First Time?

Sep 05

What Irma & Harvey CanTeach us to Prepare for Hurricane Florence & the Future. 


Want the key points? - Scroll to "What We Can Do Now.." near the bottom of the post. 

As I update this post, Hurricane Florence is heading towards the Carolina coast where over 1 million people have been ordered to evacuate. One year ago I wrote the original post just after Hurricane Harvey battered Texas and Hurricane Irma the Caribbean and East Coast of the United States. 

More...

I took a course with a tracker and survival expert once, Tom Brown Jr. He used to commonly say something to the nature of, “Make everyone (and everything) you meet your teacher.”
So, in a changing world and climate, how do we make the most of some of the tragic extreme weather events we are witnessing from afar (or up close and personal)? 

We can learn from these experiences to be more adaptable and resilient people. And we can be better prepared for the realities of climate change and extreme weather in order to keep our families and communities safe.

Hurricane Harvey took Houston Texas by surprise and captured attention around the world. A Category 4 hurricane that grew from a category 1 to 4 overnight.
If you would like to comment and share your own ideas, please share below and come and join the continued conversation over at our Facebook Group - Changing World Conversations 

What can we learn from #HurricaneHarvey #Irma 2 be​ more adaptable & resilient ppl in the face of #ClimateChange ?

Click to Tweet

6 Lessons from Hurricane Irma & Harvey


Lesson 1 - Don’t be blinded by your own experience and imagination - Complacency Kills!
A friend of mine lives on a hill, high and dry. Her family has lived on this property for over 50 years. Last year their basement flooded for the first time ever. This is not something they (or I) would have ever imagined or expected, houses on hills are not supposed to flood.
Hurricanes are also not supposed to move so slow and continue to drop massive amounts of rain even after they have made landfall. Earthquakes and tsunamis are not supposed to knock out the backup power supplies to nuclear reactors in the case of the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor melt down.

My point here is that it is hard for us to imagine a situation that has never happened before. I often hear people say, “That could never happen here,”.


The reality of climate change is that we are going to experience new weather patterns that our current predictions models do not account for.  A “typical” weather event could have “untypical” behaviour as a result.

What YOU Can Do Now To Prepare 

1) Don’t tell yourself “it could never happen here, or to me.”

Even if it is unlikely to happen in your region in the same way, it is possible another chain of events that you have never conceived of. It could create similar circumstances and consequences.

2) Spend an evening researching historical weather events in your area. Maybe you don't consider earthquakes or tornados to be a real threat in your area because you have never witnessed one or heard of one mentioned.
You may find that the reason is because there has not been an one in hundreds (or even thousands of years) BUT....... They have happened before, which means they could happen again!


3) Based on your research and some logical thought, spend another evening and make a list of some of the most likely disasters and emergencies that could hit your area as well as some possible ones.
Then learn the basics of what to do in each. There is plenty of information online and on government and NGO sites like the Red Cross about, "What to do if..."

4) Take an “All Hazards Approach”

So, we can’t see into the future, we cannot conceive ALL the possibilities. We can be strategic and leverage actions that set us up for better success in a multitude of different scenarios.

An “All Hazards Approach” in the field of Emergency and Disaster Management is when we look at all the possibilities (that we can conceive) and what plans and actions could be useful in as many different scenarios as possible.

The way I like to approach this from a personal preparedness perspective is by asking what are the necessities of life, for my family’s survival & well-being? And, what elements can significantly influence these?

So, my necessities are - Shelter (in its simplest form is to protect me from the elements and other harm), Clean Water (for hygiene and drinking), Fire (this includes heat, light in the dark, the ability to cook, etc.), Food, Health and whatever else is needed for my body and brain to continue to perform.

What elements can influence this:

- Water (excessive amounts such as a flood, not enough as in a drought, contaminated water or water making me cold)
- Air (excessive amounts of wind creating damage, contaminated air by say a chemical fire, etc.)
- Fire (house fire, forest fire, lack of heat for warmth, etc.)
- Earth (earthquakes, contaminated soil affecting agriculture, etc.)
- Other People (crime, people wanting to do harm and people who can help)
- Technology (anything that impacts the infrastructure that provides me with shelter, water, fire, food and health)

I could expand on this in length but will give one quick example of an All Hazards Approach to preparedness. Creating a basic emergency “grab and go bag” that takes into account Shelter, Water, Fire, Food and Health instantly gives me options to cover my basic needs when water, fire, earth, other people or technology become a problem. Thus, this is one example of an All Hazards Approach.

Lesson #2 - Is the 72hr kit really adequate? And, is your emergency gear ACTUALLY ready to go?
In a survey I conducted of over 200 people, 58% said they were somewhat prepared (with gear and knowledge for what to do during a disaster), 17% said they were and 23% said they were not.
But was does that even mean? In the days before Hurricane Harvey, many grocery stores ran out of food, water and batteries. Home supply stores ran out of generators and gas stations ran out of gas. There were tens of thousands of people that did not get what they needed before the storm hit.

Of the folks who feel they have basic gear at home, what if you did not see the disaster coming? What if you woke up in the middle of the night and had to go RIGHT NOW?

Now, add in a possible lack of light, worrying about family members and other unforeseen circumstances.
Are you REALLY ready to go? How old are the batteries in the flashlight? Do you have everyone’s phone number, if your phone dies and there is no way to charge it?

Now, let’s look at the scope of the disaster. In a typical blackout, a 72hour kit is usually more than enough. In Hurricane Harvey, they predicted it was over 3 weeks for the water to drop in some areas keeping residents from returning to their severely damaged homes.

What if you are trapped at home and the power will not be back up for weeks? No groceries, no flowing toilets, no running water. Could you last 2 - 3 weeks in your house with what you have at home right now?


    What YOU Can Do Now To Prepare

1) Have a backpack with basic gear (think shelter, water, fire, food, health & hygiene, tools, communication, entertainment, back-up finances and security) ready to go. I keep mine in the car.
Have a waterproof Rubbermaid of basic supplies in your home for a longer in-home situation (consider the same needs).

2) Think beyond 72hrs when making these kits. If you don’t have anything in place right now and have limited time and budget, start with the most important gear based on your necessities. A few basic items or a 72hr kit are better than no kit at all!

3) In the case of having to drive during a flood, consider how you would get out of your car if you became trapped and the automatic windows would not roll down?
Grab yourself a car escape tool, put it within reach of the driver's seat and forget about it. You are now more prepared than you were yesterday. It’s that simple.
Although I have not personally tested either of them to break a window yet, the portable "Resqme" get's great reviews as well as the "Lifehammer"
** Any tools or books purchased through the links on this site provide a very small amount of income towards supporting this blog. So if your going to buy any of these resources, please consider using these links and consider it a tip for my work. Thank You!

Lesson 3 - Perspective & Attitude is Everything, Choose Courage & Good Will, Over Panic & Fear
In the days before Hurricane Irma struck Florida, the best and worst of humanity was revealed. I had the fortune to to communicate several times with a friend, Emily Ruff from the "Florida School of Holistic Living", who was in Orlando before the storm hit.
We live streamed one of our conversations. Her perspective on the events unfolding were both thought provoking and inspiring. You can watch the video below (it is over 30min, so I suggest finishing reading this blog first and possibly making some popcorn!)
What YOU Can Do Now To Prepare
1) Get together with your community and immediate neighbors to talk about how you would support each other in the event of a disaster or emergency.
  • Who is checking on the elderly folks down the street?
  • Who has advanced first aid training?
  • Can anyone operate a HAM Radio or have walkie talkies? 
  • Does anyone have a generator?
  • What else would be valuable to discuss ahead of time? 
Having these conversations before the storm can go along ways and be very reassuring during the event itself.


2) Train your mind to react to stress by taking a deep breath and trying to look at things objectively. You can practice this through visualizing a disaster in your mind, make it feel real to the point that you start to get tense. Then take a DEEP BREATH, feel yourself relax a bit, do it again, then focus on your next step baby step, what resources and options are available to you. Take that step then repeat. 
The more you visualize this now, the better chance of taking a breath under stress becoming second nature reflex response!


3) Take some time to watch the video interview with Emily Ruff and/or read a summary I wrote after our interview on 10 Lessons we Can Learn From the Recent String of Disasters


Hurricanes are also not supposed to move so slow and continue to drop massive amounts of rain even after they have made landfall. Earthquakes and tsunamis are not supposed to knock out the backup power supplies to nuclear reactors in the case of the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor melt down.

My point here is that it is hard for us to imagine a situation that has never happened before. I often hear people say, “That could never happen here,” and sure we are not likely to get a category 4 Hurricane in central Canada, but why couldn’t we get an unprecedented rain storm? One that sits over the great lakes and does not move for days or even weeks and drops unimaginable amounts of rain?

In the case of my friend's flooded basement, we had a particularly strong downpour that was coupled with an incredibly wet spring and summer. The ground was already saturated and losing its ability to absorb any more water. Thus, we had an incident that was not predicted or planned for.

The reality of climate change is that we are going to experience new weather patterns that our current predictions models do not account for. I am not saying that Hurricane Harvey was a result of climate change, just that weather systems, in general, are likely to be influenced in ways that we have not experienced yet as a result of climate change. A “typical” weather event could have “untypical” behaviour as a result.

So, let’s put a positive spin on this.

What can we learn and actually do about it?

1) Don’t tell yourself “it could never happen here, or to me.”

Even if it is unlikely to happen in your region in the same way, is it possible another chain of events that you have never conceived of could create similar circumstances and consequences?

2) Have emergency plans in place, have some basic gear on hand and get some training to make yourself a more resourceful and self-sufficient individual/family.

This will be the topic of many future posts, in our YouTube video’s, and is a major component of the theme of this site. We could speak about this at length, for now, check out your local governments emergency preparedness website as well as some of the NGO’s that specialize in disaster preparedness & relief such as FEMA, Red Cross, Emergency Management Ontario, etc. Almost all towns, municipalities, states, provinces, etc. have one, at least in North America and Europe.

These Government and NGO sites will have some basics to get you started. In my opinion, you would be wise to go way above and beyond what they suggest. I’m sure many from Houston and other disasters wish they had.

Also, check out the Changing World YouTube channel for some of our related video’s and recommended videos on these topics and watch for upcoming workshops and webinars.


3) Take an “All Hazards Approach”

So, we can’t see into the future, we cannot conceive ALL the possibilities but, fortunately, we can be strategic and leverage actions that set us up for better success in a multitude of different scenarios.

An “All Hazards Approach” in the field of Emergency and Disaster Management is when we look at all the possibilities (that we can conceive) and what plans and actions could be useful in as many different scenarios as possible.

The way I like to approach this from a personal preparedness perspective is by asking what are the necessities of life, for my family’s survival & well-being? And, what elements can significantly influence these?

So, my necessities are - Shelter (in its simplest form is to protect me from the elements and other harm), Clean Water (for hygiene and drinking), Fire (this includes heat, light in the dark, the ability to cook, etc.), Food, Health and whatever else is needed for my body and brain to continue to perform.

What elements can influence this:

Water (excessive amounts such as a flood, not enough as in a drought, contaminated water or water making me cold)
Air (excessive amounts of wind creating damage, contaminated air by say a chemical fire, etc.)
Fire (house fire, forest fire, lack of heat for warmth, etc.)
Earth (earthquakes, contaminated soil affecting agriculture, etc.)
Other People (crime, people wanting to do harm and people who can help)
Technology (anything that impacts the infrastructure that provides me with shelter, water, fire, food and health)

I could expand on this in length but will give one quick example of an All Hazards Approach to preparedness. Creating a basic emergency “grab and go bag” that takes into account Shelter, Water, Fire, Food and Health instantly gives me options to cover my basic needs when water, fire, earth, other people or technology become a problem. Thus, this is one example of an All Hazards Approach.

Be proactive, take your #safety & well-being into your own hands. Get your #emergency kit & plan together today!

Click to Tweet
But was does that even mean? In the days before Hurricane Harvey, many grocery stores ran out of food, water and batteries. Home supply stores ran out of generators and gas stations ran out of gas. There were tens of thousands of people that did not get what they needed before the storm hit.

Of the folks who feel they have basic gear at home, what if you did not see the disaster coming? What if you woke up in the middle of the night and had to go RIGHT NOW?

Now, add in a possible lack of light, worrying about family members and other unforeseen circumstances. Are you REALLY ready to go? How old are the batteries in the flashlight? Do you have everyone’s phone number, if your phone dies and there is no way to charge it?

Now, let’s look at the scope of the disaster. In a typical blackout, a 72hour kit is usually more than enough. In Hurricane Harvey, they predicted it could be 2 to 3 weeks for the water to drop in some areas, allowing residents to get back to their home.

What if you are trapped at home and the power will not be back up for weeks? No groceries, no flowing toilets, no running water. Could you last 2 - 3 weeks in your house with what you have at home right now?

So, what can we do about it?

Have a backpack with basic gear (think shelter, water, fire, food, health, tools and communication) ready to go. I keep mine in the car.
Have a waterproof Rubbermaid of basic supplies in your home for a longer in-home situation (consider the same needs).
Think beyond 72hrs when making these kits. If you don’t have anything in place right now and have limited time and budget, start with the most important gear based on your necessities. A few basic items or a 72hr kit are better than no kit at all!
In the case of having to drive during a flood, consider how you would get out of your car if you became trapped and the automatic windows would not roll down? Grab yourself a car escape tool, put it within reach of the driver's seat and forget about it. You are now more prepared than you were yesterday. It’s that simple.



People often assume the government is ready to swoop in with helicopters to save us if anything goes wrong. Unfortunately, during a major disaster, this simply is not true. Most Governments request that all citizen be able to take care of ALL of their basic needs for at least 72hrs. The government and emergency services do not have a crystal ball. They also have a limited budget and capacity to plan and prepare, just like us.

I personally do not believe it is the Government’s job to come in and save the day (in every situation). They have to look at the big picture and make decisions that are best for the majority of the population, which means this may trump your personal needs and situation.

Whether you agree with this statement or not, when we study disasters around the world, we commonly see governments being overwhelmed and people having to fend for themselves.

So, what can we do about this
Be proactive and take your safety and well-being into your own hands. The less able-bodied adults need to call on the Government and Emergency Services to save them, the more time the authorities have to work at solving the root of the issue (ex: fixing infrastructure) and protecting vulnerable places such as hospitals, old age homes, and people who do not have the capacity to provide for themselves.
Get your emergency kits together as stated in step 2.
Learn skills that make you more resilient and have fun doing it! Instead of going out for a weekend on the town, put one weekend aside to do a more advanced first aid course or a survival course. This can be lots of fun if you approach it with the right attitude.
Talk with neighbours and family about how you would come together and work together in the event of a disaster or emergency.
Who on your street has a first aid training?
Who has a generator?
Who in your family is going to check on Grandma?
Who is going to check on the elderly couple or single mother/father down the street that do not have a support network.

These instructions are based on the best information available at the time, but weather and disasters are often unpredictable. Once the power goes out, circumstances can change and the original information you were given may no longer be relevant or helpful.

On top of that, it is likely you will come up with questions that never occurred to you before the incident, or under the stress and unpredictability of the situation, governments may not mention what to do if…

In the case of Hurricane Harvey, people were climbing into their attics to escape rising water flooding into their homes. But the amount of flooding was unpredicted and many homes flooded right up over the roof. Imagine being in your attic, water flowing in from underneath, and trapped?

Once the power goes down it becomes harder to communicate to people that they need to get even higher, either get on your roof (if safe) or if you head into your attic, make sure you can cut a hole through to the roof if you need to.

On top of this, imagine being separated from family and loved ones with no way to communicate with them? The roads are down or unpassable, the phones do not work, what do you do?

So, what can we learn and do?

1)Make plans with family ahead of time
In the event of a power outage, if safe to do so, we will meet here.
Plan B is to meet here.
Who will check on Grandma if we all have to shelter in place?

2) Learn ahead of time what channels emergency services and the government will be using to give out important information before, during and after an emergency.

Even if phone lines are up, local airways may be jammed by the volume of people trying to communicate locally. Try sending texts instead (which use less bandwidth) and have a pre-designated person out of town to be a point of contact for family members in the disaster zone that may not be able to reach each other but may be able to call out of town.

3) Have a hand cranked and/or battery powered radio with a minimum of AM/FM for news and the weather band so you can stay up to date even without power.

If you want to take it a step further, look into getting a basic HAM Radio so you can tune into and listen to emergency service channels to gather more relevant information.
In the event of an incoming disaster, with a little bit of notice, the last thing you want to be doing is running to the store to get batteries when you could be working on the next step of your plan such as how to fortify your home, or gather family members together. You could end up getting injured or worse on route to the store because of the panic of other unprepared people.

I personally know SO MANY people who don’t even think about this kind of stuff. Many of my friends have no idea Harvey even happened and have never looked at historical disasters from their region. I also watch people all the time walking down the street with absolutely no awareness of potential hazards around them and who would have no way of knowing a big storm was headed their way.

I heard a few people being interviewed on the new in the wake of Harvey that had no clue the storm was even coming or that people were being ordered to evacuate or seek cover. Their lifestyles are just not set up to pay attention to possibilities such as this.

I hope after this storm, many will reconsider what they pay attention to as they walk through life.


What can we do and learn?

Take a couple hours one evening to consider all the emergency possibilities that could happen in your life/region. You may want to use google to research disasters that have happened in your area in the past (just remember lesson 1).
Visit your local government or emergency preparedness agencies website to see what they suggest in terms of preparedness measure and how to react during different emergencies.
Monitor the weather and get some emergency alert apps for your phone. I use the Red Cross “Be Ready” app. There are lots of other great ones out there.
As you travel around town, to and from work, consider what potential hazards may exist. Are chemicals transported down the local rail track or Highway? Where could a road wash out in a flood? How would I get home if my normal route was blocked off?
Play the “What if game.” While going about your day, occasionally think of an out of the ordinary hazard situation, and ask yourself, what would I do if?
Read some books and articles on improving your situational awareness, a few of my favourites are

About the Author

Chris Gilmour is the creator of ChangingWorldProject.com He has a diverse background in the study of ecology, teaching traditional wilderness & urban survival, consulting in modern-day emergency and disaster preparedness and has a passion for self-reliance such as growing food and the martial arts.

>