How To: Prepare for a Hurricane While in College or Grad School

Photo of Hurricane by NASA
Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Welcome to the South Carolina Lowcountry, one of the few places in America that experiences the royal flush of disasters: hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods and fires. We can’t prepare for unpredictable events like fires and earthquakes, but we are commonly told every June to get ready for hurricanes…..and to remain prepared until the season ends November 1st.

Already we’ve ducked Dorian, and other named storms are continually swirling around the Atlantic. We’re only halfway through the hurricane season, so if you’re a college or graduate student living in a dorm or apartment, there are some special precautions you can take in advance of any storm.

Download Your School’s App

Most colleges and grad schools operate alert systems to update students, parents, faculty and staff in case of emergencies. “Make sure that your Cougar Alert contact information is up to date. The steps for updating your contact information (via MyCharleston) can be found on the College’s emergency webpage,” says the College of Charleston website.  Regardless of where you are enrolled, however, if your classes are at the Lowcountry Graduate Center in North Charleston, the closure schedule and policies of the College of Charleston dictate and will be replicated on lowcountrygradcenter.org

If the School Closes, Get Out of Town

You will see many adults considering whether to stay or go, irrespective of mandatory gubernatorial evacuation orders. We’ve all come to realize that those orders may be more about governors’ political fortunes than about community safety. 

However.

Families have a lot more to consider than single grad students do. Traveling with children is fraught with limitations, particularly if those children are young. Parents generally have jobs and may find themselves losing income if they leave town. Many families live in homes they own, and prefer to stay if they can do so safely to monitor and mitigate damage. Families often don’t have parents to return “home” to. And veteran Charleston area residents may have a better sense of the danger they face than you do if it’s one of your first few hurricanes.

Even veteran hurricationers tend to underestimate the power of “weak” hurricanes and overestimate their security in a storm. Category 1 hurricanes can still pack devastating winds of 95 mph and be accompanied by extensive flooding. Don’t take a chance: leave town. School is closed anyway. If you have a job, your employer is closed too, or will be before the storm.  Remember, hurricanes can be upgraded, as Dorian was from a Category 2 to a Category 3 just as it skimmed the Charleston shores.

Before you go, says Ashley Thiesen, a Charleston-based lifestyle blogger, “make sure you close every door in your house internally. If a window breaks, it minimizes your chances of damage throughout your house.”

Clean Yourself and Your Apartment

“Every CofC student learns the same strategy: Don’t live on the 1st floor,” said Matt Grason, a College of Charleston graduate who runs a local video company. Almost all of the flooding occurs there. But it’s more than that: if you plan to ride out the storm, you may be stuck inside for days, maybe even with roommates. So shower, clean the apartment and wash the dishes just before the storm comes, in case the power goes and the tap runs dry.

Stock Up on Everything in Advance

Shopping for canned goods, water, ice, pet food, batteries and gas for your car the day before the storm is a recipe for disaster before the disaster. Stores and gas stations often run out of necessities within 24 hours of the storm, and even when they don’t, you may be stuck on long lines. If you’re staying put, make sure you have enough for at least three days of everything well before the deluge begins. (Make sure you have a non-electric can opener too.)

The rule of thumb for water is that you need a gallon-a-day per person. Fill a bathtub with water to be used for flushing toilets if power fails, as it did quickly during Dorian, a mere tropical storm in Charleston.

Be Strategic with Ice

Keeping a freezer full and unopened helps it maintain its sub-freezing temperatures. Empty the ice maker so melting ice doesn’t drip on the floor. Try to eat anything frozen before the power goes out and then fill the freezer with ice and keep the door closed. That gives you about three days before food goes bad.

Store heavily-used refrigerator items in a cooler filled with ice and keep the fridge door closed  and the settings at their highest levels. The less you open the door, the less cold air exits and the longer food remains cool.

Make Sure You Have Working Flashlights, Batteries and Candles

And a radio that is operative with batteries. If phone service is lost, you will need some contact with the outside world. Make sure your cell phone stays fully charged before losing electric power. 

Power Up All Devices Including Rechargers

Don’t use them for frivolous things because they will run out of juice. Limit yourself to news, urgent communication and nothing more. Back up computer files on the cloud or on a back-up drive that you take with you. “Make sure to unplug all valuable electronics from the wall in case of lightning strikes,” says Joel Cardwell, a real estate broker and photographer who has lived in Charleston for two decades.

Keep a Cash Stash

Credit cards, WiFi, and bank ATMS will not work in the event of a power outage, so be prepared to pay for necessary purchases with cash. Experts often say to keep $100 per person on hand for emergencies.

Prepare to Entertain Yourself Without Electricity

In olden days, like when your parents were in college, people played cards and board games, read books, and actually – wait ‘til you hear this – had conversations without emojis. In a worst case scenario, like a hurricane that knocks out power, you may have to resort to these unthinkable last-ditch choices. You’ll survive.

Many of these preparations allow you to ride out a hurricane, and are smart strategies for any kind of unexpected disaster. But the best strategy for a hurricane is to leave. The farther you are from the Atlantic Ocean, the safer you will be.  Know your evacuation plans in advance.