Topic: Disaster

Airborne above my bed in the middle of the night was not a pleasant way to wake up. Actually, I woke up on the way down — for once that dream of falling was real. My bed danced, possessed beneath me, and by the time the floor jumped up to catch me I realized I was in the midst of my first earthquake. I ran (which was more like a slow motion run on a moon bounce) to our daughter’s room to grab her from her crib before the stacked wardrobes fell on her. Just before reaching my daughter, I was able to push the top wardrobe back as it rocked forward toward me and by the time I got her out of the crib and away from the wardrobe wall, the quake was over.

Living on the side of Mt. Etna (a very active volcano in Sicily) meant earthquakes were likely to occur and racing through the house during one was not part of a solid disaster plan. Life doesn’t always go as planned and disasters rarely do. Being part of the military community transforms how you react to situations that don’t go as planned. The constant change prepares us to quickly adapt to situations. Here’s a glimpse into the disaster preparation in a “semper Gumby” (always flexible) mindset.

Plans A, B and C

Because world events can change so fast, our service members’ orders can too. We learn to make plans and have a few extra “just in case” alternatives up our sleeves (and sometimes we still have to make things up as we go along).

With each hurricane that came through the Hampton Roads area, I would begin making plans; one for evacuating and one for riding it out, depending on what the predictions and recommendations were as the storm moved closer.

Adapt plans D, E and F

I quickly discovered that ships sortie (leave port to protect the ship) every time a hurricane comes through, so I had to readjust my plans to evacuate or ride the storm out with the kids and without my husband’s help.

Our biggest challenge was communication, as it was unpredictable from the ship, so he planned to contact me at one of three numbers where I might be, depending on the path of the storm (my cell, my grandad’s land line in a safe inland home, our neighbors down the street). Other plans for communication include:

  • Write an in case of emergency, or ICE, contact number list for your wallet and cell phone.
  • Keep a corded phone in the house for access to landline communication if the power is out.
  • Use text or social media when phone lines are jammed.
  • Share plans with local family or friends and with one friend outside of the potential disaster area.


Prepare phase 1

The prep for hurricanes was always a bit stressful. There was so much to do. I was fortunate my sailor was able to help me pull in all the outdoor furniture before he had to leave on the ship one time. Other times, I had to do the heavy lifting and Tetris stacking of potential projectiles solo, but usually with the help from other military families.

I purchased all the water and food we’d need for the kids, myself and our dog for at least three days and decided to ride out the storm at home. The home improvement store in our area ran out of plywood, so boarding up my home wasn’t an option.

Adapt phase 2

Pulling from the house, garage and recycling bin, I found as much cardboard as I could. After taping the windows, I taped the cardboard to the window casings inside. I hoped that if the windows broke during the storm the cardboard would catch any glass debris before it could get to us.

With the bathtubs and sinks filled with water, the kids, dog and I all hunkered down in the nook under our stairs to weather a handful of storms. I hung sheets around the nook like a fort and that indoor campout with games, stories, songs and flashlights distracted them a bit from the noise of the storm.

Floyd in 1999 and Isabel in 2003 were the worst we experienced. Floyd flooded the office building where I worked (it was condemned and had to be rebuilt), and Isabel knocked our tree over, nearly missing our neighbor’s house and damaging our roof. We were fortunate, as there was a lot of destruction in areas surrounding us.

After the storm passes, the disaster is over or the power is out, the “semper Gumby” state of mind is what prompts the neighbors to gather outside for an impromptu block party where all freezer contents are grilled and you make the best of the current situation.