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hurricane prep

Hurricane prep: Don’t forget to go analog

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

06/17/2023

Ran into a friend earlier this week and we chatted over what’s become a cliche: How’s the repair work going?

It’s been nine months since Hurricane Ian blasted into the west coast of Florida as a full-on Category 5 monster. That same storm barged into Key West hours earlier as an untidy and unexpected flood. What was supposed to be a sorta mellow tropical storm (hey, we need the rain), flooded my friend’s house, resulting in a months-long, still-unfinished re-do.

She rolled her eyes and said with a wry chuckle only she could muster, “Well, we don’t have a kitchen, but we got the mirror hung.” Just in time, too, what with this season’s hurricane prep on the to-do list. We all know we need that mirror before a kitchen, right?

Welcome to hurricane prep season. For the uninitiated, that’s the eight weeks from mid-May when it first occurs to us that perhaps we could pick up extra toilet paper to the middle of July when we start talking Sahara dust over cocktails confident that we now have enough toilet paper to survive both hurricanes and Covid 2.0 with maybe a roll or two leftover for a neighbor in distress.

Hurricane prep means you never have enough non-perishable food, water, batteries, solar chargers, duct tape and plastic trash bags, which also come in handy as toilet liners to go with all that toilet paper.

Hurricane prep requires hoping for the best and planning for the worst. Veteran preppers know they run the chance that weeks of prep and hundreds of dollars later, it’ll all be for naught. I can’t count the number of times I’ve prepped, only to un-prep months later without opening the boxes or putting up the shutters.

That’s how it goes with hurricane prep. Fuss and fury that end in a whimper. Except when they don’t.

Hurricane virgins wait way too late to prep or, worse, figure nothing much happens when the forecast is for “just” a tropical storm or a Category 1. Even hurricane veterans are shocked by how rapidly a simple storm escalates into a cataclysm.

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane prep like it’s a Cat 5 a-coming

You gotta prep for every seasonal storm as though a Cat 5 were a-coming. You gotta wrap your head around the fact that today’s hurricanes aren’t just wind events. What with climate change and sea level rise, hurricanes bring with them rapid intensification and significant storm surge flooding.

You gotta factor in that the storm could make landfall at high tide when the moon is full (or new) and the king tides are sloshing the island. A freak-out over a tropical storm likely isn’t in order, but just as sure as you pooh-pooh it, that tropical storm’s gonna wave a middle finger in your face. Witness Hurricane Ian.

Which brings me to this: Hurricane prep needs a dose of old-fashioned analog. We’re so comfortable in our “there’s an app for that,” 21st century digital world that we have a penchant for forgetting that none of that stuff works without electricity.

Profoundly obvious sentence ahead: Electricity is in short supply after a hurricane. Ditto the emergency crews to restore our communications umbilical cord.

No smartphone. No apps. No access to news and information, except with the — ta-da — analog radio. We learned that during Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Off-island folks knew a boatload about what was happening. Those who stayed on-island were pretty much clueless unless they kept Radio 1 on 24-7 or had access to a landline or a satellite phone.

I was off-island during Irma; Ranger Ed was on-island. He eventually used a friend’s landline and I asked him about the mandatory boil order that had been issued a few days earlier. “News to me,” he said. “Too late anyway. I’ve been drinking and showering with our tap water since the beginning.” He wasn’t dead, so that was good news.

While I heartily recommend having a really good set of solar chargers and back up batteries, they’re useless if cell and internet service haven’t been restored. That means no access to your beautifully curated electronic records and contacts lists stored so dutifully in some app in the cloud. Get those suckers (at least the cover sheets) printed on dead trees or linen or cotton if you prefer. Put said paper(s) in a waterproof envelope near your exit door. Easy to grab as you’re trying to outrun the flood and your roof is in the neighbor’s pool.

And, before I go update my own paper files (I’m lecturing myself since I know you’ve already done the paper thing), a note to Monroe County and the City of Key West: Please buy some big poster paper and a handful of black markers. Oh, and some tape. Then several times a day, write notes, news and information on that paper and stick it on the front door of City Hall, perhaps at the grocery stores and, heck, at the bars. (You’ll have to make like a dozen posters because, obviously, you’ll have no copy machine.)

Locals who have to stay can get their news and information the old-fashioned way. On paper. Heck, I’ll even volunteer to do it. My handwriting is actually quite nice.

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Avatar of Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

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