Harvey, Maria, Sandy, Katrina. Just the names of these powerful hurricanes evoke strong memories of devastation and flooding. There are a lot of articles on hurricane preparedness for you and for your pets. But what about your home? Learn what you must know to manage your home’s utilities during a hurricane or a flood. Hurricane season peaks in early September, but flooding can occur any time of the year. Make sure you are prepared!
Let’s Review – How long does a hurricane last?
While Hurricane Harvey officially lasted about 5 days beginning in late August 2017, the entire flooding event lasted over a month and long-term impacts are ongoing. While every storm is different, Harvey created a new US disaster benchmark for flooding and caused hundreds of thousands of residents to be displaced.
Planning for an event of this magnitude is difficult to say the least, but taking time in advance to prepare can save you in the long run.
Having endured Harvey ourselves, here are 21 helpful utility-related tips to help you before, during, and after a hurricane or flood.
Manage Electricity before a Hurricane
- Learn where and how to shut off your home’s electricity. If flooding is expected, unplug all unnecessary electronic devices and monitor the situation. If emergency officials instruct you to turn off your electricity during a hurricane, you will need to turn it off at the circuit breaker.
- Use generators properly. If you own a whole-home generator, be sure to test it and fill the fuel to capacity if you have onsite fuel storage. If you plan on using a small portable generator to run small appliances in your home during a power outage, make sure you know the proper operation. Used improperly, they can create a fire hazard, risk of electrocution, or carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Use surge protectors. While it may sound obvious, using quality surge protectors will protect your valuable electronic equipment (think big screen TVs, gaming systems, computers) from power fluctuations during the storm, or if power is restored suddenly. Depending on where your are in the path of a storm, electric surges resulting from high winds and downed power lines may be your first challenge.
- Develop a plan for electricity-dependent medical equipment. If someone in your home has medical equipment that relies on power, contact your health provider about an emergency plan. If you have a disability or medical need, don’t forget to register in the State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry (STEAR) online at https://STEAR.dps.texas.gov or by dialing 2-1-1.
Manage Natural Gas before a Hurricane
- You can leave your gas on at the meter. Do not turn off your natural gas service, even if you are required to evacuate. Only utility personnel should turn your natural gas supply on or off at the meter. However, if you evacuate we suggest that you do turn off the natural gas supply to individual appliances, using the small turn-off valve on the appliance.
- What’s that smell? Natural gas appliances such as stove tops, gas logs, and water heaters may act differently in a hurricane or flood. Be aware of gas leaks, extinguished pilot lights, and stoves that are left on.
- Watch for bubbles. Gas lines that run underground may be damaged by a uprooted tree. If you have a spot in your yard that is bubbling, it could be a gas leak. Other signs of a gas leak include discolored vegetation, blowing dirt, and the smell of rotten eggs. If you see any of these signs, leave the area and contact your local utility company immediately to report it.
Manage Water before a Hurricane
- Have enough water for at least 3-5 days. Estimate the consumption of water for your family, including pets. At least one gallon per person per day.
- Scrub the tub. If you have a large family, you may opt to use your bathtub to store drinking water. If so, be sure to sanitize it first.
- Don’t forget the toilet! Remember, if you lose water service, you can’t flush your toilet unless you fill your tank. So flush only when necessary (yup, gross, we know) and always fill your bathtub to use for your toilet if you lose water service. Pool water can also be used.
- It’s raining, it’s pouring. Use what Mother Nature is giving us. If it’s raining, put buckets outside and use rain water to flush your toilet. Oh, and (seriously) don’t forget to turn off your sprinkler system.
Manage Phone, Internet & Computer before a Hurricane
- Write down important phone numbers and web sites. Have a written list with personal contacts and emergency phone numbers in case your phone is not working. Also write down important web site links such as utility outage trackers, city/county emergency sites, and trustworthy weather sites.
- Back-up your computer. Scan important documents and pictures and make a back-up in the cloud to avoid loss.
- Don’t forget the bills. If your utilities aren’t on auto-pay, you will need the billing info to make payments. Take pictures of your bills. Then email them to yourself, or send them to the cloud, using DropBox, Google Drive or other tool.
- Download utility apps. Your local utility company may have an online app allowing you to monitor power conditions, report an outage, and stay informed about service restoration.
- Keep a portable phone charger in your vehicle, preferably one that can support multiple USB connections so you can charge multiple devices simultaneously.
- Waterproof cases and bags. If your phone is not waterproof, consider a waterproof case (like Lifeproof or Otterbox) or a thick, sealable plastic bag to place your phone into. Also put important documents such as contacts lists, insurance, and personal belongings in a waterproof bag.
- Use your cell phone wisely. If you continue to have wireless service during and after a storm, hurray for you! But know that in an emergency, demand on those resources often increases significantly. It’s not the right time to call all your friends to chat. Just send a short text letting friends and family know you are OK.
During a Hurricane – Monitor and Communicate
During a hurricane, the local news coverage will likely be 24/7. Follow local emergency instructions and be prepared to hunker down or go to a shelter if you have not evacuated.
- Make a family communications plan. If you get separated from family members and your phone gets wet, you may struggle to reconnect. Decide on a meeting place and choose an out-of -town friend or relative as a point of contact. Keep important phone numbers in your wallet in addition to your phone.
- Use social media. During Hurricane Harvey, Texans learned the value of social media in connecting rescuers and resources with those that needed help. Pick a social media outlet and use it to let relatives know that you are OK. Then, stay off the cellular network so it can be used for emergencies.
- Prepare for the unknown. No matter how well you’re prepared, something unexpected is likely to happen. Depending on the severity of your situation, you may have to be flexible and resourceful regarding your basic needs. Monitor your situation closely and help neighbors, friends, and family with urgent needs.
After the Storm
Once the hurricane has passed, your first urge will be to put everything back to normal, just like it was before the storm. This is a natural feeling, but it can be dangerous depending on the damage your community has suffered.
If you face an extended utility outage due to downed utilities or evacuation, we HIGHLY suggest calling your utilities (electric, gas, tv/phone/internet). Don’t assume that just because you’ve been displaced, you can ignore your bills. In many cases your utilities can work with you to temporarily pause service, extend payments, waive fixed fees, and temporarily transfer your service quickly if you will be displaced for a while. Communication is key in this situation. Don’t let a hurricane harm your credit rating or cause you to incur late payment fees.
Once you are able to re-enter a flooded property, take extra precautions and remember the following:
- Pack your patience – Investigate everything slowly and carefully, especially anything electrical.
- If you smell gas, gather everyone and get out of the building or home, THEN, call your gas service provider as well as 9-1-1.
- Don’t go back into the building until the experts have inspected your building or home for leaks and declared it safe.
- If you have any damage to your property, especially water damage, call a professional electrician before using the power in your home or business.
- Damage to the wiring, even inside walls where you can’t see it, can pose a fire danger. A licensed electrician will tell you when it’s safe to call your electrical utility provider to have your power switched back on.
- Submerged water heater? If your home is flooded and you use natural gas to power your water heater, don’t assume that it’s simply a matter of relighting the pilot light. Have a reputable professional check out your water heater to check for corrosion or other issues.
If you’ve suffered flooding, never use gas or electrical appliances that have gotten wet. Have a professional inspect each appliance before using it after a flood. You may be able to have your major appliances repaired, but in most cases it may be cheaper and safer to buy new ones.
One of our providers has compiled information from CenterPoint Energy and Popular Mechanics on what to do after a flood, to ensure your electrical equipment is safe to use. Check out their info as well!
Preparing Yourself for the Storm
Like we said, there are lots of articles on storm preparedness, but not many that focus on how to manage home utilities in a hurricane or flood (which is why we wrote this!). But we wouldn’t feel right about not including a refresher on the basics.
Your personal storm kit should include:
- 3 to 5-day supply of food and water for each person in your household.
- Pet food (if applicable)
- Flashlights and batteries
- Solar charger and/or car charger for cell phone and other electronics
Download and print this helpful check list, and use it to prepare your storm kit!
Forecast Uncertain – Be Prepared
Each year, hurricane season peaks during early September. However, the official hurricane season runs from June 1st to November 30th. In addition, major flood events can occur almost any time of year and often occur outside of the official hurricane season. You can save time, money, and stress by staying prepared for the next hurricane or flood event.
It only takes one. Stay careful, our friends.
Want to learn more about how to manage your utilities in a hurricane? Check out this article by FEMA.