December 5, 2020

Preparing for a natural disaster

As Tinker readers may know, I live in Houston, Texas, and we’ve got Hurricane Ike bearing down on us.  Twenty-four hours ago, I was busy with everything else and hadn’t even stopped to think about it.  Earlier this week, the forecasts had Ike going far south of here.  That all changed and now it appears likely that Ike will hit the Texas coast not to far away.  The eye of the storm is probably not going anywhere near us, but we’ll be on the “dirty” side of the storm, and that means lots of rain and possible power outages.

Yesterday, I went to the supermarket and stocked up on assorted non-perishable goods, waters, batteries, and all that.  The lines were entirely reasonable.  The supermarket was clearly more prepared than I was, bringing in several shipping palettes of bottled water.  (Today, I’d bet the supermarket is crazier, but I’m not heading there to find out.)

My house is 51 feet above sea level and is outside the statutory flood plain.  At least in theory, I don’t have to worry much about flooding.  The most likely concern would be wind-driven rain getting through the not-terribly-well-sealed front door or some of the “French doors” that our builder overused on the house.  (“French doors”, which I doubt have much to do with France, are double doors, hinged on the side, and meeting in the middle where they latch to one another.)  My plan is to run a seam of duct tape around around the outside of the doors and windows on the first floor.  We’ll get in and out via the garage (which we tend to do, anyway).  I’m not going to try climbing up a ladder to the second story, since those “casement” windows seem to be more solid.

To evacuate or not to evacuate?  That’s the question.  When Hurricane Rita came through three years ago, we spent a thoroughly unpleasant 17 hours driving from Houston to Dallas (normally a four hour drive), where my parents live.  This time, our plan is to ride out the storm and then evaluate what we’re doing next.  Assuming the house is intact and we have power, we’ll be fine.  If we lose power and it appears unlikely to come back any time soon, or if our house is thrashed, then we’ll worry about evacuating.

Of course, I have to worry about more than just my family.  I also have to worry about my research group, the students in my classes, and so forth.  My security class meets this afternoon.  We’ll be talking about disasters.  (I tried to get some people from our university’s IT department to come talk about their disaster preparation, but unsurprisingly they’re busy preparing.  I’ll try to get some of them after it’s all over.)

For our research group, I’ve got a paper in the works for NDSS ’09, whose submission deadline is basically the same as when the hurricane is due.  The chair was nice enough to give us an extension, so now we just have to work out how we can keep doing the writing, even if there’s no power around.  (Felten has graciously offered to host our subversion server.  Luckily, the experimental work is all done, so it’s just a matter of getting it written up properly.)

Who knew disaster preparation could be so much fun?

Comments

  1. Ahoy.

    Clean your bathtub, fill it with water.

    Be sure you have a modest supply of plain old bleach; be sure you know the proper dilution to convert untrusted water into trusted water (I don’t offhand) BEFORE the power fails.

    Peanut butter is cheap, compact, keeps well, and nutritious enough.

    It doesn’t hurt to preload your freezer with recycled soda bottles filled with water; you can use this to give your fridge a little more inertia. Should you have an extended power AND water failure, those are your first choice for drinking water.

    Eat your perishables now.

    After the storm, don’t be too careless cleaning up — about 25% of my trips to the ER, have involved pruning saws.

    • Your really funny. “Peanut butter is cheap, compact, keeps well, and nutritious enough.

      It doesn’t hurt to preload your freezer with recycled soda bottles filled with water; you can use this to give your fridge a little more inertia. Should you have an extended power AND water failure, those are your first choice for drinking water.”

      Is that a word of encouragement?

      Check our bank accounts and isa savings offerings.

  2. Ahoy.

    Clean your bathtub, fill it with water.

    Be sure you have a modest supply of plain old bleach; be sure you know the proper dilution to convert untrusted water into trusted water (I don’t offhand) BEFORE the power fails.

    Peanut butter is cheap, compact, keeps well, and nutritious enough.

    It doesn’t hurt to preload your freezer with recycled soda bottles filled with water; you can use this to give your fridge a little more inertia.

    After the storm, don’t be too careless cleaning up — about 25% of my trips to the ER, have involved pruning saws.

  3. Everything dr2chase said is spot on.

    If the windows are hit by flying object at 160+ mph, it doesn’t really matter how solid they seem. It’s probably too late to cover them, but at least put tape on them to minimise the risk of flying glass.

    If the windows do break, your risk is that the wind lifts the roof off of the house.

    Your best bet is to find an interior closet and stock it with a battery powered radio, a flashlight, some food, and a mattress to hide under if the roof comes off.


    Glad to not live in south Florida anymore…

  4. Evacuate if possible. If you stay I’d say I have to agree with dr2chase. Also stock up on gasoline and get a chainsaw, a generator, and a good propane grill. (You’ll be having a party grilling your perishables with your neighbors till it has all gone bad.) You might be able to get ice from the university cafeteria since the university will be likely to have power long (weeks) before you do.

    — Best wishes either way.
    J

  5. In my experience, chainsaw+gasoline is overkill as a storm-preparation purpose; if you don’t have one already, then it’s an expensive tool that you won’t use, and storing gasoline is a minor hazard all by itself. If you’ve got one already and know how to use it, that’s great, and be prepared to be a helpful neighbor.

    Ditto for generator (new users screwing up their exhaust venting or wiring the generator wrong are both non-negligible screwups). A cheap charcoal grill gets the job done, too, if you don’t already own a propane grill.

    Pruning saws, gloves, and a come-along will give you more cleanup bang for your buck. If you need guaranteed transportation post-storm, get a bicycle; you can always carry it around or over any plausible obstacle.

  6. According to CNN you need to get the hell out of there now. It seems that Ike is comnig right up the Houston Shipping Channel. But you probably already knew that. Good luck and godspeed.

  7. When in doubt, check with the NOAA web site: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/index.shtml?

    Their predicted location agrees with CNN, but the predicted intensity is not that high. They DO predict a large storm surge because of the extent of hurricane force winds.

    Can you camp out at Rice? Those are some pretty substantial buildings. Park your car carefully; the lower parts of the stadium lot go underwater when it floods. Evacuating to Dallas in traffic sounds appalling.

  8. Our current plan is to spend Friday night at home, although that could well change. Heading to campus is always an option, since we’re walking distance away. Most of the on-campus buildings have signs on the doors saying “this building isn’t safe in the storm, it could loose power, etc.”. Each dormitory has a different strategy for where their students will stay.

    Also, for what it’s worth, my supermarket experience yesterday is completely unlike stories I’ve heard from today, where it sounds like something not unlike total mayhem.

    So far, our main preparation is getting things off the floor downstairs and bringing things in from outside that could blow away. Tomorrow, it’s duct tape around the doors and windows, such that we can remove it quickly before we’ve got sticky goop to deal with. All of our neighbors seem to be staying put, so if we loose power, it will probably be a barbeque block party.

  9. Jayna Wallach says:

    I’m surprised no one mentioned the other two “must have” hurricane items. An old-school surf board and a kite. Might as well hang ten or parasail during the apocalypse.

    (P.S. Do consider teleporting you + family to my house today. I bought jugs of water and rice cakes!!)

    Fingers crossed. -J

  10. Any word from the wet Wallachs? I assume they are ok, but lacking electricity.

  11. We’re fine. No power, no significant damage. House has water, gas, and wired phone. We’re cooking everything on the gas grill outside. Luckily, work is close to home, and Rice has power, air conditioning, and the Internets.

    Our university administration is claiming (as of Sunday afternoon) that classes will resume on Tuesday. The campus will likely be ready to go. The rest of the city… no way. And, with public schools closed, daycare centers closed, restaurants and everything else closed, how are faculty supposed to get back to their regular daily lives?