A reminder from Hurricane Ian—How is your emergency water looking?

The Storm of the Century

If you’re like me, you were inundated with news of Hurricane Ian tearing through Florida last week. After devastating Puerto Rico and Cuba, Ian jumped to a Category 5 hurricane, with gale-force 155 mile-per-hour winds and double-digit feet of storm surge as it barreled down on the southwest coast of Florida. I saw one news piece call Hurricane Ian, “the storm of the century.” Floridians braced for impact, boarding their homes as best as possible, seeking shelters, and fleeing from the coastline.

When Hurricane Ian made landfall around the city of Fort Myers, the surge flooded into the streets, trees were ripped from their roots, and boats in the harbor were thrown into front yards hundreds of feet from the coast. As the hurricane swept north in a swathe of destruction, the residents of southwest Florida had to fend for themselves. I saw a drone video of the post-storm aftermath, which was horrifying. Not one property in the video appeared to have escaped significant damage. Debris, cars, and boats were scattered everywhere. Houses looked near to collapse, with whole roof sections missing.


Enjoy the video


The Importance of Water

As a risk manager, my thoughts immediately went to the survivability of an event like this. Were the residents prepared with enough water for all their needs? That was my first concern beyond food, shelter, power, and medical services. All these elements are critical for survival, but a lack of clean, potable water is an immediate concern. Without drinking water, people will die in around three days. Water is essential for cooking, hygiene, and cleaning as well.

I asked myself if southwest Floridians would have a supply of emergency water. I can tell you from personal experience that that is not a given. We have worked with many public agency clients over the years who chose not to make an emergency water supply a priority. That is not to say they wanted to go without emergency water. Often, public agencies must make hard choices with limited budgets. They will make an understandable decision to fund daily or annual services for their constituents over coverage for low probability events such as massive regional natural disasters.

It’s Not A Hundred Year Event Anymore

There is a problem with thinking a natural disaster is an unlikely event or an outlier. And that is that these events are becoming more and more common. Although 2022 has been relatively tame for hurricanes in the Atlantic thus far, NASA and the NOAA have noted that hurricane activity has risen over the past 40 years. The 2021 season saw 21 named storms arise from the North Atlantic, the third most on record. Here on the West Coast, we don’t see that level of activity, but just last month, Hurricane Kay impacted Southern California with a sudden storm. As the climate heats up, these storms will increase in number, strength, and range.

Earthquakes are Southern California’s most notable emergency events, and water is critical in a major earthquake. An earthquake can destroy the water system. It could take days or even weeks to restore water service. In the drought-stricken Southwest, there is little natural water to rely on. So, it is even more crucial for public agencies here to stay on top of their emergency water supply.

Do It, and Do It Right

If you want to refresh your emergency water supply, do it the right way. Conventional thinking is that every person needs one gallon of water per day, and that is for the bare minimum of hydration and services. Ideally, you will want to have more water per person on hand. You should prepare for at least three days of emergency services, and we recommend five days. Purchase 55-gallon drums with air-tight bungs. Ensure the water is treated with bleach or chlorine tabs to keep the water safe for use for five years. Have water pumps on hand for easy dispensing. Place your water where you can easily access it. It’s not hard to hire a vendor to handle this for you. It is one of the services we provide. All it takes is staying on top of it.

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