Natural disasters are escalating at an alarming rate. There is no place that is safe from the risk of some type of natural disaster.
How can I prepare to survive natural disasters? The first step in mitigating the threat of a natural disaster is to identify which types of disasters you are actually at risk for. Then take that information and carefully formulate a plan to mitigate those risks. You can’t eliminate them, but you can significantly increase your chances of positive outcomes.
In this post, we will review some good ways to start your journey to becoming resilient in the face of natural disasters.
Basic Preparations for All Natural Disasters
Start your preparations by building a strong foundation. Every family should be prepared in each of the following categories to enable them to be self-reliant and resilient, regardless of the challenges that are thrown their way.
Once you have these items in place, it is easy to prepare for the specific threats that you are at risk for.
Build a Family Emergency Plan
Develop a detailed family emergency plan. You can learn more about building your plan on our post Steps to Build a Successful Family Emergency Plan. Planning is the first step to successfully surviving a disaster.
Store enough water for your family. Our minimum guideline is 2 gallons per person per day for at least 2 weeks. You may be able to get by with less but it would be extremely difficult. Purchase a high-quality water filter and other supplies to purify additional water if you need it.
Check out our post How to Store Water for Emergency Preparedness to learn everything you need to know about storing water for emergencies.
Stock a Supply of Food
A full pantry brings a great deal of peace along with it. We recommend that everyone store at least a 3 month supply of everyday foods. In addition, build a survival food supply of basic grains and staples that have been packaged for long term storage.
Learn more about building your emergency food supply at these helpful posts.
- 3 Months Supply of Food: Amazing Peace of Mind
- Ingenious Places to Store Your Emergency Food Supply
- Long Term Food Storage: Creative Solutions to Build a Critical Asset
- 8 Food Storage Enemies and How to Slay Them
Be Ready for Emergency Evacuation
Be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice. Build a personal survival kit for each member of the family as well as one for each vehicle and your place of employment. Gather all your critical documents together in one location.
For some great ideas visit, How to Organize Critical Documents for Emergency Evacuation.
Prepare to Survive without Utilities
Natural disasters are often accompanied by utility outages, including electricity, natural gas, water and sewer, and garbage removal. Acquire non-electric lighting, heating, and cooking devices that will safely take care of your needs during a power outage. Safely store the fuel you need to power those devices.
Develop a plan and have the tools you need to live without water and sewer. Often overlooked is the need for backup sanitation, including dealing with garbage.
For more information on this our post Prepping for Emergency Sanitation.
Build an emergency savings account so that you will have the needed funds to travel, pay for temporary living arrangements, or rebuild and repair the damage. Keep cash in small bills at home in a secure location.
If you take care of all of the foundational items above, you will be ready to battle almost all of the natural disasters we discuss in this post.
Now let’s explore common natural disasters and specific ways that you might be able to mitigate for each of these events.
Natural Disaster Risk Mitigation
You may not be at risk for all of the disasters we list below. For instance, if you live on the coast of Florida you probably aren’t at risk for a severe winter storm. You are at risk for hurricanes and flooding.
I live in earthquake country in the mountain states so we are definitely at risk for earthquakes, drought, wildfires, and flooding, but there is no risk of a tsunami. Geographical location plays a major factor in determining your risk. Prepare for the natural disasters that have the highest probability of impacting you.
Drought is usually accompanied by increased temperatures, elevated fire hazard, insect infestation, plant disease, crop failure, decreased livestock production, and damage to wildlife. The economy is affected through higher food prices, loss of tourism, and increased unemployment rates.
The effects of drought can be reduced by implementing water conservation strategies in everyday life.
Perhaps you may want to implement some of these strategies to reduce the impact a drought might have on your family:
- Educate yourself on droughts. A good source for drought information can be obtained at the National Integrated Drought Information System. This site contains regional assessments, maps, and indexes which are helpful in monitoring water shortages.
- Practice water conservation in your everyday life.
- Purchase water-efficient appliances and install low flow plumbing fixtures in the kitchen and bathrooms.
- Landscape with native or drought-tolerant plants.
- Install efficient watering systems such as a drip system to water gardens and landscapes.
- Deep mulch around shrubs and garden plants to reduce evaporation and weeds. Check out the movie and website, Back to Eden, to learn how one man successfully gardened with very little water.
- Grow a food forest that is designed to be self-sustaining. Once mature, a well-designed food forest may not require supplemental water and will be more tolerant to drought conditions.
Three factors play into the intensity of shaking that a home or structure is likely to experience. The magnitude of the earthquake, the kind of ground the home is built on, and the distance from the epicenter.
Earthquakes can cause certain soils to behave like a liquid and lose their ability to support structures. Soils in low-lying areas with saturated, loose, sandy soils and poorly compacted artificial fill have the highest potential for liquefaction.
Earthquakes can damage vital infrastructures such as roads, bridges, water and sewer pipelines, natural gas and electrical distribution systems. Fires often follow earthquakes in urban areas due to gas line breaks and electrical malfunctions.
Hazardous materials may be released from refineries, chemical storage, and distribution systems, manufacturing plants, railroad cars, and trucks. Dams may fail resulting in large scale flooding. Earthquakes can trigger landslides and rockfalls.
There is a high probability that emergency services will not be available for a period of time after an earthquake. The 9-1-1 emergency system will be overloaded. Firefighters may have limited access due to road damage and little water because of ruptured water lines. Hospitals and medical facilities may be damaged. Emergency rooms, trauma centers, and expedient care facilities will likely be overwhelmed.
After an earthquake, construction equipment, materials, and personnel will be in limited supply. Costs will likely increase. Restoration will take time.
If you live in earthquake country, as we do, you may want to take these steps to prepare.
- Locate the fault lines in your area. Go to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to get the facts on earthquakes and fault lines.
- Explore the benefits of earthquake insurance and decide if it makes sense for your situation.
- Identify potential hazards in your home and mitigate them.
- Secure tall or heavy furniture to the wall with safety cables or straps.
- Use earthquake clip hooks or hangers to hang all large framed mirrors and pictures.
- Install earthquake straps on your water heater(s).
- Use earthquake putty, museum putty or QuakeHOLD to secure knickknacks to surfaces and keep them in place.
- Secure flat-screen televisions with straps such as QuakeHOLD! Universal Flat Screen Safety Straps.
- Generally, look around and see what may fall on you and do something to keep that from happening.
- Keep a gas shut-off wrench near the main gas line in the event you need to turn off your gas.
- Know how to turn off your main water valve and shut off the power to your home.
Extreme Winter Storms
Surviving extreme winter storms is a way of life for many people who live in very cold climates. Advanced preparation and knowledge can significantly reduce the chance of serious illness and death resulting from exposure to extreme cold.
Be prepared to hunker down and stay off the roads. Travel during a winter storm is dangerous and not worth risking unless it is an absolute emergency.
Our post, Preparing to Enjoy the Winter Storm from the Safety of Your Home goes into pretty good detail to help you understand what you can do to prepare.
Consider taking the following steps as a starting point to help mitigate the risk of extreme winter storms:
- Plan for alternative ways to heat your home. See Surviving a Winter Power Outage – How to Stay Warm to learn more about surviving freezing temperatures without electricity.
- Purchase a NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR) which will keep you informed of hazardous conditions in your area. Monitor local weather reports to keep an eye on upcoming storms.
- Prepare your home and make it as energy efficient as possible. Contact your local utility company to request an energy audit. Many states have programs that will provide the service free of charge. Visit DSIRE (Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency) to see what incentives and rebates are available in your area to make your home more energy-efficient.
- Make sure that every member of your family has the right winter clothing to stay warm without power. Learn more at How to Dress for Extreme Winter Weather.
- Stock your pantry with high calorie, shelf-stable, easy-to-prepare canned foods and beverages such as soup, chili, stew, beans, ramen, bouillon, tea, and cocoa. Make sure that you have plenty of food to outlast the storm.
- Perfect a few ways of cooking indoors without electricity. Visit our post Safe Indoor Emergency Cooking Solutions for a few great ideas for safely cooking indoors.
Floods are a common, highly destructive hazard. Flooding can go beyond damage to and loss of personal property. It can contaminate water supplies spreading water-borne diseases, overwhelm drainage/sewer systems, disrupt power supplies, destroy crops, and close roads.
Repairs to infrastructure such as roads, bridges and public utilities can take a significant time to complete. Local economies may be devastated.
Consider the following ideas to mitigate your risk of flooding:
- Evaluate the risk to your home. Go to Fema Flood Map Service Center to find a flood plain map of your area.
- Where is your home in relation to surrounding land? Are there dams or dikes in your area? Do you live on a hillside where flooding may cause landslides?
- Study the way water drains around your home. Can you alter the grade to encourage water to flow away from your home?
- Be ready to evacuate quickly. Keep personalized survival kits packed and ready to go. Learn how to create the perfect emergency survival kit here.
- Organize your important documents and backup important computer files. Learn more about how to accomplish this at How to Organize Critical Documents for Emergency Evacuation
- Install a sump pump with a backup power system, if you have a basement.
- Purchase flood insurance, as necessary. Carefully investigate exactly what the policy covers and make sure it covers your risk adequately.
Long, hot summers put a strain on utilities and can cause widespread brownouts and blackouts. The young, overweight, sick, and elderly are especially vulnerable to extreme heat. Wildfires resulting from dried out vegetation and crop failures may also be consequences of heatwaves.
Consider some of the following ideas to prepare for extreme heat:
- Plan to beat the heat by preparing your home and understanding what to do.
- Consider traveling out of the affected area, if possible.
- Stock bottled water, sports drinks, and other non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages to encourage hydration.
Hurricane – Tropical Storm – Typhoon
Fifty-three percent of Americans live within 100 miles of a coast where hurricanes, floods, and tropical storms are annual events. It is important to understand your vulnerability and take action to mitigate your risk. Storm surge, heavy rainfall, inland flooding, high winds, tornadoes, and rip currents are all possible hazards produced by hurricanes.
If you live in an area where hurricanes are a possibility, you might want to consider some of the following mitigation options to decrease your risk:
- Go to NOAA’s National Weather Service National Hurricane Center for timely information on hurricane and tropical cyclone activity, along with other weather information.
- Learn how your home may be affected by storm surge or flooding. Contact your city planning and zoning department, your insurance agent, or visit FloodSmart to learn more about your risk of flooding.
- Purchase a NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR) which will keep you informed of hazardous conditions in your area.
- Be prepared to evacuate quickly. Evacuate at first warning to avoid traffic jams and booked hotels. Do not risk being trapped in your car by waiting until the last minute to evacuate.
- Make sure you have a marked evacuation map in your car with alternate routes. Know how to find higher ground.
- Never let your gas tank drop below the half-way mark.
- Prepare and stock a safe room, with a first aid kit (include prescription medications), battery-powered emergency radio, batteries, flashlight, blankets, water, sanitation supplies, snacks, and copies of important documents and computer files.
- Install permanent hurricane shutters, if you can afford them. Storm panels with brackets to hold them in place can also be used. The least expensive option is to board up windows with 5/8” plywood. Make sure to prepare them in advance, clearly mark which window they fit, and predrill holes so they can be put in place quickly.
Land Slide – Mud Slide – Debris Flow
Landslides can be caused by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, heavy rainfall, deforestation, overdevelopment, and mining. High-risk areas include Washington, Oregon, and coastal regions, however, they can occur in just about any hilly or mountainous area.
Landslides move with great speed and force. Mudslides, or debris flows, are a rapidly-moving landslide that frequently flow in channels. Areas burned by wildfires are highly vulnerable.
When rainfall rapidly saturates the ground, the chance of mudslides increase. They can be extremely dangerous and strike without warning. Houses can be completely swept away with the fast-moving debris.
Homes built on steep slopes, edges of mountains, canyon bottoms, near stream channels, or canyon outlets are at high risk. Areas prone to landslides are beautiful places to live but come with a serious risk factor.
A few ideas to help mitigate some of the risk factors are covered below:
- Visit USGS Landslide Hazards Program to view a hazard map of landslides in the United States.
- Consider relocating or consult a geotechnical engineer to learn how you can make your property more resilient.
- Learn about emergency response and evacuation plans for your area. Is there more than one route to evacuate your neighborhood? Be prepared to evacuate immediately.
- Watch your property for signs of earth movement: cracked foundation, cracks or bulges in the ground or pavement, patches of ground that do not dry out, leaning structures, tilted trees, fences, or walls.
- When indicated, contact a geotechnical expert to immediately evaluate the situation.
No place is safe from tornadoes. If the weather conditions are favorable, tornadoes can occur just about anywhere. Connective storms that produce hail and strong winds and generate tornadoes can also bring heavy rains and cause localized flooding.
Tornados can range from a few yards to over a mile wide. They can move slowly or as fast as 60 miles per hour. Size does not predict intensity or strength.
Consider taking these steps as you mitigate your risk for tornados:
- Go to NOAA’s National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center for timely information on tornados along with other weather information.
- Consider installing a tornado safe room in your home. FEMA has created detailed instructions on how to build a safe room. You can access that site here.
- Stock a fortified safe room, with a first aid kit (include prescription medications), battery-powered emergency radio, batteries, flashlight, blankets, water, sanitation supplies, snacks, and copies of important documents and computer files.
- Learn what emergency plans your place of employment and schools have in place. Does your daycare provider have an appropriate plan in place?
- Reinforce the connection between the roof and walls with hurricane straps and bracing. Building code may have required this depending on where and when your home was built.
Tsunamis are gigantic waves created by an underwater disruption such as an earthquake or volcanic eruption. The seismic sea waves can be over 100 feet high and travel hundreds of miles per hour, slowing as they reach shallow waters. Most of the time they are like a fast-rising flood with very strong currents.
Anyone who lives along a coastline is at risk. The greatest risk is to those within one mile of the shoreline and less than 25 feet above sea level.
If you live in or visit a tsunami hazard zone, consider the following mitigation steps:
- Visit the U.S. Tsunami Warning System for tsunami warnings, advisories or watches. You can receive messages via E-mail, RSS, Internet, radio, NOAA Weather radio, marine radio, and television.
- Many coastal communities are equipped with sirens and warning systems. Know what the tones mean and what to do in the event they are activated.
- Identify danger zones, safe areas, and assembly locations. A family tsunami education video entitled, Tsunamis: Know What to Do! is a great way to start the conversation with your family.
Ferocious wildfire seasons grow increasingly more common due to drought, high temperatures, accumulations of fuel, and continued growth of wildland-urban interface areas.
Wildfires are influenced by topography (physical features of the land), weather (wind, humidity, and temperature), and fuel (vegetation and man-made structures). You are at risk if you live in, or near, areas with large amounts of vegetation. Fires move rapidly upslope; the steeper the slope, the faster it travels.
Advanced preparation is critical in reducing the risk of wildfire damage. A home’s ignition risk is determined by the landscape immediately around it (up to 200 feet) along with the materials the home is constructed of. Buildings within 100 feet can ignite one another.
Forested areas are beautiful places to live but come with a level of risk that can be mitigated to some extent, but not completely. If you choose to live in an area at risk for wildfire consider taking some of the following steps to mitigate the risk:
- The National Fire Protection Association has valuable information on preparing your home to survive wildfires.
- Keep your property cleared of leaves, lawn clippings, brush piles, and dead limbs. Prune low hanging limbs and thin trees and bushes.
- Do not provide fuel for the fire anywhere near your home. Stack firewood away from your home.
- Consider using noncombustible exterior building materials such as brick, stone, cement tile shingles, or metal roofing if you build or remodel.
- Fireproof shutters may protect your windows from radiant heat.
- The wood exterior can be protected by painting with a fire shield barrier that sinks right into the wood and keeps it from igniting.
- Plywood decking can be covered with Quikrete concrete and painted with fire-resistant paint.
- Carefully investigate exactly what your homeowner’s insurance policy covers. Will it cover damages caused by a wildfire? Are there requirements you must meet to be covered?
- Be prepared to evacuate your home immediately. Visit our post, Wildfire Evacuation: Prepare Now to Protect Your Family.
Preparing to Thrive When Disaster Strikes
We prepare for disasters so that no matter what happens, we will have the knowledge, skills, and supplies to thrive regardless of the challenges. Advanced preparations take planning, time, and resources. However, those preparations can make all the difference in the outcome.
Do not allow fear to motivate you. Look around and recognize the threat. Then wisely take the steps that make sense to protect you and your family when disaster strikes.
Thanks for being part of the solution!Jonathan and Kylene Jones