As most you know, during Hurricane Gustav I stayed in the 10th floor condo where I live. One of the reasons I decided to stay is that this building was built to withstand Category 5 winds. The windows in our unit are also rated to withstand very serious winds. But, in addition to the strong windows, I also have roll down hurricane shutters. These shutters worked very well during Hurricane Katrina, to the point that our unit was one of the few that sustained virtually no damage at all during Katrina.
After Katrina, a couple of people in the condo decided to install roll down hurricane shutters. Most of these people had some serious problems, which became apparent only in real-world emergency use. I’m posting this so that anyone who has roll down storm shutters (or who is considering buying them) can have the benefit of what I learned during Gustav.
As I said my shutters worked fine during both Katrina and Gustav. They are simple mechanical shutters in which each section is about 39″ wide. I have to use a long crank pole to raise and lower the shutters, a process that is laborious considering that our unit has 20 separate sections. It’s a nice cardio-vascular workout, and I’m glad I’m in good shape otherwise it would be very draining. It takes me about 30 minutes to get all the shutters up or down (mostly because I take frequent breaks).
The people who bought shutters after Katrina all opted to have electrical roll-down shutters, no doubt to avoid the physical ardor of having to roll the shutters up or down by hand. As our recent brush with Gustav showed, this turned out in every case to be a serious mistake.
First of all, most of the electrical powered shutters that condo residents installed were grouped in sections of 3 or more. This made it quicker to raise and lower the shutters since more sections are moved at one time. And that’s fine as long as you are using electrical power. But what happens when you have no power (as is the case after the storm passes)?
Four or five days without power gives you time to reflect on things. Here’s what I realized in the recent aftermath of Gustav:
The electrical shutters are useless. Oh, sure they have a little hand crank knob that can supposedly be used to raise the shutters by hand. But guess how effective that is? Remember I said that my 39″ sections are a bit difficult to raise? Try raising three 39″ sections simultaneously by hand. One person in our condo had a 5 section panel, and it took three of us to even budge it. And then we quickly snapped the crank handle because there was too much force being applied. Good thing that no one was trapped inside.
If you’re going to opt for electrical shutters then make sure that the one that goes over your escape door is mechanical. That’s lesson #1. And if you plan to stay in your house/condo during a storm then consider not having ANY electrical shutters. Why? Well, because if you wind up staying in your home after the storm and power is out you’ll want to take advantage of the daylight to light up your place. Being stuck in a dark unit during the day is bad enough, and not having good ventilation makes it worse.
The funny thing about planning for emergency situations is that most people have never really lived without power for a long time. They completely forget that most of the things that we use in our daily lives require power. In an emergency you want to have tools that don’t depend on power, or have limited dependence (e.g. work on battery power).
A propane powered barbeque grill comes in handy. And if you live in a condo then you usually have a good supply of food from the residents who didn’t want to empty out their fridge before they evacuated. But after a few days of no power, you’ll be resorting to canned goods. That’s when you’ll realize the time has come to evacuate.