Preparing for Natural Disasters, Using your camper.

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September 15, 2008

Firstly, let us take a minute and think about the thousands of people who have lost homes, property, and even their lives in the recent Hurricanes. Our aid, comfort and support should go out to them.

Several people recently, with the two hurricanes, have, asked me about using their camper to ride out natural disasters. It seems like a natural thing: you have a self-contained unit for living, and you need to live in an area that might have no electric, water or sewage for several days or even weeks. That and I think RV people are more comfortable being self-reliant than the average person. So, what do you need to do to make your camper your shelter and safe haven for several days or even weeks?

Well, first off, what kind of disaster are you talking about? The people who have asked me about doing this are naturally talking about hurricanes; however, with some modifications, you can be prepared for just about anything. Obviously your preparations for a hurricane are going to be slightly different than for a blizzard. So, put some thinking and planning into what you are going to be using your camper for and when.

Before a natural disaster strikes, be prepared. Check all the systems of your camper; do the lights work? Does the smoke detector and the propane detector and carbon monoxide detector work? The water and sewage system working? How about the fridge? If you have had problems when a natural disaster strikes, you know that that is not the time to have to go get a part down at the camper store. Keep your camper ready, and you will have fewer problems and worries when a disaster does strike.

But let’s start with the basics.

  • Water in most cases is all important. Clean and disinfect your fresh water tanks and fill it completely. Buy several gallons of water just for drinking that can be stored and maybe cooled individually.
  • Plan on how to conserve your water; you don’t want to use tons of water washing dishes, so buy some paper plates and disposable flatware.
  • Dump your black and grey tanks and make sure they are totally empty and clean; you maybe using them for several days. Make sure when you do use them to be sparing with the water, you don’t want them to fill too fast. Long, hot showers are not a good idea to conserve water or propane!
  • Make sure your generator is working; fill it with fuel and, of course, fill gas containers. The idea isn’t to have enough fuel to keep it running all the time, just to keep your battery charged.
  • Make sure your propane tanks are full and ready; you may want to go out and buy a new tank or two if you think this is going to last a long time.
  • How is your camper battery? Several years old? Doesn’t hold as much of a charge as it used to? You may want a back up, and a charger to plug into the generator.
  • Radios, flashlights, lanterns and of course batteries! We have two radios in addition to the camper radio; they are battery types with the national weather service channels and are able to be powered by turning a crank on the side of them. To be honest, if the kids have to crank the radio to get it to work, they listen to it less at least after the fun of cranking wears off.
  • Food, make sure you have food that is easy to prepare and won’t spoil easily. One pot meals are nice, especially if they don’t depend on lots of frozen meats and items you have to keep in the fridge. I have to say canned items are great for this. Snacks and dried fruit are also very nice and provide a feeling of comfort, especially to the kids.
  • Pack clothes and linens and sleeping bags for your stay, be sure to include proper foot wear!
  • How about some games and books to pass the time. I wouldn’t recommend movies since they use up electric.
  • A GPS in your vehicle might prove very valuable if roads are blocked, destroyed or just very congested.
  • Do you feel you need any personal protection devices? That is a personal choice, but I feel it should be mentioned.
  • Do you have all your medications filled, packed, and your first-aid kits ready?

Now that you are mostly ready for what is going to happen. Make some plans. If a Hurricane is coming and it isn’t safe to stay in your house, I am not going to go outside and stay in my much lighter and fragile camper. I am going to hook up to it and head away from the storm to a protected campground, not in a flood area, not with lots of tall dead trees around it. Maybe now is the time to go on that vacation to Yellowstone? On the other hand, if it is a blizzard, maybe you can stay at home and just make sure you get extra salt, shovels and gas for the snow blower. Floods, how about a nice high campground? In most cases, you have some warning, and, if you make a plan, you will have clear goals and destinations. Like my old Boy Scout Motto used to say: Be Prepared!

Your Obedient Servant,

Gary Smith, Jr.

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  2. Great article, Gary. In keeping with the safety of personal belongins (in the event of an emergency situation), allow me to recommend our site, for on-board safes: Keep up the good work!

  3. PattieAM

    I too have utilized my RV as a result of storms/power failures. One thing the Emergency Preparedness Teams don’t convey is information for those on well-water….and the lack of electricity. Forecasted severe winds will have me bringing in a garbage can and placing it in the bathroom and filling it with water to flush the toilet in the event of a power failure.

    My PUP has potty/shower, etc., so if it’s an extended outage, I will most likely stay in the PUP as my house is all electric.

  4. Andrew Orton

    We had to use our TT last night when our power was knocked out by a bad wind storm (the remanants of Ike). It was more of an annoyance than anything, so we are thankful to have a house to come back to!

  5. Jackie Baker

    My family and I (four adults, two babies and one diabetic dog) have been displaced (temporarily) by hurricane Ike. I can tell you first hand, how grateful I am that we have a motor home to stay in during this time. All of our needs have been met very comfortably during the past week.

    When ordered to evacuate, we took important papers, pictures, laptop, cash, personal items and left. Our motor home is always stocked with basic essentials so that we never have to think about those items.

    Although used mainly for close camping and vacations during the year, we are glad that our motor home has provided us refuge during this time of upheaval.

  6. Tom Hargreaves

    Don’t forget the data on your computer! If you have a recent backup, take it; if you can, make a fresh backup just before you leave. If you don’t have a backup, just take the whole machine with you, as long as there’s space in your RV. If you have time, shut down normally, unplug the power cord, then unplug all the other wires from the back/sides/front. If all you are doing is preserving your data on a desktop machine, just put the computer on something soft in the coach or TV where it won’t slide around (someplace such as the bed perhaps?), then go on to whatever is next on your evacuation list. If time is critical (the Fire Chief has just given you 30 minutes to get out ahead of the wildfire), you CAN just pull the plug, pull all the wires from the main box, pick up the box, and go, although normal shutdown is safer. The very safest thing for your important data is regular and frequent backup and keeping a backup copy off site.

    Hope none of these suggestions are ever needed!

  7. Good piece of advice. Out here on the “left” coast we don’t have to worry too much about hurricanes, tornadoes or floods. On the other hand, earthquake preparedness is essential.

    My “72 hour kit” sits outside in my driveway, or wherever storage is allowed. It’s possible the stick house will be left uninhabitable, but the RV should withstand the ground shaking. In that regards, I never store the motorhome where I can’t easily walk to it.

    If they could just forecast ‘quakes like they can hurricanes you better believe I’d be on my way to Yellowstone – ‘course I don’t really need an excuse for that trip.

  8. Jim

    Some good tips! We know lots of people in Houston who would love to have an RV right now for “temporary” quarters.

    I was glad to see the advice to head for safer terrain in the event of an approaching hurricane. A couple of additional ideas in that regard:

    1. Don’t wait too late to relocate, and get caught in heavy traffic during an evacuation.

    2. Take a lesson from recent tropical systems, which have impacted areas hundreds and even thousands of miles inland – Ike caused flooding from Texas to the Great Lakes. Instead of trying to outrun such storms, head in a direction to the side of the expected track. The forecast track for 5 days is usually available on-line, and although with hurricanes and tropical storm forecasts are still a bit of a dice roll, as a general rule, they tend to move north or northeast once they make landfall. A good bet would be to head inland and to the west from predicted landfall. The best thing about an RV is that you can always hook up and relocate again if necessary.

  9. bob smith

    ours became our major kitchen when we remodled our house kitchen. I have had to ride out some really bad winds and don’t want that any more but you don’t have much warning for toranados. I would leave the coast and not ride out a hurican .

  10. Ellen F

    This is a great post. Using your RV during a disaster isn’t the only time it can come in handy. We recently remodeled our bathroom, and while the sink, toilet and shower were out of commission, we used our trailer for those essentials. It certainly came in handy when the need arose.

  11. Marie

    Thanks Gary for all the emergency tips-you even stated a couple of things I had not thought about yet. Keep the information coming-we aren’t too old to learn! Marie