Are you hurricane-ready?
Every year at the end of May the media declares the opening of the hurricane season. Every year at that time, hardware and convenience stores announce sales designed to help us prepare for the threat of storms. Every year, or almost every year, as the authorities confirm that a hurricane may hit The Bahamas or some part of it, there is panic, as long lines descend on those hardware and food stores, who sell out at higher than normal prices. The streets are filled with trucks carrying sheets of plywood destined to be mounted onto nice, clean walls with cut nails and the month’s stock of food to cram into refrigerators. Every year.
This, of course, would not have happened a hundred years ago. Today’s half-day spent securing the windows by strong young men would have been in 15 minutes completed by ‘Grammy’, who would simply close and lock the shutters. While there has always been a healthy respect for hurricanes, Bahamians have expressed that respect by the design of their buildings, buildings created ready for the storms.
This readiness is the result of the choices made during the design and construction of our buildings. The first choice is the approach to the site. For example, the choice to build in a low-lying area means the expectation of flooding, and the choice of floor level determines how the building will handle those floods. The materials used determine how the building will withstand the wetness.
Another choice is to build a house that battens down easily, with no need for outside help. A variety of shutters have traditionally been used for this purpose; sometimes shutters are the only protection for the opening. Where there was a glazed window in the opening, the options were driven by the need to close the shutter from the inside, making the “sash” window and the inside-opening casement window the natural choices. This way the house could be secured with minimal effort and in almost no time.
There are, of course, modern alternatives, like the roll-down shutter and impact glass. These devices work well for closing down but may cause other difficulties and are more expensive to both install and maintain.
Another choice that affects hurricane readiness is the possibility of damage by trees. Smart homeowners plant trees that have a reputation for not toppling over or breaking during storms, like trees with wide root systems, strong branches or those that bend a lot with the wind.
Finally, there is the question of living comfortably during and after the storm. Not too long ago reliance on electricity was limited to the houses of the privileged. Lighting for most was by kerosene lamps and cooking by kerosene stoves. Today, LP gas is a better solution for cooking, and the small solar generator (PV system) is an alternative for lighting and power.
For whatever reason, the most aggressive part of the panic generated by the news of a hurricane is food shopping. There appears to be a fear that, after the storm, there might be months of food shortage, leading to the excessive food shopping. In the ‘olden days’ Bahamians kept a chest or cupboard with canned goods and non-perishables in a safe place and started the season by replenishing it. No major shopping was ever needed, and there was never a panic that there would be starvation.
Most of these are observations, not some theory. There is no need for the panic we have come to expect, nor the damage to our buildings. If we make the right choices about our building sites, the materials used and the devices needed as part of the fabric of the buildings we can co-exist with the hurricane season without such fear. Good choices can make us permanently hurricane ready.
- Patrick Rahming & Associates is a full-service design firm providing architectural, planning and design services throughout The Bahamas and the Northern Caribbean. Visit its website at www.pradesigns.com, design blog at https://rahmblings.wordpress.com and like its Facebook page. The firm can be contacted by phone at 356-9080 or by email at [email protected] or [email protected]. The firm’s mission is to help clients turn their design problems into completed projects through a process of guided decision-making, responsible environmental advice and expert project administration.