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When a hurricane approaches, a computer literate individual (geek) has extra work to do.  While most people just bring in the loose outdoor material, the geek also needs to prepare electronic systems.  As a point of reference, we live a little east of Orlando.  The center of the eye passed to our west, but we were inside the eye wall, so we got hit with the best winds the storm still had to offer with a steady wind of 90 MPH and gusts to 105 MPH.  Here are a few things to keep in mind about storms.

Power Protection - Central Florida gets more lightning than any other region in the US.  I have a point-of-service surge suppressor at the house meter that was installed by my power company.  I also use individual point-of-use surge suppressors or surge suppressor power strips everywhere and an UPS on all my computer equipment (four total).  Hurricane Charley showed that one battery in the 3-year-old UPS units was getting weak, so I'll replace them all.  The UPS kept me on line through the frequent power blips during the storm.  When they shut off power (after the storm was past), I was able to do a controlled shutdown of the computers.  APC is my UPS manufacturer of choice.

Data Safety - A backup was critical and was easily at hand in the event we needed to evacuate.  This applied to all machines.

Broadband - The Adelphia broadband connection stayed up throughout the storm and was our primary source of information on the storm's progress via the National Weather Service's radar image page for the Tampa Bay area.  My cable modem and firewall router have their own UPS to keep them happy during any power fluctuations.

Television - The Adelphia digital TV signal was very poor and essentially unusable during the storm due to its frequent interruptions.  You should consider keeping some form of broadcast antenna on hand for periods when you lose cable TV.

Telephone - A hard-wired phone is a must.  Cordless phones were useless when their batteries died since we chose not to have the additional hassle of charging them off the generator.  Since the main lines were damaged (and took a week to repair), cellular was the only outside connectivity, and they were quickly overwhelmed.

Backup Power - I have a 4000W Generac gasoline generator (model 4000XL) that was purchased two or three storms ago.  (It was bought out-of-season for less than $500.  Right after the storm, every generator in the US southeast was headed our way to be sold at a premium price.)  Charley was its first real use and it proved to be excellent.  Its automatic throttle control and voltage regulation makes it fuel efficient.  It was key to fill the vehicles up prior to the storm.  When the power went out, the gas stations could no longer pump.  Even when power came back, the loss of telephone connectivity meant that credit and debit cards no longer worked and they still could not pump.  Keeping the generator fueled should be planned for.  My generator burned about a half-gallon per hour for the load we were putting on it.  That meant lots of trips with the 2-gallon gas can that I use for the lawn mower.  I refilled it when needed by siphoning fuel from my vehicles, using a 1/4-inch plastic tube that I had at the ready.

Backup Power Distribution - I started off weak here, since I had only two real extension cords in my garage (25 feet and 50 feet, both 16 AWG).  They are both rather flimsy for long-term use, being more suitable for sort-duration tool use.  I went out and purchased a contractor grade 12 AWG extension to bring the power in from the generator and 14 AWG extension cords for distribution from there.  I also noted that the older extension cords had oxidized terminals that led to a fair amount of resistive heating.  I used some heavy power strips as distribution points at the end of the extension cords.  We ended up with the main distribution point near the Family Room/Kitchen.  Two of the 14 AWG cords ran into the Master Bedroom and our daughter's bedroom.  A separate extension ran to the Garage refrigerator.  (I chose to use the Garage fridge rather than the Kitchen fridge because it already had the most food in it and it would not be adding heat to the living space inside the house.)  I did not think through this temporary distribution system until the power was gone.  You may want to plan ahead.  The absolute best method for temporary power distribution is to install a power transfer switch inside your house and plug your generator into the existing wiring.

Batteries - We had a good stock of C, AA and AAA batteries for our daughter's toys.  There were 9V batteries left over from renewing the smoke alarms (useful for clock memory retention).  We forgot to get D cells for our big flashlights.  We thought we also needed them for the boom box, but our FRS radios have FM receivers that we used instead.  The FRS FM function was more useful since they are portable.

Water - Luckily, water and sewer service remained in our area.  That made things tremendously easier.  Our 50-gallon electric water heater still gave us warm showers a day after the storm.  Our power returned at the 45 hour point.

Lighting - During the first night without power, we used small votive candles.  These were inside various ceramic, glass and metal cups and placed on plates for burning unattended as night lights.  Burned this was way, votive candles are safe.  I would not recommend taper or pillar candles since they are easier to knock over.  We also placed the candle far away from combustibles.  At least one house in Florida survived the hurricane only to burn to the ground when the family cat knocked over a candle.  We do not have a cat.

House Exterior - We don't have one, but several neighbors took down their satellite dishes.  I pulled in everything that was loose, including the window screens.  I tied supports to my palms and some maple trees to provide additional support.  I used landscaping stakes and nylon rope, but will choose a natural fiber rope next time.  The nylon rope loosened up too much under the buffeting of the wind.  Only one palm frond got broken.  I did not anticipate the buffeting the maple tree supports would take and they all fell down and proved useless.  The trees survived anyway.  Flying debris poked out one lanai screen panel.  Plan for downspout water to potentially wash out your garden area.

Window Protection - For various reasons, mostly having to do with the direction the storm was coming from and a low amount of local debris, we did not put up any exterior window protection.  That will probably not be true for the next storm.  You have to consider the cost of the room's materials in the event of a broken window.  You will not be able to cover the window during the storm.

Other Preparations - I charged up my portable compressor before the storm in case I needed it or my nail gun either during or after the storm.  I brewed some coffee and kept it in a vacuum jug to be ready for the morning after with no power.  I charged our cell phones and my electric razor as well.  We also did all the laundry and dishes.

Loss of Power Observations - Do not anticipate using an UPS for very long with no supply power since the beeping will drive you crazy.  Be prepared to disconnect the battery backup to your house security system since it will not last beyond 24 hours and it too will start to beep at you.  Put any easily-melted items (ice cream) or items of concern (meat) at the bottom of the freezer were they will stay frozen longer.  (We only lost three ice cream sandwiches that were in a top freezer bin.)  We kept our windows shut to minimize moisture entry into the house.  This proved to be effective since it felt cooler inside due to the lower humidity.  Shut off water to your sprinkler system, since it will lose its programming and cycle in some random fashion.  This was a great time to deep clean a warm, empty refrigerator, as well as easier to move and clean behind.

Posted on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 6:57 PM Home Ownership , & Etc. , Hurricane | Back to top

Comments on this post: Hurricane Charley Survival Lessons

# re: Hurricane Charley Survival Lessons
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Very informative, Mark. Having lived through Hurricane Hugo in Florence, SC I have a feel for what it takes to "batten down the hatches."

Looks like you were very prepared and everything made it through just fine. You guys, down there, have been in our thoughts and prayers and I hope the road to recovery is swift.

Chad - Greensboro, NC
Left by Chad Chapman on Aug 19, 2004 8:30 AM

# Surviving the Hurricane
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Mark Treadwell entertainingly describes the lessons he learned for surviving a hurricane
Left by Stuart Radcliffe on Sep 02, 2004 11:35 AM

# re: Hurricane Charley Survival Lessons
Requesting Gravatar...
Dear Sirs,

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Left by pump,engine and generator on Jan 09, 2005 9:27 PM

# re: Hurricane Charley Survival Lessons
Requesting Gravatar...

Did you power your APC UPSs with the generator? I have had hit-or-miss luck in testing. Some models "accept" generator power, some do not. APCs website lists the models where you can adjust "sensitivity", but even that is not completely accurate!

Which models do you use, and are they "generator-compatible"?
Left by Bob on Aug 19, 2005 7:40 AM

# re: Hurricane Charley Survival Lessons
Requesting Gravatar...
Hint to tell if your food defrosted:

Put three ice cubes in a ziplock bag in the top of the freezer, if there a solid lump you know they melted and refroze; along with the rest of your food!

Hope it helps...
Left by Matt on Jun 26, 2008 12:23 PM

# supplier of engine, pump, generator set
Requesting Gravatar...
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Left by yanjianbo on Mar 23, 2009 1:49 AM

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