When the Storm Comes

As I’m writing this, Hurricane Irma is approaching. The projected path has shifted and it is on a direct course through our community. Tropical-storm-force winds are expected to start at about 8 a.m. on Sunday.

graphic of storm path through Tampa, Florida

I tried to get gas this past Thursday morning and discovered that all the gas stations in the area were already out of gas. I have enough for travel to the store and some local travel. But leaving the area is out of the question. Even if I had a full tank, with the shortages throughout Florida, travel by car could end up leaving one stranded, especially if traffic is congested.

Although I have enough gas for trips to the store, all the stores have been closed today (Saturday). Every Tampa Publix store, the main grocery chain, is closed. I tried calling some other stores, including WalMart, and nobody answers. I have enough food, so don’t really need to go shopping, but thought I’d pick up some fruit and a couple other items before the storm. The hours posted on the web site showed early closings on Saturday, but they were already closed earlier than what they had listed as their early-closing hours for the storm.

I had some library books to return and thought I’d do that on Thursday, in case the library might be closed on Saturday. Even on Thursday, the library was closed, and the book-return bins were also closed. The storm wasn’t going to arrive for another three days, but they were already closed!

It seems to me that people are panicking. (But at least they are paying attention to the warnings.) If you have a good plan, you don’t need to panic. If there is reason to panic, you probably need a better plan. Concern is appropriate. Panic rarely produces a good plan.

Don’t get me wrong. This is a serious storm, and may do considerable damage. Mandatory evacuations have been issued for parts of the community and many of the shelters are full. There will undoubtedly be innumerable trees and branches down, and likely a good number of structures damaged. Hopefully, the storm will weaken and the damage won’t be too extensive. But early preparation and preventive measures are appropriate and may save lives and help to protect property.

I’m prepared to stay put and weather the storm. I’m outside all the evacuation zones, so the wind is the main concern.

It is entirely possible that we will end up with a power outage lasting as much as a week or more. We may lose our water supply. I have filled a lot of bottles with water. That should supply my drinking and cooking needs. I will fill the sink and tub with water. But there is another potential problem: the toilets won’t flush without a large supply of water and that could become unpleasant in a hurry if the water supply is lost. Internet and phone communications may go down. Even cell phones may cease to work if the damage is extensive. In emergencies, communications systems get overloaded and one cannot count on being able to communicate through normal channels.

graphic of standard symbol for a hurricane

How does this relate to protecting your information? Part of security is making sure you have access to the information and resources you need, when you need them. In a storm such as this, you can’t count on that. Your best remedy is a good plan that addresses the potential loss of resources and an alternate way to access critical resources.

But it doesn’t take a natural disaster to put your data at risk.

A fire could destroy your records and electronic equipment. A thief could steal them. If you rely on electronic devices, such as computers, cell phones, and other devices that store or process data, a malfunction could cause the loss of all information on them.

Are you prepared for that?

Where do you store your information? What equipment do you depend upon? What services are important to you? If your electronic devices went dead, if you lost phone, Internet service, and electricity, would you have everything you needed? Would you need to get to information that was no longer available? Would the loss of utilities or other services cause you a problem?

This is a good time to think about that and to answer those questions. Here are some questions to get you started:

What information is of high importance and may be essential in an emergency?
* Medical information
* Financial records
* Phone numbers
* Identification (driver’s license, medical and insurance cards, etc.)

What resources are essential that might not be available in an emergency?

* Do you have cash on hand? If the electricity goes out, you may not be able to get cash from the bank. Credit cards may not be accepted if the stores can’t communicate with the banks to process your cards. Checks may not be accepted. How will you pay for necessities? (Will you be able to buy food, gas, medicine, emergency supplies, etc.)

* What communications are critical? If phone, television, and Internet services go out, what will you do? For a community-wide emergency, you aren’t likely to be able to find WiFi service at the coffee shop or library as a backup.

* Do you have food, water, medicine, batteries, etc.

Think about all the services you rely on each day: lighting for your house, refrigeration for food (and possibly medication). What would you do if those services became unavailable?

As you answer these questions, you could get overwhelmed. Focus on the most critical items, those with the highest priority. Then find a way to maintain access to them or a source of alternate access. For information, that could mean printing it out on paper. For insurance, medical, and identification cards, that could mean having photocopies, as well as a list of the necessary phone numbers, policy or member numbers, etc. For money, that could mean having cash on hand.

One method of maintaining access to information, whether during a natural disaster, or in the case of fire, theft, or equipment failure, could be by keeping a copy of the data “in the cloud.” If you do that, be sure to consider the following:

* Is the data sensitive? If so, consider whether it is safe from disclosure to other parties.

* Will you be able to access the data? If communications are lost during a natural disaster, you may lose access to the data until communications are restored. If the disaster affects the company that maintains the cloud, your information may be lost.

Consider the following once you have identified critical information and resources:

1) Can you protect it? How?

2) Can you make a copy of it in case the original is lost?

3) Can you find an alternate source (of information/products/services)? For example, can you buy a replacement or get service from a different provider? Consider the possibility that the demand may be so high that they will be out of stock when you try to get a replacement.

Images depicting Fire, Burglar, and Tornado

Whether facing a natural disaster, or experiencing an accidental or man-made event, I want you to be able to survive it. In fact, I want it to be no more than an inconvenience. My hope is that you can be prepared and not have cause for panic. Preparation and a good plan are good ways to achieve that.

* Consider what is important, both information and resources.

* Find a way to maintain access to that information and those resources, in spite of any unexpected event.

Then, you are in a good position to weather any storm that may threaten you, in whatever form it takes.

[Update: We escaped this storm with no damage and only a very brief power outage, although the heavy winds and storm did cause my cat some extra stress.]

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