I’m still not at the point where I can think about anything other than Hurricane Sandy. We had a huge tree topple over in our yard that ruptured our water line and knocked out ours and our neighbor’s power lines. We woke up to water gushing in the big hole where the tree had been, but no running water in the house.

While it’s been a huge inconvenience (we got back power, but we’re still without water!), I know we’re among the lucky ones, and my heart goes out to those who suffered serious losses. If you’d like to donate to or volunteer for an organization that’s helping victims of Hurricane Sandy, check out FEMA’s website on the subject.

If you’re keeping notes about how to prepare for the next “perfect storm” (Heaven forbid!), read on.  I’ve compiled some sanity-saving advice you won’t find in a PSE&G email. Unfortunately, I learned most of these real-life disaster-preparedness lessons the hard way.

  • Know where your water valve is. When the water company came to turn off the water, they asked me where the shut-off valve was. I had no idea. They said they couldn’t go lifting tree parts looking for the valve, but if they knew where it was, they could clear the spot. Since I didn’t know—and since the water company was completely unhelpful (but that’s a different story)—it took a full day before they were able to shut the water. (FYI, our valve turned out to be underground. If yours is, too, ask the water company to locate it for you and unobtrusively mark it for future reference.)
  • On the day of a disaster, wear something with pockets and keep your cell phone on your person at all times. After I threw my cell on the coffee table to run like a banshee after the water company truck, it became clear that a certain 5-year-old had made off with this key communication device. In fairness to said 5-year-old, when I asked, “Can you please tell Mommy what you did with her cell phone?” he really appeared to think about it for a minute before responding, “I forget.” It hasn’t been spotted since. If only Mommy had been wearing pockets that day, she would have thrown the phone in one of them before commencing her sprint down the street.
  • Bring along a surge protector when you go somewhere to power up. We went to charge my husband’s phone at Wegman’s supermarket, where there were waiting lines for outlets. Our showing up with a surge protector not only catapulted us to the front of the line, but also made us heroes, since it meant everyone in the line could power up at the same time.
  • Write down important phone numbers (like the plumber’s). Even if you have a smart phone, who wants to waste precious battery life googling stuff like that?
  • Make a hotel reservation in advance if you can afford to. By the time we discovered we had no power and no water, it was too late. If it turns out you don’t need to stay at a hotel, you may or may not be able to cancel for free; ask about the policy beforehand.
  • Do laundry on the day or two leading up to a big storm. Everyone’s laundry.
  • Stock up on hand sanitizer. And baby wipes. And I don’t mean for just the baby.
  • Remember that you are your only advocate. Don’t sit around waiting for the water company/Public Works/power company if your problems are severe. Be a nuisance and call often. Better yet, go in person when possible. I didn’t get anywhere with my town until I physically walked to the Public Works office and got the right person. (Note: Having a couple of scared, crying kids in tow doesn’t hurt. Just sayin’.)
  • Think out of the box. (I’m actually fond of the box. It’s cozy in there. And it usually exists for a reason. But a big storm knocks it over.) When we couldn’t find an available hotel room anywhere nearby—and all of our relatives were without power—my husband said, “If we can’t find one nearby, why don’t we go far away?” Such an idea had never occurred to a box-lover like me. But it turned out to be just the thing we needed. We went to Baltimore for a few days and tried to make it as much like a vacation for the kids as we could. Of course, it was a vacation riddled with frantic calls to utility companies, but it was better than staying in a cold house and knocking on the neighbor’s door every time nature called. Plus, our home insurance policy includes a “loss of use” provision that covers hotel and related expenses. Boo-yah!

I’m sure most, if not all, of you endured your own trials and tribulations as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Please use the Comments section below to let us know what you learned that could help others in the future.

Be well!