What to do When a Natural Disaster Strikes and How to be Prepared

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A natural disaster can wreak absolute havoc on one’s life. Even those that grant us a bit of warning time require quick action and adaptation. The key to surviving one of these situations is solid planning and preparation. Basically, you need to know your area, understand potential threats, create action plans ahead of time, and move quickly when you need to. We’ve unpacked these steps below so you’ll be as prepared as possible.

What is Considered a Natural Disaster?

By definition, a natural disaster is an event caused by Earth-related factors. They often come on quickly, and can cause tremendous upheaval in the area. These are also referred to as “acts of God,” and don’t just cause property damage: they also often result in injury and loss of life.

Some of the most common natural disasters include:

  • Earthquakes
  • Volcanic eruptions
  • Blizzards
  • Hailstorms
  • Avalanches
  • Tornadoes
  • Hurricanes
  • Tsunamis
  • Floods
  • Mudslides
  • Wildfires
  • Severe heat waves
  • Impact events

Between my partner and I, we’ve experienced 8 out of the 13 mentioned above. As such, we’ve learned what to do (and not to do) when SHTF.

What to Do When Disaster Strikes

As you can imagine, actions will need to vary (and adapt) based on the type of disaster you’re dealing with. After all, the protective measures needed for a flood will be different from those needed for a wildfire.

That said, the most important actions to take are almost the same across the board. When a natural disaster hits, this is what you’ll need to do:

1. Get to a Safe Shelter

The type of shelter to aim for will depend on where you are, and what’s going on around you. Should an earthquake hit unexpectedly, stay low to the ground, away from windows and doors. Brace in a doorway or sturdy closet, if possible. Stay low and still until the shaking stops. Then assess the damage around you.

If you’re in a city or suburb, fire stations and schools often double as safe harbor locations. Seek these out if you’re dealing with quake aftermath, or if there’s a risk of fire or flooding in your own home.

As far as safe shelters go, they might be a bit more difficult to get to if you’re living in a rural area. Of course, the kind of shelter you need will depend on the disaster you’re dealing with.

In case of flooding, then your best bet is to grab a tent and head to the highest point near you. In contrast, hurricanes, tornadoes, and blizzards encourage us to hunker down and get somewhere insulated, warm, and dry.

If you know you’re in a snow- or tornado-prone environment, your basement can be your best friend. Clear out an area that doesn’t have many (or any) windows. Then create a small nest there where you can lay low for a few days.

Cots and air mattresses are great, but sleeping bags and blankets on the floor will do too. Ensure you have several days’ worth of food and water within easy reach, as well as a chemical or bucket toilet.

2. Find a Source of Food and Clean Water

Clean water is the more important one here, with food being a close second. You can go without food for a lot longer than without water! That goes for every member of your family, too.

When preparing for potential disasters, pack a LifeStraw into every person’s bag, along with a couple of 2 liter water bottles. Keep a ceramic filter and a large Nalgene bottle at hand as well. If you don’t have any of these, you can melt snow into drinking water, or boil river or pond water and drink the clean condensation collected from the steam.

Emergency shelters will be able to offer you water and food, but it may be rationed. Having the means to keep yourself safely hydrated will do you a world of good.

You should be able to forage for at least some types of food out in the wild unless you’re in the desert or the arctic circle. If there are settlements nearby, seek out places of worship. They’ll often have emergency food banks for disaster relief.

While it’s important for everyone to keep a few days’ worth of food at hand, this is especially vital for people with food allergies.

You may find yourself in a situation where the only food on offer can harm or kill you. Those food banks are great, but they rarely take food sensitivities into consideration when cooking in large quantities.

As such, always have safe food supplies at hand, or create a survival cache that you can access easily.

3. Stay Warm, or Cool Down

This will of course depend on the disaster you’re dealing with. For example, someone who’s contending with wildfires will need to cool off and hydrate. In contrast, someone trying to survive a blizzard will need to warm up.

If you’re in the former situation, stay low and avoid too much agitation or stress. Drink plenty of water, and rebalance your electrolytes with Gatorade or similar, if possible.

For the latter, either stay close to a heat source or create one, such as a Swedish fire log. These can also double as cooking stoves so you can warm up food to heat you from within.

Dressing in layers is ideal. This way, you can add on extra clothing to keep you warm or strip them off to cool you down. If you’re freezing but extra clothes aren’t an option, stuff leaves or newspapers in between the layers you’re already wearing. These can provide extra insulation against the cold.

4. Take Stock of Damage, Then Take Action

When the worst has passed, you’ll either emerge from your shelter or go back to your home to survey the damage. Depending on the disaster, you might find some broken windows or flooded rooms, or you may find that your home was completely destroyed.

If your family and animals are okay, then that’s the best possible outcome. All buildings can be repaired, and items can all be replaced. From there, your next steps will involve repair or replacement.

If you’re in the United States, you can contact FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency). They have a disaster assistance application form online that you can fill out: www.DisasterAssistance.gov.

Then contact your insurance company, utility providers, mortgage company, etc. They’ll all need to be apprised of what’s going on so you won’t get billed while repairs and such are in progress.

Alternatively, if you aren’t in the US, find out which organizations you can reach out to for help.

5. Help Others

Once you and your family have been situated in a safe place, reach out to others. Contact your friends, family, and neighbors to see if they’re okay. Check on vulnerable members in your community who may be struggling, such as elders, people with disabilities, single parents, etc.

If you have food to spare, consider teaming up with others in your community to create a food and water station. You’d be amazed at how much good a bowl of hot soup can do for a soul who’s in the midst of chaos.

Keep your first aid kit handy in case anyone needs medical care, and offer additional skills as needed. When natural disaster strikes, the best thing people can do is to come together to help one another. This might involve sharing a meal, or offering a spare room to a neighbor for a few days. Whatever helps.

How to Prepare in Advance for a Natural Disaster

This cannot be reiterated enough: an ounce of prevention is worth more than you can imagine. It’s awful to be in an emergency situation and wish that you’d done that one small thing that would have meant the world of difference.

If you’ve ever watched the movie “Castaway”, you might remember how much easier the main character’s life would have been if he’d taken his multi-tool utility knife with him.

There are a number of actions you can take to prepare for natural disasters ahead of time.

1. Know Local Threats and Create Action Plans

As mentioned earlier, we recommend that you familiarize yourself with disasters that are more common in your area. For instance, we get hurricanes, tornadoes, and blizzards here in Quebec.

In contrast, when I lived in California, we had to be braced for wildfires and droughts. Similarly, I have friends in Iceland who are on constant earthquake and volcanic eruption alert.

When you have an idea of the types of disasters you may have to deal with, you can create action plans. These can involve everything from evacuation protocols in case of fire or flood, to mapping out routes to supply caches and emergency shelters.

Make documents detailing these action plans—including emergency numbers and route maps—and laminate them. Then make sure every family member has a copy in their bug-out bag.

Be sure to prep and store enough food in your cellar or pantry to keep your family fed for at least a week. Additionally, pack 72 hours’ worth of food and water in their bags, as mentioned elsewhere in this article.

2. Prepare for Difficult Circumstances Just in Case

We have several articles on how to prep for worst-case scenarios that may be helpful to you. Go through them and determine what would work best for your own family’s needs.

For example, if your area is prone to tornadoes, then take steps now to store food, clean water, and emergency gear in your basement or a storm cellar shelter nearby.

Similarly, if your area is prone to fires, do what you can to safeguard your home. Keep essential documents and prized possessions in fire-proof lockboxes, and practice packing up children and/or pets within minutes.

3. Evac Essentials

If your area gets hit by wildfires or coastal hurricanes, then create an evacuation plan asap. Work with your family so they know to assemble in a particular room when and if there’s an emergency.

Furthermore, keep your “bug-out bags” packed and ready to go so you can flee at a moment’s notice.

Include bags for every family member, including animal companions. You don’t want to have to deal with the added stress of a sick or hungry pet when you’re in a public shelter or evacuation locale. Make sure everyone packs bowls and utensils, and have two bowls per pet for food and water.

Everything else in the pack can be adapted to suit the individual.

Be sure to include essentials such as medication and first aid supplies in your bags, or carry them on your person.

When and if natural disaster strikes, try to stay calm. Put your emergency plans into action, keep your loved ones close, and stay alert.

The disaster will pass, and you’ll be able to handle whatever challenges may ensue. Just stay present, deal with things as they unfold, and help others however you can.

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