of them had to be cut in foot long lengths to be able to move them.
Normally I would have used my tractor to move them but it was blocked in the barn by many large fallen trees. The tractor didn’t see daylight for nearly two weeks. That first day I burned up all three of my chainsaws. I had a fourth one, but its bar was bent. I certainly thought three chainsaw was adequate but they weren’t enough for that task. I would have told everyone I had least two of every essential item. I would have said that I could quickly find them and put them to use. That was somewhat true. I had two generators, but one failed a few days in. Fortunately it was my small 2,000 watt genset and not the large 8,500 watt model.
Very many people told me it was unwise to store so much gasoline, chainsaw fuel and oil, propane and kerosene. We were without power for 16 days. Fortunately we were able to supply water, cooking capabilities, ice, fuel and oil, freezer space, lanterns, and hot showers to many of our neighbors during that time. I had five different types of cooking stoves. Some of those ended up being used by neighbors who only had electric ranges. I thought I had at least two radios of any type I would need. I hadn’t checked well enough. We were fine with weather radios but the local National Weather Service broadcast was off for many days.
What we really needed was a simple AM FM radio so we could hear the outside world. I thought I had three working radios, but only had one. And that one used an odd battery that could only be charged by using a crank on the side. It worked, but that was a real pain. A few days later when were finally able to get the road cleared enough to get out to the highway we went on a run to resupply the neighborhood and found that difficult. Even after going 45 miles west where there was little or no destruction we were unable to find a simple little battery-powered AM/FM radio.
Organization and Practice
Prior to Hurricane Michael I had begun to think we would never need or use most of our preps. Due to this my “stuff” was not really organized but I felt I would have time to get it all out and check everything and fill any gaps before any catastrophe arrived. I just didn’t have time. So my advice is to keep everything organized, ready and practice using it. I found myself digging through storage bins looking for funnels to pour gas into the generator and to find a solar shower to lend to a friend.
I also found that it really isn’t a good idea to keep everything in one spot. I used to have a decent metal shed out back where I kept very nearly all our fuel, oil, pumps, generators, kerosene, grease guns etc. Well that shed was buried behind or under five huge trees. It took three weeks to recover what I could from under those trees and now after 10 weeks much that couldn’t be saved has yet to be replaced because everything local is in short supply.
It is interesting that we didn’t touch a single bit of our long-term stored food. Instead, we were all trying to make use of what we had in our refrigerators and freezers. Once again our primary refrigerator failed but we did have a backup and a little 12-volt cooler that got us through.
From all of this I have learned that in a way I was perhaps overly focused on thinking I was preparing for the end of the world and not adequately being really correct in preparing for the most likely disaster to hit us. Yes, we live in hurricane territory and Hurricane Michael was about as bad as it can get. The eye of the storm traveled directly overhead so we were hammered by the storm both coming and going. All I am saying is that would have gladly traded some freeze dried food for a cheap little radio. That showed poor planning.
Another observation is on the lack of true community. Prior to the storm we all felt we were friends and neighbors and we would work together to pull through any difficulties. For the first few days that was somewhat true, at least for the ones that stayed home and even fewer that returned to stay as soon as they were allowed. But within a few days everyone’s patience wore thin and rifts have developed with some folks that will never be the resolved. With few exceptions each of us were on our own. That is troubling because we were providing goods and services with very little return other than hostility. So just consider that those you may be counting on may not be very accountable or even civil.
We have just passed six full months since Hurricane Michael and I have not written for at least two to three months. Every day is filled by trying to restore people’s homes and lives. There are homes I have not even been able to start repairing yet. Yesterday I cut down trees that have threatened or house due to wind damage but that I had not sufficient time to take care of.
It is very apparent that it will take years for our county and surrounding areas to recover. There is no housing, insufficient labor, material sources, grocery stores, restaurants, and support systems. Our hospitals are compromised and hardly operational.
Don’t Be Complacent!
It cannot be stressed adequately enough that we that understand the need to be truly prepared and not drop our guard. If we should be blessed enough to not need what we have set aside then at least we will be able to help others who are less fortunate. Please do not drop your guard and become complacent!