Storm Surge: Prepping Before A Hurricane

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Hurricane Sandy served as a wake-up call in storm preparedness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/Released)

You hear it every year at this time, but how many of us actually heed the warnings? Superstorm Sandy was not the hurricane that insurance carriers were bracing for, but it sure did serve as a wake up call. What Sandy had was the most dangerous element of a hurricane: storm surge.

Nine out of 10 hurricane fatalities are attributed to storm surge.Storm surge is a dome of ocean water that can reach levels of 20 feet high at its peak, stretching along 50-100 miles of coastline. Sandy was between 14 and 15 feet high, but had it hit during a new moon (either a couple of weeks earlier or later) when the tides are at their highest, water levels could have been 17 inches higher. 

The Hurricane of 1938 (a.k.a. The Long Island Expressway) was a full-fledged Category 3 Hurricane. But the eye of the storm that crossed over Long Island and into New England causing floods that knocked out electrical power in all areas above 59th Street in Manhattan and in all of the Bronx was the weaker “left side” of the storm. 

In 1954, Hurricane Carol caused major flooding in the city. In 1960, Hurricane Donna created an 11-foot-storm tide in the harbor causing extensive pier damage. We got lucky again with Hurricane Gloria in 1985. Had it arrived at high tide and been just a little closer to the city, it would have been catastrophic. Hurricane Irene, which was a precursor to Sandy, caused extensive damage to homes in flood-prone areas. 

This year, hurricane predictions for 2017 are escalated. Earlier in the season, warnings were at a 45 percent chance of significant storm activity, now warnings are posted at 60 percent. What is different today from the past, however, is how much more vulnerable we are now that so much of our infrastructure is technology-based. Losing power today may mean that we might be unable to withdraw cash or pump gas or make transactions because cash registers are inoperable. 

The most proactive step you can take is to review your insurance policy with a professional. Flood insurance takes 30 days to take effect and if you are not in a flood zone area, the low cost of this add-on protection may be well worth it. In general, there may be clauses in your policy working against you that you may not be aware of and that you ought to understand prior to a disaster. 

A simple step worth taking that can be carried over from year to year is taking photos of all your possessions before a loss occurs. If you are on prescription medication, talk to your doctor about getting an extra month’s supply at the start of every hurricane season going forward. Start a penny jar early in the season so you accumulate enough small cash to be in a position to make exact change. Refill medical supplies that need to be replenished such as band-aids, antiseptic, aspirin and antibiotic cream. The last place you want to go to after a hurricane hits is a hospital. They will be overwhelmed with people and there is a good chance that their supplies and personnel will be greatly limited.

In general, you should have an emergency contact list that can be used at any given time. Organize it in one file that can be accessed from your phone and print it out so you have a hard copy. Include the phone numbers of your doctors, lawyer, accountant, insurance broker (including policy number and claims office phone number), investment banker, utility companies (account numbers included), roofer, electrician, plumber, carpenter and tree cutter. Include this list with copies of your important documents (Social Security, birth certificates, passports, deeds, etc.) in a waterproof bag “ready to go” if you need to evacuate. Add the numbers of your immediate family, as most of us don’t know these numbers without our phones. Look into buying a battery-operated charger for your phone and keep your communication limited to texting to preserve your battery longer. 

Consider booking a hotel room if you live near the shore. If you are asked to evacuate, consider doing so quickly as the roads will be packed. Keep your cars gassed up (and possibly moved to safer ground); fill your bathtubs to full capacity; have three days worth of nonperishable food on hand; stock up on gas for the grill; keep your phone fully charged; minimize the use of candles unless they are securely placed in glass globes; and stay informed. Man-made and natural disasters come in many forms. Developing an emergency plan can make all the difference.  

—Deborah Rashti writes for EMS Restoration

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