Step 1: Learning (or not) from experience
"Be prepared" means get ready for the worst and don't count on that lucky break. Remember the bad experience and dismiss the good one. Evacuating under a blue sky, even though it might make you feel like a slightly hysterical nutcase (especially if the storm does not deliver the anticipated damage), is still much better than doing so in waist high, filthy floodwater. Some people did not evacuate because they remembered only the last storm, Irene, which missed them, and they forgot about Katrina. Some paid a heavy price.
Step 2: Prepare for power loss
- Clean and organize your refrigerator ahead of time, so you know exactly what is in it, and where it is. When the power goes out you will be able to quickly open the door, grab what you need and close it without letting too much cold air escape: fridges are well insulated, so it will take a while to warm up (even longer for your food to spoil) if it stays shut as much as possible.
- Buy or make ice in advance, put it in a container which won't leak and put it in the back of your fridge. Frozen bottles of water are perfect for this because they will do double duty: they will keep the fridge cold and supply you with clean water when it finally does warm up. Stuff the fridge as much as possible. A full fridge will warm up much more slowly than a nearly empty one.
- A gas stove will work without power, but you might need matches to light it when the power goes out.
- If you have a barbecue, make sure you're well stocked with charcoal or whatever you use for fuel. You won't be able to use it if you're stuck indoors, but if you don't get power for a while it is sure to come in handy.
- Stock up on non-perishable food, and make sure you have a manual can opener -- your electric one will be useless.
- Just in case, get food you can eat without cooking, heat or refrigeration. That's right, chips and doughnuts. My boys could not believe their luck.
- Depending on where you live if you don't have power you won't get running water. This is why it's critical not just to store drinking water, but also to fill the tub, so you can flush by dumping a bucket of water in the toilet.
- Make sure at least one phone in your house is the kind which plugs directly into the wall. Even if you have a plain vanilla land line, a charged wireless phone won't work when the power goes off. In most cases when the power goes out land lines still work, unless you have a digital phone line connected to a cable or a fiberoptic network. You might have a back-up battery, but that won't last forever.
- Charge up your cell phone (etc) in advance, and get a solar charger -- it won't help you much if there's no sunlight, but it might give you just enough juice for that one important call.
- Keep your phone off to conserve the charge, turning it on only every few hours to check messages
- Depending on where you live a bike can be the best way of getting around post-storm.
- If you own a car, get a full tank of gas and a charger for your electronics. Limit trips as much as possible, and carpool to save gas. Gas stations can't pump gas unless they have power, and the whole distribution system can be disrupted for days.
- ATM machines and credit card readers need power too, so make sure you have some cash on hand.
- TV, cable, internet and internet will be down, but the good old battery operated radio will keep you in touch... and frankly, it is a lot more comforting than TV anyway. As Sandy approached I found I was much more relaxed and better informed when I turned off the TV and listened to public radio instead. Even if you're not a fellow NPR junkie, a small radio is an absolute necessity. There is no worse feeling then to be in the dark, literally AND figuratively, when the power goes out.
- TV, cable, internet will be down, so you will rediscover the joys of reading, playing charades or acoustic instruments, and you will remember how much you hate board games.
- Put a flashlight on the door nob of every room... if you can. When I did this the boys just grabbed them and started swinging them around, then leaving them where no one would ever find them.
- Get the type of flashlight which you can put on your head (or hat) and put it in an easily accessible place.
- Though officially candles are discouraged for fire safety reasons, if you're careful they can turn a stressful black-out into a peaceful moment of calm. I set out tea candles in glass cups throughout the apartment, so that I could walk around without needing a flashlight. Keep matches and a nice bottle of wine nearby.
- Clean up so that you won't be tripping over backpacks or toys in the dark. Stepping on legos is a very effective way of teaching your kids curse words -- you probably want to save that lesson for later. Though I usually hate cleaning doing so right before a storm is kind of soothing.
Step 3: Community
The night of the storm my neighbors got together for an impromptu BYOB party in the lobby. When they couldn't go outside, kids ran in and out of each other's apartments, entertaining themselves by raiding one family's secret stash of snacks after the other. This did wonders for everyone's morale and sanity. Social capital is much more valuable than the monetary kind.