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Lessons from Hurricane Irma

What Irma Can Teach Us About Preparing for Hurricane Florence & the Future.



As Hurricane Florence barrels down on the Carolina Coast, I thought it was timely to update and rerelease this great interview I did during Hurricane Irma & Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
In the days leading up to and after Hurricane Irma, I had the great fortune of conducting an interview with Emily Ruff from the Florida School of Holistic Living and the Herbal Action Network
Emily was in Orlando, Florida during Hurricane Irma. We spoke about what the event taught her about disaster preparedness and community resiliency.

This blog is a summary of 10 lessons from our conversation. Scroll to the bottom of the page to watch the full video interview.


Enjoy and remember to Take Action and be Prepared, Practical & Positive!

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It is October 2017 as I write this post. I suspect the lessons captured in it will be relevant for all of us for many years to come. Let us not become complacent. The United States has had five major disasters back to back. The massive shooting in Las Vegas, 3 major hurricanes hitting the mainland (Maria, Irma & Harvey) and the most deadly and damaging wildfires on record across California.

As a generalization, we humans have had a terrible track record in the recent past of witnessing major disasters and forgetting about them shortly after. Event after event is showing how unprepared most citizens are for emergencies and a changing climate. We need to stop being complacent and make emergency preparedness, grassroots community mobilization, and personal safety a higher priority in our busy lives.  

When a disaster strikes many people share condolences, talk about how terrible it is, and a handful offer financial aid. I believe many people are missing an important opportunity that arises from the loss and suffering. This opportunity is the ability to learn, to grow and to shape a safer and better future for our communities. To not just talk but to actually take action on a local level.

I had the great fortune of conducting an interview with Emily Ruff from the Florida School of Holistic Living and the Herbal Action Network. Emily was in Orlando, Florida during Hurricane Irma. We spoke in the days before the storm and again the week after. During our conversation, we debriefed her experience and all the lessons that came from it with the intent of her, myself and other to be able to learn from her experience and implement these lessons proactively into our own lives.

This blog is a summary of 10 lessons from our conversation. Enjoy AND… Take Action!
Lesson #1 - Have Your Emergency Kit Ready WAY ahead of time
Imagine scrambling in a mad panic to get basic necessities together in the days before a big storm hits (or as it is striking). People often focus on the devastation of the actual event itself, when in reality, the days, weeks, and months afterwards are often even more challenging and often have more casualties.

This was Emily’s number one lesson from Hurricane Irma. She witnessed many people scrambling and panicking last minute because they did not have basic food, water, tools and plans in place. This caused avoidable stress, panic and chaos in the streets created more hazards and danger before the storm even ocurred. 

Emily did have some emergency gear and plans in place but also realized, like many do, that things are not always as ready to go as you may assume. I wonder how many people facing Hurricane Florence are learning this lesson the hard way right now?

Grocery stores ran out of food, hardware stores were out of generators, and gas station were out of gas. The days before you do not want to be standing in lines and traffic looking for supplies.

Preparing ahead of time does not mean in the days before. It means in the months and years before. This leads nicely into lesson two.

You can see some of the emergency preparedness gear I use here.


This was Emily’s number one lesson from the storm. She witnessed many people scrambling and panicking last minute because they did not have basic food, water, tools and plans in place. This caused avoidable stress, panic and chaos that now has the potential to create more hazards before the storm even occurs. Preparing ahead of time does not mean in the days before either. It means in the months and years before. This leads nicely into lesson two.

Lesson # 2 - Nurture & Prepared Your Mind, Body & Spirit in the Days Before

Imagine scrambling in a mad panic to get basic necessities together in the days before a big storm hits (or during). People often focus on the devastation of the event. in reality, the days, weeks, and months afterwards are often even more challenging and with more casualties.

mind body spirit
Imagine scrambling in a mad panic to get basic necessities together in the days before a big storm hits (or as it is striking). People often focus on the devastation of the actual event itself, when in reality, the days, weeks, and months afterwards are often even more challenging and often have more casualties.

If you are scrambling before the storm, then you are likely to be exhausted before the biggest challenges begin. This is when you need to be at your best.
In the days before the storm, it is ideal to be just fine tuning preparations to meet the specific of the storm, double checking your lists and gear, and checking in with family and neighbours.

Emily shared that she was doing yoga, meditating, eating good food and getting lots of rest in the days before the storm.
She did this knowing that once the storm hits she may need to extend a lot of energy. She wanted to be rested and in a calm mindset (as much as she could be) so she headed into the storm at her best. Brilliant strategy, I love it!
If you are scrambling before the storm, then you are likely to be exhausted before the biggest challenges begins. This is when you need to be at your best. In the days before the storm, it is ideal to be just tweaking preparations to meet the specific predictions of the storm and double checking your lists.
Emily shared that she was doing yoga, meditating, eating good food and getting lots of rest in the days before the storm. She did this knowing that once the storm hits she may need to extend a lot of energy. She wanted to be rested and in a calm mindset (as much as she could be) to make important decisions from. Brilliant strategy, I love it!

​Lesson #3 - Communicate With Family Before ​You Loose Power

Don't assume you will be able to easily communicate with your loved ones during and after the storm. What is your emergency communications plan?

One of my recommendation for Emily was to call her Mom in the next town over and come up with a basic plan of what they would each do after the hurricane passes. Are you going to try to come together and if so, who is checking on who?

Let your family know where you would go if you had to evacuate your home so they can find you if the phone lines are down. What else would you want to have worked out ahead of time with your family?

If you live in range, having a few walkie talkies is not a bad idea!

To me, not knowing if the family are safe and where they are would be one of the scariest parts of a disaster. You don’t want two people out looking for each other in an already unsafe environment. Don’t assume communications will be available after a storm. Make a plan ahead of time. More on this topic coming soon… email to get details.

The next two points address communications as well.


Lesson #4 - Know Your Neighbours
Prior to the start of the storm, Emily made an effort to check in with various neighbours and members from her community. 
Your local neighbours may be your only support system in the moments before, during and after a disaster. Having good relationships built and some plans to support and check on each other is one of your best resources.

Emily had a number of walkie-talkies from a herbal conference she helps organize each year. Prior to the storm she distributed the walkie-talkies out amidst friends so they would be able to communicate after the storm if phone and internet were down. Doing so by radio allows you to avoid going into the streets which may be dangerous.

Also get yourself a hand cranked or battery operated emergency radio so you can listen to the weather and emergency alerts. Here is the one I use:

Prior to the start of the storm, Emily made an effort to check in with various neighbours and members from her community. Your local neighbours may be your only support system in the moments before, during and after a disaster. Having good relationships built and some plans to support and check on each other is one of your best resources.

** 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!

Emily had a number of walkie-talkies from a herbal conference she helps organize each year. Prior to the storm she distrusted the walkie-talkies out admits friends so they would be able to communicate after the storm if phone and internet were down. Doing so by radio allows you to avoid going into the streets which may be dangerous.

Lesson #5 - Check Out Zello
Zello was one of the most downloaded apps in America during Hurricane Harvey. It is a “walkie-talkie” app for Smartphones & Androids.
zello in emergencies
Zello allows you to communicate with a preprogrammed network of friends, family, or local emergency stations. You can transmit short blasts of information out to your network using very little bandwidth.

Now keep in mind that it requires a WIFI signal which may not be available in many situations. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, many cell towers were still operational, and thus Zello worked.

Remember phone calls use a lot of bandwidth and local phone signal often jam during emergencies.

An app such as this may allow you to get essential communications through about where you are, how you are doing, where you are heading, etc. 

I'm curious to see how Zello is used during Hurricane Florence.

Zello was one of the most downloaded apps in America during Hurricane Harvey. It is a “walkie-talkie” app for Smartphones & Androids. Zello allows you to communicate with a preprogrammed network of friends & family or local emergency stations. You can transmit short blasts of information out to your network using very little bandwidth.
Now keep in mind that it requires a WIFI signal which may not be available in many situations. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, many cell towers were still operational, and thus Zello worked. Remember phone calls use a lot of bandwidth and local phone signal often jam during emergencies. An app such as this may allow you to get essential communications through about where you are, how you are doing, where you are heading, etc. It also records conversations so you can go back and check what your family members said.

Check it out at - https://zello.com/app

Lesson #6 - Have A Plan To Escape From Your Home
​During Hurricane Harvey, many people had to head into their attics because of flooding. The problem was that the water was so high in some areas that attics were flooding too.
During a wind storm or earthquake, doors and window may become blocked or unsafe to exit through.

Another suggestion I shared with Emily was to have an axe, crowbar and work gloves with her in whatever room she chose to ride out the storm in. This way she at least had something to work with if she needed to force open a jammed door or even cut a hole in her walls or roof. 

Hurricane Florence is moving slow and could cause massive flooding as well similar to Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. 

During Hurricane Harvey, many people had to head into their attics because of flooding. The problem was that the water was so high in some areas that attics were flooding too. During a wind storm or earthquake doors and window may become blocked or unsafe to exit through.
Another suggestion I shared with Emily was to have an axe and a crowbar with her in whatever room she chose to ride out the storm in. This way you at least have something to work with if you need to force open a jammed door or even cut a hole in your walls or roof.

Lesson #7 - Beware of Mold, Have a Plan to Prevent or Get Rid of it

After any flooding, mold becomes a serious health problem. It can even be a silent killer.

 If you have the means, having a sump pump, a couple dehumidifiers, and fans ready to go immediately after the water is gone is ideal.

mold after floods

Emily had another great idea. She mentioned that bleach is significantly less effective in treating mold on porous surfaces such as wood baseboards. It works well on stainless steel counters but is not as effective on a hardwood floors or even on drywall.

Emily uses a mixture of white vinegar and essential oils such as Camphor & Tea Tree oil.

She has had success treating mold with these mixtures. It may be worth doing a bit of research on natural mold remediation and having some vinegar and essential oil in your family emergency kit. 

After any flooding, whether from a Hurricane or a burst waterline, mold becomes a serious health problem and can even be a silent killer. If you have the means, having a sump pump and a few dehumidifiers and fans ready to go immediately after the water leaves is a great idea.
Emily had another great idea. She mentioned the bleach is significantly less effective in treating mold on porous surfaces such as wood baseboards. It works well on stainless steel counters but is not as effective on a hardwood floor or even on drywall.

Emily uses a mixture of white vinegar and essential oils such as Camphor & Tea Tree oil. She has success treating told with these mixtures. It may be worth doing a bit of research on natural told remediation and having some vinegar and essential oil in your family emergency kit.

​Lesson #8 - Emergency Chocolate & Tea, A Few Comforts Go Along Ways
Although she was somewhat joking about how important a chocolate stash is, there is some actual truth and strategy to this.
In an emergency, having a calm mind allows us to make better decisions. It is important to constantly take moments to take a deep breath, control our emotions and fears, and be objective about what our situation is and what our best options are.
emergency chocolate stash
Although she was somewhat joking about how important a chocolate stash is, there is some actual truth and strategy to this. In an emergency, having a calm mind allows us to make better decisions. It is important to constantly take moments to take a deep breath, control our emotions and fears, and be objective about what our situation is and what our options are.
Under a stressful situation, especially if prolonged, having the opportunity to sit down with a warm cup of tea and piece of chocolate may bring a small amount of comfort and allow you to calm your nerves a bit. This in turn may allow you to make clearer decisions and could literally become a survival tactic.

Don’t forget to pack the chamomile tea and chocolate!
Under a stressful situation, especially if prolonged, having the opportunity to sit down with a warm cup of tea and piece of chocolate to bring a small amount of comfort and allow you to calm your nerves to make clearer designs could literally become a survival tactic.

Don’t forget to pack the chamomile tea and chocolate!

Lesson #9 - Prepare for Top Medical Conditions with Herbal Support
After a disaster, shock and stress, stomach issues from water contamination, and bad infections such as staph become some of the top medical issues. You may not have access to modern medical aid and EMS to deal with these issues. Having some basic or advanced first aid training goes a long way as well as understanding the signs, symptoms and stages of some of these ailments.
​After a disaster, shock, stomach issues from water contamination, and bad infections such as staph become some of the top medical issues.
You may not have access to modern medical aid and EMS to deal with these issues. 
Having some basic or advanced first aid training goes a long way, as well as understanding the signs, symptoms, and stages of some of these ailments.
Emily has a strong background in Herbal Medicine and teaches this at the Florida School of Holistic Living.
There are many herbs that can be used to help support and heal some of these common post-disaster ailments. Please note that to be effective in the use of herbal medicine, especially with more serious conditions, does take time and proper training.
A few of Emily’s favorite herbs for the emergency kit include: Yarrow, Wormwood, Tea Tree, Chamomile, and Lavender.
Check out the Florida School of Holistic Living if you wish to learn more about using herbs as well as the following book:
A few of Emily’s favourite herbs for the emergency kit include: Yarrow, Wormwood, Tea Tree, Chamomile, and Lavender. Check out the Florida School of Holistic Living if you wish to learn more about using herbs as well as the following books:

Lesson #10 -  Support PTSD in Your Own Community
Post-traumatic stress has fortunately been getting a lot of attention lately. It is a real issue after any disaster where causalities occur and can have lifelong implications.
EMS workers are some of the most susceptible to PTSD.
PTSD After a Disaster
After the Orland Night Club Shooting in 2016, Emily helped set-up the Orlando Grief Care Project. They used herbal medicine and their network of social workers, massage therapists and other healing modalities to help victims, their families, and EMS personnel such as firefighters cope with the stress of the situation.

I asked Emily if she had any advice on how we could support families and EMS workers from the mass shooting in Las Vegas.
She raised a great point. We all likely have people suffering from PTSD in our own communities. These could be ex-war veterans, EMS workers, or any community member who has witnessed a tragedy.
Following an event such as the Las Vegas Shooting, people from around the world may be triggered by the event. She mentioned one thing I could do to support Las Vegas was to watch for people with PTSD in my own community who may be triggered and offer support locally.

I had not thought about this and thought it was great actionable advice that could make a big difference. Think global, act local!
After the Orland Night Club Shooting in 2016, Emily helped set-up the Orlando Grief Care Project. They used herbal medicine and their network of social workers, massage therapists and other healing modalities to help victims, families and EMS personnel such as firefighters cope with the stress of the situation.

I asked Emily if she had any advice on how we could support families and EMS workers from the mass shooting in Las Vegas. She raised a great point. We all likely have people suffering from PTSD in our own communities. These could be ex-war veterans, EMS workers or any community member who has witnessed a tragedy. Following an event such as the Las Vegas Shooting, people from around the world may be triggered by the event. She mentioned one thing I could do to support Las Vegas was to watch for people with PTSD in my own community who may be triggered and offer support locally.

I had not thought about this and thought it was great actionable advice that could make a big difference. Think global, act local!


​Bonus, #11 - Listen to Nature
Emily noticed that in the lead up to the hurricane the birds virtually disappeared and then did not return to baseline activity for a couple of days afterwards. Nature has been providing subtle clues about weather and hazards to humans since the beginning of time. Our ancestors relied on these subtle clues for their safety and survival. Today few people know how to read this ancient knowledge, but it is as relevant as ever. A great starting point is learning how to observe bird behaviour and interpret bird language. Check out Jon Young’s book “What The Robin Knows.”

Emily noticed that in the lead up to the hurricane the birds virtually disappeared and then did not return to baseline activity for a couple of days afterwards.

 Nature has been providing subtle clues about weather and hazards to humans since the beginning of time. Our ancestors relied on these subtle clues for their safety and survival.

bird language and awareness
Today few people know how to read this ancient knowledge, but it is as relevant as ever. A great starting point is learning how to observe bird behavior and interpret bird language or learn to track wildlife. Both of these ancient arts will teach you to better observe the subtle clues and teachings of nature.
I run a online course in observing, tracking & learning from wildlife called Natural Born Trackers.
For bird language, check out Jon Young’s book:

If you found this post helpful, please share with your community and share your own tips below in the comments!


Here are the Interviews with Emily

Days Before Hurricane Irma:

Days After Hurricane Irma:


Looking for more lessons from past Disasters? Check out this post.


https://www.changingworldproject.com/hurricane-irma/
Bonus, #11 - Listen to Nature
 Support PTSD From Afar

Prepared for Top Medical Conditions with Herbal Support

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.

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