Natural disaster preparedness: How to prepare yourself and family for floods, hurricanes and earthquakes survival.
Note: Rex Michaels, a U.S. Army retired was consulted for his expertise in the writing of this article. Michaels has over 30 years experience with helping people deal with natural and man-made disasters. His tasks in the past have included going into ravaged areas to teach people from around the world how to prepare for and survive a disaster.
Certain natural disasters can be predicted or forecast based on current weather situations, seasons and other conditions favorable for a particular disaster. Hurricanes, for example, can be tracked by satellites and experts can predict, with a great deal of accuracy, when and where the storm will make landfall.
Flash flooding can be caused by storm surges due to heavy winds associated with certain storms along with heavy rains. While experts cannot always, state conclusively where flooding will take place, they and you can assume that because of certain weather conditions’ flooding is a possibility.
Earthquakes can happen at any time of the year and anywhere in the world. Earthquakes are not predictable nor can they be forecast. Experts can only state that an earthquake has happened in the past and that certain geological conditions are favorable for an earthquake in a particular area. Earthquakes can cause tsunamis, which are destructive ocean waves that can reach for miles inland. Typically, once an earthquake occurs expert will determine the tsunami risk and issue the appropriate warnings.
Richter scale showing magnitude and associated damage
Graphic courtesy of Cuadrilla Resources
Do Not Wait For Warnings Or Alerts To Start Preparing
Recent and not so recent events in the country have shown that experts can get it wrong when it comes to natural disasters and their effects. Citizens and governments alike tend to use history as a template when preparing for future disasters. They essentially do what they did the last time, and this method has proven to be disastrous in some cases.
You always have to assume the worst regardless of what happened last time. Prepare for the worst and then be pleasantly surprised. It is always better to have it and not need it then to need something and not have it. Prepare, each time as if it is the first time, and do not assume anything.
Many cities, towns and communities have antiquated infrastructures, patched together power grids, and crumbling bridges and over passes. When bridges, roadways and other infrastructure are well maintained they can withstand extreme disasters. As the years went by however, municipalities performed ad hoc repairs because of financial constraints and various other reasons.
Failure to properly repair and upgrade infrastructure and power grids has created a domino effect, ultimately affecting communities not even in the path of the storm. Once the demand increases because of damage to a certain sector the already weakened system begins to fail in succession.
Natural disasters cause more damage today, not because the storms are more intense, but because the infrastructure as whole is weaker. City governments and their citizens continually fail to prepare according to the new reality. You however, do not have to follow last year’s model.
If you live in a coastal area, you know a hurricane will occur at some point, but typically, you have eight or nine months in which to prepare for the storms. Preparing over time helps alleviate the economic burden and makes certain you will get the proper supplies and not just what is left over in the days leading up to the crisis. Pick up items as you do your normal shopping, and before long, you will have a sizable emergency supply built up.
Running out when the storm is just a few days away to gather supplies, may mean you come home empty handed and trying to purchase everything at the last minute is an economic burden. Ensure you keep track of expiration dates and keep your emergency essentials separate from your day-to-day supplies.
Preparing Your Home For Disaster
Keep trees, limbs, and other heavy vegetation trimmed so it is not a hazard to you or your home during high winds. If you have, hurricane shutters make sure they can be secured properly when shuttered. Move all outdoor furniture to a safe location, and know where your main gas line and electrical breaker panel is located. In some cases, you may want to shut of the gas service to your home at the meter. You will need a tool to turn the valve. Flooding and high winds can cause gas lines to rupture creating a fire or explosive hazard. Damaged electrical lines can also pose a fire hazard if the main electrical breaker to the home is not shut off.
The following is a list of essentials that should be on hand for any natural disaster. It will be noted if a listed item is specific to a certain disaster. An items placement on the list is not an indication of its importance.
It is assumed you will have the traditional items found in most homes such as cooking/eating utensils, personal hygiene items, blankets and appropriate seasonal clothing.
- Water for 72 hours and use the one gallon per day per individual recommendation as a means to calculate amounts. The recommendation considers water for drinking (two quarts/liters daily for hydration) and water for oral care and personal hygiene. The amount does not consider water for cooking or laundry needs for each person.
- Food for 72 hours and remember you will have disruption in power and gas, so you will need foods that can be eaten literally from the package or can. Each person will need at least one can of protein, one can of vegetables and one of fruit daily. If you use Meals Ready to Eat, (MRE’s) each adult will need two per day. Each MRE contains roughly 1,200 calories each and comes with condiments and eating utensils.
- Materials to secure your home and to make emergency repairs, materials include sheets of plywood, waterproof tarps, plastic sheeting and suitable tape. You will also need hammers and nails. Use the plywood on the outside of doorways and windows to protect against flying glass and to cover damage in walls and roofs. Use tarps or plastic on the inside of the home’s glass openings and doorways to protect against flying glass and other debris.
- Portable cooking devices such as propane camp stoves/outdoor gas or charcoal grills.
- Portable radio.
- Insect repellent and/or netting if applicable.
- Propane or oil fueled lanterns, most experts now consider candles to be a fire hazard especially in homes with children so use candles with caution, and avoid scented candles as a means of illumination.
- Signal flags/brightly colored material for signaling rescue personnel.
- Communication devices that can be used when cell phone or landline service is disrupted, Devices can include two-way radios (Walkie-Talkies) Citizens Band (CB) radios, or ham radios. Anyone one of these devices can also be used to monitor for information as well as communication between family members.
- One gallon of unopened, unscented bleach for emergency water purification (add eight drops to one gallon of water for purification, once added shake well and wait 30 minutes, the ratio for a quart/liter container is two drops).
- First aid supplies and if using “off the shelf” kits make sure each family member has their own, always use the medical supplies from the person you are treating, this ensures that the person administering the first has adequate supplies for their needs.
- Rain gear such as ponchos or suits for each person.
- Emergency thermal blankets one for each member.
- Matches and lighters.
- Brooms, shovels, garbage bags/barrels for cleanup.
- Work gloves, dust masks and safety glasses.
- Portable chemical toilets or waste bags designed for emergency waste control.
The above list is by no means comprehensive and should be adapted for personal preferences. Make sure you have portable oxygen bottles on hand for those that require them and any other medical devices needed. Speak to your health care professional about emergency supplies of maintenance medications, such as heart medications, insulin, high blood pressure medication and so forth.
Insulin Storage: According to the American Diabetes Foundation, insulin can be stored at room temperature for up to 28 days. This means if you have a one-month supply you can safely store it out of refrigeration but if you have more than a 28-day supply, the additional amounts must be kept chilled (American Diabetes Association, 2013).
It is recommended that if you use a generator that it is capable of generating 7,000 watts or more of surge. This will allow you to operate refrigerators, radios, lights and small heating appliances at the same time and allows the normal cycling of the appliances. Refrigerators, fluorescent lights and some heating appliances have a higher wattage demand on startup and a generator not capable of handling the demand can pose a risk to you and damage your appliances.
Generators must be placed high so they are protected from flooding. The recent super storm sandy along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States caused a tidal surge that caught everyone by surprise and the surge caused flooding in areas that had never experienced it before. Generators in some cases where placed below street level and thus were flooded and rendered useless.
Coastal areas can expect storm surges caused by high winds. The tidal surges in some cases can reach miles inland flooding communities and towns. The surges can contaminate water wells, water treatment plants, and any other surface water sources with seawater.
If an emergency evacuation order is given for your area you must leave as quickly as possible otherwise you can become trapped. If you do become trapped in your home, emergency medical and rescue along with law enforcement personnel may not be able to reach your area.
- For more information on storm surges, or to determine your risk please visit http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/surge/.
- For general information on emergency planning in your area visit http://www.fema.gov
Flooding causes a tremendous amount of damage to cities, towns and private property every year as well as causing numerous fatalities. Floods can be caused by heavy rains, flash floods from heavy storms upstream, storm surges and by ruptured levees and dams. In most cases, you would know whether to expect flooding in your area.
The emergency essentials listed above would also apply to flooding. However, there are a few additional items that you should have on hand when preparing for flooding in your area.
- Tools such as sledgehammers pry bars and hand saws for emergency evacuation to the roof from your attic
If you become trapped in your home during a flood, you will have to retreat to the upper floors and possibly to the roof. You will need tools stored in the attic or upper floors ahead of time for an emergency evacuation to the roof. Once on the roof you can signal rescue personnel who may come by boat or in aircraft. You will need the tools and skills to extract yourself from the attic to the roof. One way is to use the sledgehammer to knock one of the rotating attic fans loose and crawl through the opening. Another method would be to pry the roof decking loose using the sledgehammer and pry bar.
- Have waterproof containers for all-important documentation, and make it so you can carry the paperwork with you if you evacuate. You will need all paperwork pertaining to your home to file for disaster relief/insurance or even prove you live in the area if a curfew is enacted.
- Food, water and all other supplies must be protected and if you are preparing especially for flooding store all of your emergency supplies on the upper floors of the home.
Do not immerse yourself in floodwaters because they will have displaced wildlife, dangerous reptiles’, marine life and harmful bacteria in them. Floodwaters typically contain raw sewage from flooded sewage treatment plants and sewage waste piping as well.
Never attempt to cross on foot or in a car any flooded areas. It takes less than two feet of moving water to wash a vehicle downstream and even less moving water to sweep a person off their feet.
Earthquakes strike without warning, and they can happen at any time of the day or night. This means you have to be prepared at all times. In addition to the above listed emergency supplies, special consideration must be given to your home to prepare it for an earthquake.
If you live in an area prone to earthquakes and you have not already done so designate a safe room within your home. Ideally, one of the room’s walls will be a load-bearing wall, which means it is supported by the foundation and thus is sturdier. The room should not have openings to the outside, fireplaces, hanging chandeliers or skylights. Make sure all family members know to go immediately to the safe room during an earthquake.
The safe room should have sturdy table that can pushed up against the load-bearing wall and it needs to be big enough where every family member can fit underneath it. Keep everyone under the table until the tremors stop. Once the tremor stops shut off the main breaker and gas service.
Aftershocks can occur for days after the initial earthquake has struck. This can create additional damage and injuries. Most injuries during an earthquake occur as people try to move from room to room or go outside. Stay inside whatever structure you are in unless you know it is collapsing or the authorities have ordered an evacuation from the building. The safest place during an earthquake is inside a structure.
Inside Your Home
- Secure the hot water tank with steel banding or other suitable material to the wall joists so it cannot fall over causing injuries and water damage.
- Do not mount televisions, pictures or lights on the wall where they can fall on a sleeping person. Make sure all bureaus and wardrobes are far enough away from beds or sleeping areas so if they tip over they cannot cause injury.
- Store all chemicals at floor level preferably in a locked cabinet where they cannot fall and cause injury or a chemical spill.
- Do not place any beds close enough to a brick or stone fireplace where the material can injure a sleeping person as it falls. Do not mount mirrors, hanging lights or any objects over any sleeping area.
- Avoid the kitchen during an earthquake unless you have secured the large appliances to the walls to prevent tip over. Dishes, canned goods and other items can fall from kitchen cabinets causing injury as well. To prevent this you can install latches to keep the doors closed, but the latches must be such that they automatically secure themselves once closed.
Earthquake Specific Items
- Heavy nylon rope for rescue operations (100ft)
- Firefighter axe for rescue operations or extraction from damaged buildings
- Safety helmets for rescue operations, football/bicycle helmets (to protect children’s heads)
- Head mounted lights so both hands are kept free
- ABC fire extinguishers
- Respirators for rescue operations
You can expect fires from gas leaks and electrical damage. Do not enter any building or structure with an open flame (candles) because of gas leaks.
Once you have determined you home is safe to inhabit stay inside it. Falling debris, sinkholes and downed power lines will be a hazard outside your home. Glass that has shattered will be in powdered form in some cases, so if you do have to go outside protect your eyes and wear a dust mask to prevent inhalation of glass particles and other airborne contaminates.
Preparing For Long Term
Disaster relief agencies, emergency management experts and many local governments recommend you have at least a three days’ supply of emergency essentials. The reason for this recommendation is that government manuals (disaster relief protocol) state that personnel shall be on the ground and operational in any disaster area in the United States within 72-hours. As some may know this is not always the case. This is not to say that the agencies have failed or are ill equipped it is simply the reality in certain situations.
To protect your family and yourself you need to be self-sufficient as much as possible during any natural disaster. If you prepare with the thought in the back of your mind that relief agencies will be passing out emergency supplies within 72-hours then you may be disappointed. You have to assume you will be on your own for an extended period. Additionally, you have to assume, as was the case with super storm sandy that utility disruptions can extend for weeks or longer in some cases.
It is not just the disaster itself you are preparing for, but also the effects of the disaster and the long days after disaster strikes.
If you assume the disaster and its effects will last longer than three days then you must plan differently. Storage space for food, water, meal preparations, bathing and laundry must be considered.
Water For Extended Periods
You will have to increase the amount of water per person to accommodate washing of clothes, cooking and medical care. It is recommended you increase the amount to three gallons per person daily for periods exceeding one week.
Storage becomes a problem and it is recommended that you use food grade plastic water barrels for water storage. The barrels once filled with tap water using a marine grade (safe for drinking water) hose; do not need any further purification. If sealed properly the water in the barrels is considered to have an indefinite shelf life. The barrels because of the weight should be filled in place such as in the garage or even a secure tool shed. Keep in mind water weighs 8.5lbs/3.8kg per gallon so weight is a factor you must consider.
Food For Long Term
Storage is once again a consideration when stockpiling canned goods for an extended period. A family of four would need 12 cans daily if you use the recommended amount described earlier. Weight is also a consideration when using canned goods.
MRE’s (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) are easily stored anywhere as long as they are protected from insect and rodent infestations. Weight is not normally a consideration when storing MRE’s.
Dehydrated foods are an option for long-term survival if you have an adequate water supply and an energy source for heating water. The foods will require hot water for reconstitution of the product.
Click here for a simple formulation that will show you the amount of food/servings per person will need for any length of time.