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hurricane season forecastIn a recent USA Today article, about a predicted above average amount of hurricanes in 2011, I found this: “In a 2010 poll of coastal residents taken by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, almost half the respondents had no hurricane survival kit and 74% had taken no steps to make their homes structurally stronger since the last hurricane season.” On Friday August 27th, 2011 I found the above to be true.

In the beautiful week before Hurricane Irene coastal Delaware was doing its summer thing. Every other car had out-of-state plates and vacationers were enjoying the beach while my clients, who rent their properties, were enjoying the peace of mind that comes along with having their investments working for them. And then came Irene, and the predictions that her path may wind up the east coast.  Monday through Wednesday of that week was basically business as usual.  I began seriously tracking the storm on Tuesday. On Wednesday, a client e-mailed me asking if I could perform some basic handyman type duties on Saturday at their rental. I replied in part with “There might be a storm starting while I’m there. If there is, let me know if anything else might need doing.”

As a Coastal Contractor, The Storm Before a Major Storm

That evening I was contacted by two other clients. They were beginning to feel alarmed and I told them we would make time before the storm to prepare their homes. Thursday morning, Ocean City, Maryland ordered a mandatory evacuation. And my phone really started to ring. Requests that outdoor furniture and light objects be moved inside and, if needed, windows boarded up. There was one caveat to all the requests and it was that renters would not be leaving until Friday morning. Now, I completely understand the dynamic here because this is a resort community which earns much of its income between Memorial day and Labor day and any downtime means a loss.  But if keeping your business open (and a rental property is a business) as long as possible is the goal then in this coastal community preparedness should be a top priority.

What I discovered on Friday was this was not the case. None of my clients had an actual plan for a worst case scenario. “could you board up the windows?” was a common request but none of the materials to do so were on the premises. It reminds me a bit of the cartoon where a homeowner asks if a toilet could be moved in a bathroom and says “it is only two bolts.” Boarding up a building in the age of very expensive building materials is not as simple as screwing plywood panels up. Care must be taken if we are to protect a building and then leave it looking as though we were never there.

Preparing for an Emergency Situation

Each building has its own set of particulars. Addressing these long prior to an emergency situation is crucial. Care takes time, and though I did what I could for folks in the limited time I had, it was no substitute for a well thought out system. Homeowners are not dumb, but it is up to those of us who take care of their homes to explain the intricacies of doing so. It is up to us to think about things for which the may have no context.

In the case of one cottage, built in 1903, storm shutters were stored under the house, in questionable condition. (I envisioned a storage bin for them attached to the house, making their installation and inspection a breeze.)

The common phrase in our part of the world is “We dodged a bullet”. Hurricane Irene did minimal damage here. And on Sunday morning, my phone began ringing again. “When can our renters come down?” was the question on most everyone’s lips. Ultimately all day I worked to swiftly undo the emergency preparations of the Friday before. I thought, this really needs to be simpler. Preparing ahead of time would make it so and in the long run save my clients money. I will be doing what I can to impress this upon them as we move forward. After Irene, hurricane preparedness, for me, has become critically important.

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Here’s a very decent hurricane preparedness checklist from CNN. For more from us on responding to emergency situations, please see our category – Emergency Preparedness. How to approach cleaning up after a disaster – Tips for Avoiding Home Improvement Scams, Especially in the Wake of a Disaster.