How YOU can Survive Natural Disasters
When it comes to prepping, I see so many get caught up in TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) scenarios. It is a popular topic amongst the “prepared”. But I don’t see near the number of topics toward natural disasters. Why? We are FAR more likely to experience a tornado or hurricane than an EMP attack.
Being prepared for those should just as important if not more so.
With all of the natural disasters in the news lately, I thought I would take some time to give an overview of five natural disasters, ie what they are, and ways that you can be prepared for them.
Watch vs Warning
If you have ever watched the weather on your news channel, you may have heard mention of a “storm watch” or a “storm warning” and wondered what the difference was. So before we jump into the disasters, I wanted make you aware of what a “Watch” is versus a “Warning.”
A watch, be it for a tornado, hurricane, or flood, means that the weather conditions are favorable for that type of activity. It has not started yet, and it may not even start. But you should be prepared to take precautions should the situation warrant.
A warning means that the expected disaster is expected, imminent, or may have already begun. Precautions should be taken IMMEDIATELY!
A watch means it MIGHT happen. A warning means it WILL OR IS ALREADY happening. Also keep in mind that a disaster can go from a “watch” to a “warning” in the blink of an eye. The tornado that hit Moore in May 2013 went from a “watch” to the destruction of the city in less than 15 minutes. So stay alert and informed!
Living in Oklahoma, I selected tornadoes first because that is the disaster I am most familiar with, both as a survivor and as an emergency worker after the fact. Click here to read about the lessons learned from a tornado disaster.
Tornadoes are violent rotating columns of air that is in contact with the ground. They are caused when the moist, warm air close to the ground hits the cool, dry, higher-elevation wind. If there is atmospheric instability, the interaction between the warm and cool air causes lots of warm air to quickly rise and cool air to fall, which leads to the formation of a supercell, a type of thunderstorm with a long-lived, swirling updraft of air.
“Tornado Alley”, considered the area between northern Texas and Oklahoma up through Kansas and Nebraska, and includes parts of Iowa and Missouri, is much more susceptible to tornadoes than the rest of the US. In this area, the warm air from the Gulf of Mexico meets the cooler, dry air blowing over the Rocky Mountains.
Typically, tornados move from the southwest to northeast. The big tornadoes of 1999, 2003, and 2013 that hit Moore, Oklahoma; all of them followed about the same path from the south west to the north east.
Tornados are judged on an EF scale. This scale is based upon wind speed and damage caused by the tornado, and is typically not determined until after the tornado is over and damage has been assessed.
For example, the tornado that hit my apartment was considered a weak EF2, almost an EF1. The one that hit Moore in 2013 had wind gusts that could not be accurately measured because the gauges and Doppler radar used to measure wind speeds were maxed out at 318 mph. (The equipment could not measure past 318mph.) Although there is not EF6 rating, that tornado would have qualified for it.
If you find yourself in a tornado warning, take the following precautions:
- Get as low as possible- if an underground area is available, move there. If not, move to a room or hallway on the lowest floor in the building.
- Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. A bathroom, closet, or office would be best. The walls are small and if they collapse, the damage will be minimized.
- Climb under a sturdy piece of furniture (desk, couch, chairs, etc..) if possible, as it might protect to collapsing walls or falling debris. Climbing into a bathtub with a mattress on top will also protect you some from falling debris.
- Stay away from windows. Glass may break and flying object may enter a building through a window.
- Avoid open areas; do not take refuge in auditoriums, theaters or shopping centers. DON’T GO OUTSIDE! The debris flying around will be extremely dangerous
- Once over, try to get to an open area as safely as possible. Buildings could have structural damage and may still collapse. So do not go back into a building until officials say it is safe to do so.
- Be aware that there could be downed power lines or broken gas lines. Go to a designated safe area and do not light heat sources.
Hurricanes are storms that begin in tropical regions where the water is at least 80 degrees. They begin as thunderstorms called tropical disturbances. These tropical disturbances release heat, which warms areas in the disturbance.
This causes the air density inside the disturbance to lower, dropping the surface pressure. Wind speeds pick increase as the colder air moves underneath the rising hot air. The disturbance begins to rotate due to the rotation of the planet. The incoming winds bring in more moisture, which condenses to form more cloud activity and releases more heat in the process.
Hurricanes need that heat to pick up energy. That is why folks in Alaska don’t worry about hurricanes. And when the hurricane reaches land, it loses some of that heat and condensation, which is why they die out quickly after hitting land.
As the disturbance grows, it becomes a tropical storm, with winds reaching speeds up to 74 mph. At speeds greater than 74 mph, it becomes a hurricane.
Hurricanes rotate counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere, and clockwise in the southern hemisphere. This is due to the Earth’s rotation.
Think of it like this: If you get in an airplane at the North Pole, and fly a direct path to the equator, your path would actually appear to curve to the right as the Earth rotates underneath you. From the South Pole, it would be to the left.
Hurricanes can reach out to almost 600 miles across, and can have wind speeds in excess of 155 mph. While the wind can be damaging, it is the storm surge that is the most destructive.
A storm surge is where the winds from a hurricane push a wall of water towards land. If this wall of water hits landfall during a high tide, the results can be catastrophic, with lots of inland flooding.
Hurricane damage also depends on whether the left or right side of a hurricane hits a certain area. The right side of a hurricane packs more punch because the wind speed and the hurricane’s speed of motion complement one another there. On the left side, the hurricane’s speed of motion subtracts from the wind speed.
Should you find yourself in a hurricane’s path, there are some things you can do to help protect yourself and your loved ones before the storm hits:
- Have your plans in place. Both for sheltering in place or for bugging out.
- If you are leaving, know your evacuation routes ahead of time. Have more than one route
- Have your 72 hour kit ready to go. Double check your batteries and make sure items are fully charged and your equipment is working
- Listen to the radio and TV for up-to-the minute information.
- Listen to the advice of the local officials. If emergency management officials say you should bug out, I’d heed their advice
- Secure all outdoor objects that can be secured. Loose items should be brought inside such as trash cans, potted and hanging plants, lawn furniture, ashtrays and anything else that could be picked up by the wind.
- Make sure you and your family members know how to turn off utilities such as water and gas
- Top off your vehicles with gas, and have some extra cash on you
- People in mobile homes and houses in low level areas should evacuate to emergency shelters
If you decide to shelter in place and ride the storm out at home, here are some tips to help you out during the storm
- Remain indoors during the storm. Keep everyone on the first floor of house. Don’t come out until officials say it is safe to do so
- Stay away from windows, skylights and glass doors. They can shatter from flying debris outside.
- Stay as close to the center of the building as possible. This helps minimize the potential for injury due to flying debris or flood waters. An interior room on the first floor without windows is usually the safest place
- Do not stand in pooled water, as it may be covering downed power lines.
- Don’t drive into pools of water. It may be deeper than it looks. Be aware that flash flooding is still a possibility
- Do not drink flood water, and do not drink tap water until city officials say it is safe to do so
When it comes to flooding, I bet you think of a large rushing wall of water. But not all flooding is like that. In fact, there are different types of floods.
- Coastal Flood – typically occurs near oceans, is caused by storm surges and/or tidal waves. Waves can reach as high as 25 feet due to the strength of the storm
- River/bank Flood – occurs when rain or snowfall cause a river to swell past its banks and move inland. In flatter areas, the water could last for days. In mountainous areas, the water is faster but dissipates more quickly. This can also happen when the ground is over saturated and can no longer dissipate it quickly enough
- Flash Flood – a sudden excess of water, generally fast moving. This could be from a huge amount of rain upstream, a sudden release of water from an ice jam, or damage to a dam or levee.
Never underestimate the power of flood water. According to USA Today’s article, “Floods can cause damage to structure”
Water moving at 10 miles an hour exerts the same pressure as wind gusts of 270 miles per hour…
Flood water only six inches deep has the ability to knock you off your feet. At about 2 feet, it can carry a vehicle away. If you find yourself in a flood situation, keep the following tips in mind:
- If told to evacuate the area, do so as quickly, calmly, and safely as possible.
- If water starts to rise before the evacuation has been completed, move to higher level, including roofs if necessary.
- Floodwaters may carry raw sewage, chemical waste and other disease-spreading substances. If contact is made with floodwaters, wash with soap and clean hot water is necessary.
- Do NOT drink from contaminated sources (filters such as a Sawyer Mini or Lifestraw do NOT remove contaminates.)
- Do not walk through floodwaters. As I mentioned earlier, as little as 6 inches of water can knock you off your feet. In addition to the possible contamination, there could be live, downed power lines in the water.
- Do not use vehicles to drive; just 2 feet of water can wash away a vehicle.
- Turn electrical appliances OFF. Electric current passes easily through water, so stay away from downed power lines, electrical wires, and any electrical devices
- Move furniture and important items to higher levels in your house and bring in any outdoor furniture/items
An earthquake is a shaking of the ground caused by the sudden breaking and movement of large sections of the earth’s rocky outermost crust. The edges of the tectonic plates are marked by faults (or fractures). Most earthquakes occur along the fault lines when the plates slide past each other or collide against each other.
The shifting masses send out shock waves that may be powerful enough to alter the surface of the Earth, thrusting up cliffs and opening great cracks in the ground and cause great damage.
Earthquakes can collapse of buildings and other man-made structures, break power and gas lines, cause fires from the broken gas lines/power lines, cause landslides and snow avalanches, cause tsunamis, and even volcanic eruptions.
There is not an early warning or watch system for earthquakes like there is for hurricanes, tornadoes or floods. Earthquakes are unpredictable and cannot be forecasted. There is an earthquake warning system. This is a system of accelerometers, communication, computers, and alarms that is devised for regional notification of a substantial earthquake while it is in progress. This is not the same as earthquake prediction, which is currently incapable of producing decisive event warnings.
- Stay indoors. Locate an area of the house where items like furniture will not fall on you
- Stay low and try to protect yourself from objects that might fall on you
- Stand near a wall by the center of the building, in a doorway or under sturdy furniture.
- Stay away from windows, fireplaces and furniture that may move.
- Avoid running down stairways. The extra stress on the stairway may cause a collapse.
- If you are in bed, hold on and stay there, protecting your head with a pillow
- If you are outdoors, find a clear spot away from buildings, trees, and power lines. Drop to the ground.
- If you are in a car, slow down and drive to a clear place. Stay in the car until the shaking stops.
- DO NOT use matches, lighters or other fire enabling devices. You do not know if there is a gas leak.
- DO NOT use elevators. Even if the power is not lost. Structural damage to the building could make them unsafe
- Know how to turn off your gas and water mains.
To prepare for an earthquake ahead of time, consult professionals to learn how to make your home sturdier, such as bolting bookcases to wall studs, installing strong latches on cupboards, and strapping the water heater to wall studs.
To prepare for the aftermath, having a 72 hour kit is a MUST! If your house is unlivable or structurally unsound, seek shelter elsewhere. If your house is still ok, check power and gas lines. Shut them off if they are damaged. Be sure to have sturdy shoes or boots in case of sharp debris. Move away from beaches as Tsunamis could roll in. And be prepared for “aftershocks”.
Having experienced a few mild Earthquakes myself, I know it can be a scary feeling. But remaining calm and following the safety tips will help should the ground start shaking beneath your feet.
2014 was one of the worst years in the US for wildfires and forest fires. By June of that year, California alone had over 2500 fires. Given the drought conditions in some western states, these could only get worse!
Fire needs three things to survive and grow:
Wildfires occur when a small flame suddenly has an abundance of these.
In many drought stricken states such as California, the reduced rain fall makes the vegetation and undergrowth brittle and more susceptible to fire. In especially wooded areas, a bolt of lightning or even a carelessly discarded cigarette butt could spark a huge fire; result in injury, death, and millions of dollar in property damage.
There are some steps you can to use now try to protect your home from fires in the future.
- Take care of the vegetation around your house. Keep tress trimmed. Keep dead plant life or other kindling clean and away from your yard and house.
- Keep your gutters and roofs free of dead plant life also. These are great fuel sources for fires.
- If you can afford it, use flame resistant material while building your home, especially on your roofs. I’d also look at flame retardant material for inside your home, like drapes or curtains for example
- Use tight screen to seal off areas like under your porch or attic. You don’t want small embers getting into those areas.
- Keep a fully charged UL-Listed fire extinguisher in your house. Make sure everyone knows where it is and how to use it
When it comes to wildfires, they are erratic and unpredictable. Bugging in is something I would strongly discourage. People trying to save their homes from wildfires are the second leading cause of death from wildfires.
I would encourage you to evacuate early. Most of the fatalities that occur during evacuation come because people waited until the last second. The smoke and heat from the fires can make for low visibility. That, along with debris, this makes last second evacuations more dangerous.
- Close all windows and doors to prevent draft
- Move all furniture to the center of the room, away from doors and windows
- Take down curtains and other flammable objects away from windows and walls
- Turn OFF the gas to your house.
- Grab all important documentation, such as insurance policies, etc
- Turn on all lights that you can, both inside and out. This could help firefighters see in the smoke.
- Place as many water hose/sprinklers on your roof as possible. Leave them running as long as you can
If you find yourself trapped, try to protect your lungs by covering your mouth and nose with a wet towel. Get out of your house, and try to make your way to an area that has already been burned out. A lack of fuel will make those areas safer, but do not stay there. If you can find a body of water, crouch in that. Otherwise, try to find a low laying area with little vegetation. Cover your body with a wet towel or blanket.
When the fire is over and the okay has been given to return, be sure to check your house thoroughly before reentering. If there is a colored sticker on your house, follow the directions precisely. Sometimes fire crews deem houses unsafe to enter, or leave warnings.
Check the outside of the house first for scorch marks or possible fires that may still be smoldering. Walk the entire property, looking for hot spots. Some of these may have been overlooked. If you find any, soak them thoroughly if you can. Or attempt to smother them with dirt. (Not grass.)
Open the front door slowly, and check your entire house. Don’t assume that everything is ok. Sometimes small embers or smoldering debris can be overlooked. Check everywhere, including basements, attics, and outside structures.
Avoid any water as it might be contaminated. Flush your water system as well. And don’t eat any food that might have been exposed to smoke. The fumes could have had contaminates in them.
Steps for all natural disasters
While each of these disasters is different and unique, there are some steps you can do to protect yourself regardless of the disaster.
- Have multiple evacuation routes. You never know which direction the disaster is coming from, or where the damage is happening. I would have an escape route in each direction if possible
- Have disaster plans in place. Discuss these with your family and friends ahead of time. This includes alternate communication plans, rendezvous points, task and job assignments, etc
- Have a 72 hour kit. This should include dust masks, flashlights with charged batteries, emergency radio, three day supply of food and water for each person and pet in your family, etc. I would also have extra sanitation supplies, clean clothing, warm/dry bedding, emergency tools, and extra medical supplies and medications
- Have a Bug out bag containing essentials to keep you alive. Be sure to include important documentation in this as well
- Have insurance! Be aware of what your policies cover and what they don’t cover. Get it in writing.
- Document your expensive possessions with pictures, receipts, and other important documents like titles, loan paperwork etc. This helps to speed up/clear up any issues with your insurance company. Store these items in a safe, secure place
- If after a disaster you need a place to shelter and are unsure where to go, text the word “shelter” to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the closest shelter in your area
Hopefully you never experience a natural disaster. But if you do, following these tips should help keep you alive.
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