Emergency Response: Lessons From the Ground 5

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Hurricane Iselle made landfall on the Island of Hawaii over the weekend. The initial path of the hurricane was expected to take the storm right over the top of my little town. Ack! Turns out, our big mountains—Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa—had other ideas. Instead of following that path, the storm slammed into the southern part of our island then veered off to the west. It could have been so much worse. Emergency response teams and community members worked together to clear roads and help their neighbors.

Emergency response: Planning ahead for potential storms and emergencies will serve you well.

As it is, there are still nearly 9,000 residents without power in the hardest hit areas. One community is completely isolated with no way in or out. Watching this unfold has been a lesson in disaster preparedness. And for all of my ideals of becoming more self-reliant, I have to say: I was not as prepared as I should have been. If you haven’t looked at your emergency preparedness plan lately, take some time to do so! The key word in prepping for disaster is…prepping!


What we did right:


We had (I think) plenty of water. Our fresh water supply consisted of 12 gallons of drinking water in glass containers (my empty half-gallon ball jars came in handy) as well as a 55-gallon container full. We kept the jars inside with us, and the 55-gallon container was outside, secured to the house. In addition, we did finally manage to cap our 10,000-gallon catchment tank so that we captured some of the rain from Iselle. We would have needed to boil it for drinking purposes, but it was nice to have that backup at the ready for personal care, cleaning, and flushing the toilet. Turns out, we didn’t lose access to running water, but the remote southern part of our island is facing a real problem as evidenced in the video below.

Just in advance of the storm there was a rush on bottled water and some serious (shameful!) price gouging as people began prepping for disaster. Here’s the thing. Those shoppers still had running water at home! They didn’t really need to buy water; they were really buying the container. For the love of Pete, people. If you don’t have extra containers on hand to fill, go get a few of these for your emergency kit. They won’t take up much space and it’s a simple matter of filling them from the tap before the storm hits.

Boarding the Windows

I admit, I was on the fence about boarding up our windows. Was it really worth the effort? I’d say yes. Some thought it was overkill, but the peace of mind it brought was priceless. Sure, if we’d taken the brunt of the storm we might have lost our roof. But if something did hit our windows, the glass would (hopefully) remain outside. There was an unexpected psychological bonus, too: The boarded windows helped to reduce the noise of the strong winds, making is seem less worrisome.


With our recent move, we’ve been operating without an oven/stovetop for the past month. This meant that our propane tanks were both full and ready and my gas cookstove and the gas grill were both at the ready. We have cast iron pots and pans (fine for cooking on open flames) as well as a manual can opener, meaning that we’d be able to actually use the food we have stashed in the emergency kit.

Where we can improve:

While many folks were making mad dashes to the grocery store to stock up on bottled water and supplies, and waiting in long lines at the gas station, we were pretty comfortable just sticking it out at home, knowing that we’d be okay. That’s not to say that there’s not room for improvement.

Food storage

While I typically keep a pretty solid supply of things like dry beans, rice, and canned goods on hand, with our recent move and incomplete kitchen setup I’d allowed that to dwindle. I didn’t want to have to figure out where to store all of that in the midst of finishing the kitchen, so I found myself standing in line at the supermarket to beef up our pantry. On top of that, my garden is skimpy so far, so I couldn’t even count on heading out there to harvest the potatoes or carrots that might survive the storm.


Our recent move meant that our collection of flashlights was packed in a box somewhere. We lost power for only 12-15 hours; had it been longer, we would have been frustrated with the limited lighting, I’m sure. (We do have candles on hand, but didn’t need to get those out.)


While we have a good collection of batteries on hand—and could find them!—a fair number of them had gone dead. We don’t use many batteries around here, so we apparently don’t cycle through them fast enough. Since our primary use for batteries is to power flashlights, it seems like switching to solar flashlights would be a really good solution.

UPDATE: High on the list of requests from the people who are still in recovery mode after the hurricane: D batteries. With the rush for supplies, there’s a shortfall of this size battery at island retailers. My own experience with batteries that had gone dead in storage make me think that in addition to a solar flashlight, a solar battery charger would be a good idea.

Medical supplies

Thank goodness we didn’t need them, but our medical supplies are pretty sparse. I need to work on that.


We are bordered on one side of our property by a grove of very large eucalyptus trees. These trees are not ours to maintain, but the neighbors are friendly. They’d probably be more than thrilled to have us do a little preventative maintenance on them. We also have several very tall Norfolk pine trees looming over our house. We’ve talked about removing them for safety purposes, and Hurricane Iselle solidified this for us. After a sleepless night of worrying that they would crush us, we’ve got to bite the bullet and do it.

Much of the damage occurred in the Puna district as a direct result of trees falling. These were primarily non-native, invasive trees. While trimming dead and dangerous limbs is certainly a good idea, this is a reminder that we need to be mindful of the species that we introduce, too.

Get yourself prepared

I highly recommend that you visit Frugal Kiwi to learn how to create a do-it-yourself emergency preparedness kit. Melanie has compiled a comprehensive list of what you’ll need to be ready for an emergency, with an eye on doing it inexpensively. Smart girl.

If you’re trying to figure out how to boost the amount of food you have available for an emergency, go read How to Start a Food Storage Plan on $10 a Week at the kitchn. Good advice there.

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5 thoughts on “Emergency Response: Lessons From the Ground

  • Grace Jones

    Flashlights. Get hand crank flashlights. You can charge them anytime, like in the middle of the night.

    • Kris Bordessa Post author

      That’s what we’ve had in our emergency stash. Unfortunately, one (the one with the radio!) wouldn’t work at all and the other only lit up when being cranked. It had probably been close to a year since we’d tested them, though. Lessons learned!

  • Tina

    That bit about the crashing trees is dead-on… We had a tree fall down in a very strong wind (not even a hurricane!) simply because it had rotted a bit and it really makes one realize how many trees surround the house. A tree can be good at blocking wind/snow/providing shade without being close enough to cause roof damage!

    • Kris Bordessa Post author

      Yes! I think it’s hard sometimes for people to imagine just how BIG that little potted tree will get!

  • Kerry Dexter

    I’ve had a recent move myself, and not sure I’ll be staying in the new place for long — both of which have caused me to let some of my usual good hurricane season preparations lag, so I’ll be on the way to sort out and stock up over the next few days thanks to this reminder. Solar powered/handcranked flashlights seem like a really good idea too, as does a hand cranked radio. Glad your family came safe through Iselle.