Natural Disaster Preparedness and Survival

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Natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards and even ice storms and flooding disasters can be predicted or forecasted to some extent. Hurricanes can be tracked by satellite imagery and experts can predict with a great deal of accuracy when and where they make landfall. Warnings and alerts are issued when weather conditions are favorable for a tornado. While not necessarily predictable, the likelihood of one occurring is high. The same thing applies to ice storms, blizzards and floods; if the weather conditions are favorable, they may occur.

The natural disasters described are seasonal meaning you have months during the off-season to prepare. Preparing at the last minute may mean you cannot get the much need emergency supplies. Once the warnings and alerts go out people that have put off their preparations will try to gather as much as they can resulting in shortages at your local retail stores. Preparing over time also makes it more economically feasible because you can gather a little bit each time you do your regular shopping.

The Three Phases of a Natural Disaster

The first phase is the days leading up to the disaster. You should be putting the final touches on your disaster plan and going over “what ifs” with the family during this time. Discuss where to gather in the home, and emergency evacuation procedures if you believe you will have to leave. Monitor all televisions and radio stations in your area for updated information on evacuation orders.

To determine if you area is susceptible to storm surges please visit NOAA’s Storm Surge page.

For information on your state and local emergency planning please, visit FEMA’s web site.

Phase 2 is the disaster itself, the storm is upon you and essentially all you can do at this point is to wait until it is over before assessing damages. Do not attempt to leave once the storm hits unless you and your family are in immediate danger.

Phase 3 is the days after and they can be a disaster in and of themselves. You will experience power outages meaning you do not have water, electricity, gas for cooking and at this point, you may not be able to travel.

It is not necessarily the disaster you are surviving but the effects of the disaster in the days after.

Tornado Damage in Lafayette, TN.  Source: FEMA.
Tornado Damage in Lafayette, TN. Source: FEMA.

Getting Started

Emergency management experts recommended you have at least 72-hours worth of supplies. Given the recent events such as super storm sandy, three days’ worth of supplies is not nearly enough. The utilities were disrupted for weeks and even months in some cases after the storm. The reason for this recommendation is that the disaster relief manuals they use state that emergency responders shall be on the ground within 72 hours of any natural or manmade disasters. This may be the case in some instances. However, it does not mean you will have contact with them nor does it mean they will have any emergency supplies to hand out. It is recommended you prepare for at least 14 days.

Ensure you know the locations of all emergency shelters in your area and you have driven the routes so once you have to leave there is no question as to which direction to travel. Make sure more than one member of the family knows the locations.

Study all emergency evacuations routes out of your city or area and map out alternative routes because once disaster does strike, the highways and roads may become a disaster area themselves because of the number of people evacuating. Do not hesitate once you have decided to leave. You want to get ahead of as many other people as you can otherwise you can be trapped along the highways for hours or even days in some cases.

The Essentials You Should Have In Your Home

Water is critical and practically speaking you cannot have too much. However, there are limits to how much you can stockpile so use the recommended one gallon/four liters per person daily to calculate amounts. The average adult needs two quarts/liters just to replace lost body fluids daily. The one-gallon recommendation considers personal hygiene along with hydration requirements. If you plan to use dehydrated foods, which require water in their preparation, add one more gallon per person daily.

Food is comforting and you will always consume more than you expect. Younger children will be bored as well as some adults and they will turn to food. A family of four if you are using canned foods will require 12 cans daily. Each person will need one can of protein (tuna, meat-based soups and so forth), one can of vegetables and one of fruit daily. Supplement using beef jerky and other high protein items such as peanut butter on crackers.

Meals Ready to Eat (MRE’s) are another option. You can purchase military issue in most surplus stores or on the Internet or purchase civilian versions in any camping goods store. MRE’s are self-contained, and each package is a full meal containing approximately 1,200 calories, and they include condiments and eating utensils. They can be eaten from the package cold or immersed in hot water for heating. Each adult will need two per day. Average cost per package is $7.00 USD this does not include taxes or any shipping costs.

MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) package held by a resident in Louisiana.  Source: FEMA.
MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) package held by a resident in Louisiana. Source: FEMA.

Dehydrated foods require water for reconstitution and the means to heat the water. You have a large variety from which to choose and they have a shelf life of up to 30 years if unopened. Each can will have many more meals in it than a can of similar size that is not dehydrated. You must have an adequate supply of water and a heat source if you use dehydrated foods.

You will also need adequate medical supplies and medicines and this is particularly important if you have small children. Access to medical care during a disaster will be limited or there will not be any at all so you must have the medications your children need for common childhood illnesses.

Ensure you have hand sanitizer to help control the spread of bacteria. Bathrooms may not work. Many disasters will cause the sewage systems to close off drain valves, which means if you use your drains, or toilets the sewage can back up into the home. If there is flooding it is recommended you do not flush your toilets. Use portable toilets or waste bags designed for human waste. You simply cannot allow waste of any sort to gather inside the home. Waste and spoiled foods will cause rodent and insect infestations as well as provide a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria.

You will need illumination such as oil or propane fueled lanterns and battery operated flashlights. Candles are considered a fire hazard by many experts and you will have to be cautious if using around children. Make sure you have communications devices such as two-way radios (Walkie-Talkies) and have a portable radio so you can monitor for information.

It is assumed you would have clothing and personal hygiene items along with cooking utensils and blankets already in the home. You should consider portable camp stoves that use propane and small charcoal grills that can fit on a small patio, and of course never use indoors.

Getting Your Home Ready

If you know or suspect the disaster, may involve high winds you should have plywood sheets, heavy tarps and rolls of plastic along with nails, hammers and duct tape on hand. Cover all glass opening from the outside with plywood to protect against flying glass. You can cover windows from the inside with plastic sheeting, tarps and tape to help slow down flying glass if you do not have plywood or enough of it.

Trim or remove any branches, trees and other vegetation that can damage the home because of high winds. Remove all loose objects such as lawn furniture to a secure location. Keep the car full, and make sure you have cell phone chargers in the car. Have all of your important documents in one place and packaged so they can be carried with you if you have to evacuate. Have cash and change on hand in the event ATM’s do not work and if the power is out stores and gas stations cannot process debit or credit cards.

Make sure food and water supplies are packaged so they can be loaded into your vehicle.

If there is a mandatory evacuation order given, begin packing supplies in the vehicle. Do not assume emergency shelters will have any supplies or assume that disaster relief agencies will be handing out emergency supplies in the next few days. Even if you plan to use a motel/hotel, carry your supplies with you.

Have shovels, brooms and garbage bags/cans for cleanup. You should also have heavy work gloves and sturdy shoes for everyone. Have dust masks and safety glasses on hand to use when cleaning up.

Stay inside your structure to avoid falling/flying debris and downed power lines. Being inside any structure other than a mobile home is always safer than being outside.

If you live in a mobile home (trailer) and there is a high wind event leave immediately and find another structure for shelter.