For this edition of "What If?", we asked, what if a major hurricane...
In This Article
Editor's Note: We're glad to share this insightful article, which was submitted by a reader who wishes to help others learn from the flaws in his past emergency plans. If you live in a region that may be affected by any type of catastrophic and widespread natural disaster, read Bill's account and consider how these lessons can help you become better prepared. If you have a similar survival story you'd like to tell, we'd love to hear it — you can click here to send us an email.
My name is Bill Napier, and today I’d like to share some lessons I’ve learned after surviving two Category 5 hurricanes. These storms have caused me to become better prepared for future natural disasters, and I hope my insights can help you and your family do the same. The following is a brief attempt to help you consider and plan your responses to life’s challenging events.
My family and I went through Hurricane Katrina in Mandeville, LA (a suburb of New Orleans) in 2005 as well as Hurricane Harvey in Kingwood, TX (a suburb of Houston) in 2017. I have experienced numerous hurricanes in my lifetime, but nothing like those two. During Katrina, our property suffered from extensive wind damage, caused mainly by large pine trees falling on our homes and cars. During Harvey, our house and cars flooded with four feet of water, which turned out to be much more difficult to deal with than Katrina’s wind damage.
Before Katrina we were not at all prepared. In general, no one I knew talked about the need to be prepared in 2005 like we are in 2017. For us that changed dramatically after Katrina. We own an engineering and construction management company, and at the time of Katrina, we were focused on the offshore oil and gas industry. We started meeting with customers within 48 hours of the eye of Katrina passing the office.
Our company uses “PEMA” as an acronym for project management, and it’s equally relevant to emergency preparedness:
Since Katrina, I have been reading anything I can get my hands on concerning preparing for events beyond our control. I have a small group of like-minded friends who I talk with regularly. Looking back, a lot of the material available is too formulaic. There is not enough emphasis on monitoring and adjusting, as we learned in Harvey.
Life’s events do not follow the formulas. Be ready to adapt quickly.
We bought our house in Kingwood, TX four years ago. It had never flooded and supposedly would never flood. We were not required to have flood insurance. Fortunately, as a result of our experience in Katrina, we did. I am told in our neighborhood one out of six homes had flood insurance.
If there is even the faintest chance of flooding in your area, invest in flood insurance. The same can be said for earthquake insurance, if you live in an area that’s prone to earthquakes, landslides, or mudslides. Many standard policies don't cover these disasters.
I am an Eagle Scout. My wife and I lived overseas for extended periods, including more than two years in Nigeria. We had four children. One was special needs and passed away a few months before Katrina. As a result of these experiences, we thought before both storms we could handle whatever came our way. We were wrong both times.
Our house in Texas sits much higher than the street and golf course behind the house. Nevertheless, the water from Hurricane Harvey came into the house within a few hours. We waited too long to leave by car, and had to be evacuated by boat.
Once the warning signs of a disaster are present, evacuate as soon as possible while you can still drive out. Stage your vehicles on higher ground, and be ready to hit the road before the rest of the panicked masses.
As our house began to flood, my wife was scared since she does not swim. She felt her life was threatened. I would have stayed upstairs in the house but she could not do that. In retrospect, it was wise to leave for her sake, and as a result of the sewage backup in the neighborhood homes.
Consider areas of personal growth, and train to eliminate those weaknesses. I plan to practice swimming with my wife in the future, and help her to feel more confident in this area.
After Katrina, we were without power for 13 days, and the local stores were not being resupplied quickly. We had significant damage to two houses we owned. As a result of the difficulties of Katrina, we installed whole-building natural gas generators at our Kingwood house and our Covington office building. We also stocked both locations to support a 10-man team for at least 14 days. Blow up mattresses, food, water, communications, flashlights, and so on. You know the lists.
So, I thought we were ready for Harvey. We had food, water, guns, and all the survival equipment that’s recommended by the popular disaster prep lists. However, we were not prepared for flooding.
We had bug-out bags, but they were packed for survival in the woods, not the flood. Many items in the bags were helpful, but we ended up tossing aside the camping gear. It was useless in that environment. Also, we should have brought more clothes. We had only what we wore plus one change of clothing — it wasn’t enough for long-term survival. Fortunately, we did pack everything in water proof bags, including the clothes.
After Hurricane Harvey had passed, I saw many of our supplies in the garage floating in containers, or submerged under the water. It hurts me to realize how much money was spent on supplies that were useless after the flooding.
If flooding is a possibility, store everything as high off the ground as possible.
Above all, be flexible with your gear, and pack to meet the need. This may mean staging one core bug-out bag that covers the basics, and several other supplementary bags for specific situations — for example, a cold-weather survival pack, or a long-term survival duffel bag with extra clothes, food, water and money.
Above: A mailer from Bill's church showed the destruction of his family home in an effort to unite the community after Katrina. Below: Heavy equipment was required to remove fallen trees and debris from the home.
Here are some more lessons my family learned from both storms:
1) The mental side of responding to life’s challenges is as important as the physical responses. Never lose hope. I believe that prayer works – use it.
2) Endurance, both physically and mentally, is required. Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint.
3) People need each other. After Harvey, our church congregation, friends, family, and neighbors were a huge help. We could not have made it without them. Do not be too proud to accept help from your community. I am now 65. I do not have the endurance or back I once did. Assistance from younger bodies is really useful.
4) Be nice to local business owners and staff in the good times. After a storm, the demand for their services goes up dramatically. Good and established relationships with vendors can put you at the front of the line.
5) We are all human and have our moments when we are not nice people. Be patient and forgiving when those around you are struggling. Be willing to overlook a wrong. Even pastors and priests have their limits of endurance. The demands on them are incredible after storms as they deal with people who have lost family members and houses. People keep asking them the “WHY” question, which no one can answer. Always show grace when you can.
6) Cash is king. You need it on the way out of town when the stores do not have power. Vendors love it after a storm (see item #4 above). Sometimes you’ll even get a discount.
For more tips on surviving the aftermath of a hurricane, check out our previous article on Post-Storm Survivor Strategy.