Here’s a sobering factoid: Of all natural disasters, flooding causes the most fatalities. It brings to light something we don’t like to think about. Natural disasters are unexpected and can be deadly.
Natural disasters are terrifying. Communications get cut, roads are closed, homes and possessions are lost. And in the worst cases, lives are taken from us. The problem is that once we’re in its grip, it’s challenging to find a foothold and regain control of the situation.
That’s the power of a natural disaster – it throws you into a dangerous situation that can escalate beyond catastrophe if poorly managed. But the chaos can be mitigated to some degree. In part, it involves preparation. But it also consists of keeping calm and making sensible choices once the disaster is upon you.
Keep reading for tips on surviving natural disasters, what to do to prepare, and how to survive a disaster like a flood, a bushfire, volcanic eruption, hurricane, tornado, and more.
Preparing for a Natural Disaster: Survival Tips
For lack of a better description, natural disaster safety involves two key elements: preparation for the unexpected and clear-mindedness when the unexpected happens. In other words, it pays to have a plan.
And a good plan starts with an emergency kit – a repository of little more than a backpack of essentials that somebody can grab quickly. Prepack this bag with essential items you may need should everyday life be disrupted. Here are a few suggestions for what goes into your (waterproof) emergency kit:
- Cash – if possible, a small amount may help you out of a pickle
- Copies of your ID
- Dry food (trail mix or jerky)
- First aid kit – for emergencies
- Flashlight (with batteries)
- Medication – if you take essential or chronic medication, set aside a week’s worth
- Powerbank (charged) – If power is cut, you may still want to keep your mobile active
- Radio – a small FM or AM radio – a decent mobile can work, but a radio lasts longer, especially with spare batteries
- If there’s space, pack some spare clothes, particularly socks and underwear
What to Do in a Natural Disaster
Now you have some idea of how to prepare for a natural disaster. But once the disaster is upon you, there may be little you can do to change the situation immediately.
You can, however, do a few general things to dramatically improve your situation or your chances of getting through it. Here’s what to do in a disaster situation:
- Listen to first responders, especially when ordered to evacuate (or to stay put). They are most likely following the best protocol under the known circumstances.
- Send texts to contact family or friends. If the networks are busy, a text is more likely to push through.
- Be wary of operating a generator if power is cut.
- Try to manage first aid situations responsibly.
Specific Safety Tips for Natural Disasters
Some disaster safety tips are specific to certain types of disasters. Here are a few sensible steps to take should you be caught up in these situations:
Wildfires and Bushfires
Every year, thousands of square miles of wildlife and bush are destroyed by fire. Property owners in wildfire areas have a specific safety regimen that they should follow. Watch weather and advice channels for fire alerts, and when you need to evacuate, do so immediately. Fires move incredibly quickly.
Nora Dunn’s travel blog The Professional Hobo carries a harrowing account of being caught in an Australian bushfire disaster while on her travels.
You can also listen to her talk about it on the Travel Horror Stories podcast here.
In a tornado situation, the advice is to get low. Head for a basement, stay out of hallways and seek spaces where few things can fly around. Most importantly, NEVER be outside.
If a basement isn’t at hand, or you’re in a public building, head for the bathroom. Bathrooms are more likely made from concrete, while many other rooms or structures are built with wood or dry materials.
If authorities issue flood warnings, take the advice to evacuate. If possible, get to high ground, and expect that roads and communications will be cut off. Be careful even after the water recedes, as it may leave dangers of mudslides or unsafe structures. Follow emergency services advice at all times.
Areas with hurricane seasons tend to promote apps that indicate warnings – apply them when you travel to these regions. Be aware that hurricanes sometimes have momentary calm moments – the eye. Don’t venture outside until authorities indicate that it is safe.
If possible, get to higher ground. Lava flows downward. It’s essential to protect your breathing. Volcanic ash is toxic, and you can easily be overwhelmed. Try to acquire some sort of mask to breathe through.
You might also benefit from eye protection – goggles or similar. Wear protective clothing; long sleeves and pants, if possible, as well as boots you can tuck your pants into.
Earthquakes are sometimes considered the most unpredictable of disasters. Get as low to the ground and under a heavy cover if possible. Don’t use elevators – if you are caught in one, get out as soon as possible.
Avoid electrical cables and structures that look unsafe. If you’re near the coast, be aware that earthquakes may trigger a tsunami or flooding.
The most basic advice is to head for high ground. Remember that a tsunami isn’t a one-wave phenomenon. It’s usually a multi-wave invasion of water that can last several hours.
If you have the benefit of a warning, go to the safe ground immediately. Do not wait, not even to find your emergency kit, unless it’s right by your bed.
If the higher ground isn’t close by, anything will do… a rooftop, a tall, healthy tree – anything. Find the most elevated and most robust structure in your area, and stay safe until authorities give an all-clear.
Final Thoughts: Surviving a Natural Disaster
With a bit of luck, preparedness and a plan will help you manage the worst aspects of a natural disaster. But even the best strategy isn’t a guarantee of absolute safety.
Remember to stay calm as far as possible, and try to keep a clear mind. At the very least, you should feel slightly more empowered if you’ve thought about what to do during a natural disaster.