Monday, 22 June 2015

Disaster preparedness - Plan, pack, proof

Natural disasters can strike pretty much anywhere and anytime. I'm not just talking about volcanic eruptions, but anything from flooding through wind to earthquakes, landslides, and more. I have never lived in a place that was 100% free from natural disasters, and probably never will. Neither do you. 

When I was in southern Germany, we got thunderstorms, hail, and crazy rain that can lead to flooding, especially in the plains at the foot of the European Alps. In the mountains themselves, landslides and rockfalls are not unheard of. In New Zealand, we had earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, storms, and even the odd tsunami alert from earthquakes happening far away. In BC, volcanoes are only a smaller problem, but (potentially large) earthquakes can happen. Whereas the West coast of Vancouver Island may get hit by Tsunamis, Vancouver is relatively sheltered. Winter storms can still hit pretty badly. I recently did a temporary move to Houston, Texas. If you've been following some US news I'm sure you heard/read about the Memorial Day flooding we've had down there. Tropical storm Bill, which followed a couple weeks later, was relatively harmless, thankfully, but Hurricane season has just started and we don't yet know what it will bring. The storm, however, got me thinking once again about being prepared for natural disasters.

Even though we may have little or no warning of what's coming our way (depending on whether we're talking weather, volcanic eruptions, or earthquakes, for example), there are definitely ways in which we can at least try to soften the impact natural disasters have on our lives. Of course, my German-ness makes me biased - after I all I love planning things, but in this particular case we could all benefit from some small preventative measures. The type of preparation might change depending on what kind of natural disasters your region is prone to, but some things are the same no matter whether you live in a volcanic area or somewhere with blizzards dumping snow on you. There are two important things to keep in mind:

  1. Come up with a plan well in advance. Whereas with a hurricane we might get a few days warning ahead of time, earthquakes unfortunately don't do us favours like that. We want to be ready when disaster strikes, and it will only take maybe an afternoon to come up with the basics.
  2. Most of your planning will not go into the logistics for the actual event, but mostly the aftermath - when power and water might be gone, infrastructure might be damaged, shops closed, and when we might have to be self-sustained for a number of days.

So that being said, here are some simple things that you can do to reduce the damage a natural disaster might do to your home, belongings, and loved ones.

Phase 1: Plan

Educate yourself about natural disasters that might happen in your area. Geologic surveys, met offices, and other (potentially government run) organizations and their websites are great resources. Work your way down from large to small: What natural disasters occur in my part of the world? How would my town be affected? My neighbourhood? My house? My commute? My workplace? My kids' school? For example, you might live in an area where flash flooding can occur after heavy rain, but your house is on top of a hill, in which case you would not necessarily have to be super worried about large amounts of water accumulating in or around your house. Or you may live in an earthquake prone region, and your house might be on top of sand or gravel type sediments, in which case the shaking from an earthquake might be worse than if the building was on a thick, stable granite. Knowing what could happen can win you half the battle. Below an example of an earthquake hazard map for Victoria, BC, from the Ministry of Energy and Mines. Similar resources might also be available in public libraries.

Relative earthquake hazard map for Victoria, BC. Monahan et al, 2000, from Ministry of Energy and Mines (

Furthermore, come up with a plan for your family. How are family members going to get in touch in case of a disaster? Is there somebody outside the area who could serve as a check-in point? What if the event occurs when you are at work/school? What if it's at night? Do you have a pet that needs extra consideration? Make sure everyone is aware of the hazards and knows what to do. Again, there are some amazing online resources that make coming up with a plan really easy.

Phase 2: Pack

Once you know the potential natural disasters and their impacts, pack an emergency kit. Imagine being without water/power/outside help for several days. You will need enough water for everyone in the house, dry/canned food, medications, first aid, flashlights, spare batteries, cell phones and chargers (ideally with portable power sources), some tools and/or an army knife, your most important documents such as passports, some blankets, warm/waterproof clothes, and so on. Having documents in a waterproof case/envelope might be useful. Some extra items like sleeping bags, or your children's favourites toys could be a good idea too. Make sure everything is in one, easily accessible place, and everyone knows where that is. If you don't want to assemble a kit yourself, you can even buy them online! Be sure to change water/food/medication every few months so that nothing is out of date. And again, having everything ready well before a natural disaster occurs is crucial - when I went to the supermarket the night before Bill was supposed to make landfall they were almost out of bottled water, and canned food was running quite low too.

Phase 3: Proof

Last but not least, try to proof your house for the potential event. For example, in earthquake regions you could move heavy items to the bottom of shelves instead of the top, to avoid heavy objects such as books tumbling down and injuring people. Or, in regions along hurricane paths it might be useful to always secure or limit the number of loose items in the backyard/on your balcony, outdoor shutters, and more. It all depends on the type of natural disaster happening in your area.

That doesn't sound so difficult, does it? By doing all this you won't be able to reduce the hazard (i.e. the potential for natural disasters) to your particular area, but at least you have done everything in your power to lower the risk (i.e. your vulnerability to the existing hazards). In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't take long, it doesn't cost much, but it might make your life a lot easier in case something really does happen! Stay safe!

1 comment:

  1. Your post is very helpful, thank you. As a responsible person, living on planet Earth is extremely important to learn how to prepare for a natural disaster, regardless of your current location. Mother Nature is a patient entity but, from time to time, even she has her moments. See more