Wednesday, May 22, 2013

TUTORIAL - Dealing with Natural Disasters

Natural disasters are often contained to one area, but can often have devastating, wide-spread effects. In many cases, the after-effects of these disasters can cause more fatalities and damage than the disasters themselves.

Here I'll cover some of the more common natural disasters, and go over some information on how best to survive when they happen.


Large-scale floods can be utterly devastating. They destroy properties en-masse, cause large-scale evacuations, take out mains power and water affecting a much wider area than just the site of the flood, and they also are hotbeds for the spread of infection and disease. There is no way to stop a flood. Water is patient, powerful and incredibly destructive. When it goes bad, it REALLY goes bad. So there are a few things to keep in mind when flood does strike.

Be aware: Keep informed as best you can. Local authorities will generally keep television and radio communications regular and informative. If you know when it'll reach you, you'll know how long you have to prepare.

Prepare: Turn off gas and electricity to your place of residence, as floodwaters can turn both of these into very damaging forces to your property. Use this time also to prepare emergency food and water supplies, as well as warm clothing and wet weather gear. A WaterBOB is a great way to quickly store a large water supply. Gather your prepared stores and get ready to dig in. Unless you're in a particularly bad floodplain, it's safer for you to stay put, but be prepared to get out quickly if you have to.
When preparing, remember that you'll be potentially living long term in a house without working gas, power and possibly water. While there will be a lot of water around, it won't necessarily be safe to drink.

Arrange: Move everything in your house to the highest point. Make sure all of your stores and equipment are in an easy to reach place. Only the most severe of floods reach past the first storey of houses.

Be tenacious: The urge to flee your property will be high, but the safest thing for you to do is to remain with your house, even if it means setting up a shelter on your roof. If you are well prepared, it won't be a problem.

If you do need to evacuate: When moving by car, keep a close eye on the height of the road. Remember that even a slight drop in the road height can make the difference between drivable water levels and a stalled car. If your car does stall, abandon it immediately. A waterlogged car won't easily start again. The basic rule is, unless you have a specially designed offroad vehicle, you shouldn't drive through water higher than the mid-way point of your car's wheels, or your knees. If you have to cross a flooded bridge, take exceptional care, as part of the bridge may have been swept away and you might not see it through the water, which will likely be cloudy with silt.

The aftermath: The aftermath of a large-scale flood can be devastating. All of the now stagnant water will quickly breed mosquitoes which can carry diseases such as Ross River Virus and even Malaria. This will be proliferated by any dead fish or other animal carcasses which may have washed up during the flood. Keep inside your residence as much as possible and use home-made bleach spray (see bleach post) to purify the air in your house. Be sure to bury or burn any animal carcasses on or near your property to prevent the spread of infection and insects. Do not eat them, even if short on food.
Be wary of travel too far from your property until you are certain no more storms or floods are coming, as it may not yet be safe. Many instances of flood weather come in waves.

Tsunami floods: Tsunamis can be particularly dangerous to coastal communities as the floodwaters come in as a form of large tide, bringing exceptionally large volumes of water inland. The main thing to remember with tsunamis is that they come in multiple phases, so it may not be safe to immediately return to the disaster site once the waters have receeded, as you may be killed by a subsequent wave.


In the other direction, drought can be just as damaging - oftentimes moreso, as it and its effects last for much longer.
The drought itself is never the killer. It's the aftermath that does the extreme damage. It destroys crops, dries up water sources and causes the death of animals and birds in a large scale, which damages the food chain in such a way that it affects all life.
Since it is such an all-encompassing disaster, and so slow moving, there is little you can do when drought strikes, but here is my advice:

Be aware of domino effects: Drought causes dryness and dryness leads to fire. Drought may be a slow-moving killer, but wild fires are not. They spread rapidly and can wipe out incredibly large areas in a matter of hours. During a drought, everything becomes super dry and the tiniest spark, or a glass bottle left in the bush can set off a gigantic bushfire that will tear through everything in its path, especially with no water available to stop it.
In addition to fire, the carcasses of animals who didn't make it can lead to infection spreading rapidly. Bury the corpses nice and deeply to prevent this from happening. Unless absolutely necessary, avoid burning the corpses due to the high risk of fire spreading. If you must have a fire, dig a deep, wide pit away from any exposed grass or trees, exposing nothing but bare soil to the flames. Be sure never to leave the fire unattended.

Stay hygenic: Dry, hot weather can lead to the quick spread of disease. Allow yourself to sweat as it will open and clean the pores of your skin, but be aware of your hydration levels as well. Though water is scarce, be sure to maintain adequate cleanliness after defacation and before handling food.
Flies can become a serious problem in a drought. Be sure to keep all food and food preparation tools covered as much as possible to prevent the spread of disease, and try to keep food and water stores out of the way of any dust, as winds are often high during drought.

Be water-wise: Store water whenever you can get it, but be sure to sanitize it, either with bleach, hydrogen peroxide, or, if you're careful with the fire, via boiling. If at all possible, make use of multiple sanitation avenues, just to be safe. If you don't have large containers for water storage, you can create your own water tank by digging a large trench in an area that is shaded as much as possible and lining it with polyurethane sheeting, such as garbags, to make it watertight. If no sheeting is available, using clay or even cement if you have the means, is also appropriate. If you are able to build the walls of the trench up into a partial dome, it will help keep the water at a cooler temperature as it leaves a smaller opening at the top. Be wary of any water you store this way, as it will attract animals. If they contaminate it, it will contaminate you, so be careful. Boil or otherwise sanitize any and all water before consuming.
Never waste water. Think of creative ways to safely re-use water, such as using cooking water to wash yourself.

Keep hydrated: Dehydration can pose serious health risks. Remember that your body will retain water much better if you do your hydrating in large bursts, rather than sipping constantly. Try also to eat foods that are naturally high in moisture, such as fruit. Canned stores are good for this purpose.

Also be aware that, when desperate for water, animals which would normally be wary of humans, such as snakes, will become quite bold and may enter your property in search of water. Desperate animals are also a higher threat, as they may attack you if they consider you to be getting in the way of their survival.


There are places in the world that get earthquakes and there are places that don't. So this may or may not be relevant to you. However, since there's very little way to accurately predict an earthquake happening, surviving one depends heavily on where you are at the time that it happens.

Animals are quite good at knowing that one is about to happen, and you will notice that they become very tense and alert all of a sudden, as if preparing to bolt. Many large earthquakes come with "foreshocks" - small tremors which presage the arrival of the "main event". They are often too small to feel, but if you do feel them, immediately move to turn off gas, power and water to your property and remove heavy items from any high places that they may be. Also use this time to prepare any emergency supplies you have and prepare yourself.

If you're in a building: Move to the inside corner of a large room. If you have a basement or underground portion to the house, this can often be the safest place to go, though be sure to have a clear escape route in case the house collapses on top of you. If below, get under a solid table or large piece of furniture as this will give you protection and an airwell in the event of a collapse.

If you're in a vehicle: Stop driving as soon as you are able and stay inside your vehicle as it will provide some protection from falling debris. Remove your seatbelt and crouch in the footwell to prevent head/neck injury should anything large fall on the roof of the car. Wait out the shocks and aftershocks. When leaving the vehicle, be aware of any fallen debris or power lines that may pose a danger to you.

If you're outdoors on foot: Lie down as flat as you can on the ground. Do not try running as you may get thrown and injure yourself. Keep away from high objects such as buildings or trees. Avoid seeking shelter underneath anything as it may collapse. If you are on a slope, try to quickly move to the top of the nearest rise and stay there, as sloped surfaces are more likely to give way than flat ones.

Be wary of the aftermath: Fallen powerlines, ruptured sewage mains and unstable structures may follow a large earthquake. Be alert, be aware and move carefully in the aftermath. When opening doors or cupboards, be aware of loose objects that may fall out and injure you.
Be wary of using any water, even from taps, after an event, as ruptured underground sewage mains may have contaminated local water supply. Boil or otherwise sterilize any water before using until the all-clear has been given by local authorities.
Be wary of broken gas lines if starting a fire or using electrical appliances. You may inadvertantly trigger a large fire or explosion.


Weather-related disasters can be utterly terrifying. The sheer sense of power from Mother Nature can strike a deep-seated sense of fear in even the most stoic person, and there is good reason for it. Strong winds alone can destroy structures, or even rip entire trees out of the ground and fling them through windows, into buildings or into creek beds, causing floods. The floods can lead to cars being dragged around, houses being washed away and lives being taken. Given their all-encompassing nature there is no-where to hide from them, small chance of escaping them and absolutely nothing you can do to stop them. But you can be prepared for them, and the prepared will survive.

Be informed: When in storm season, keep on top of weather reports. For as long as you are able, check weather radars, news stations and reports to stay knowledgeable about what's going on and what's yet to come. Get yourself a battery or, even better, dynamo powered radio to keep abreast of the situation at all times.

Be prepared: Have plenty of stored food handy that does not require refrigeration. Keep a means close by of water purification and storage. Board up windows where you can. If no means of barricade are available, cross-hatch the windows with electrical tape to prevent glass shattering. Secure any loose objects outside, even ones that you think would be too heavy for wind to move, such as outdoor dining tables. Take note of the most secure places in your house: in a basement, under stairs, inside of a car in the garage. If your house doesn't make it, make sure that YOU do.

Fortify: Barricade windows and doors where possible. Place sandbags around the bottoms of external doors. If none are available, bags of topsoil or fertilizer do a good job of it, or, if you have the time, shovel soil into garbage bags. Seal the edges of windows with electrical tape to prevent water entry. Shut off power, gas and water to your property when you're done.

Stockpile: Store as much clean water as possible while the plumbing still works. A WaterBOB is ideal for this, but many cheap collapsable water containers are widely available to store in a cupboard for this sort of occasion. Canned food is watertight and will survive the storm. Try to keep a running supply of at least a week's worth of it for everyone in your house, just in case you are stranded, or if the storm lasts a long time.

Ride it out: In the case of a tornado (twister) seek shelter in the lowest, sturdiest part of the house, preferrably near a solid external wall and away from the center of a room, or into the smallest room available, preferrably under some solid furniture and away from windows.

While a severe storm can be quite intimidating, it is imperative that you keep a cool head. The thunder, lightning and buffeting winds can and will cause fear in both you and those in your charge, and it will be up to you to lead them and make sure everyone is safe and secure. Give people tasks to keep their minds focused. Morale is a huge factor. Once safe and secure, pull out a boardgame or some playing cards to keep everyones' spirits high, but maintain awareness of what is going on. Watch for flooding, water entry, wind damage and flying debris, but above all, keep calm.


Bushfires are horrifying. They can last for weeks, wipe out entire towns in a day and are incredibly difficult to stop. They are unpredictable, at the mercy of nature's whim and almost completely uncontrollable once at their peak. Keep a level head and a few tricks up your sleeve, however, and you can come out on top.

Be aware: You will smell and then hear a bushfire before it reaches you. If that doesn't set you off, the local wildlife fleeing from it should get your attention. Be aware of these signs as you'll need all the time you can get. The early you detect it, the more time you'll have to be ready for it. Watch for the smoke in the air, as its movement will show you how the fire is moving. Bushfires are moved by the winds, and the speed and direction the winds are moving will tell you the speed and direction that the fire is moving.

Prepare: The first thing you need to do is to work out multiple clear escape routes. Be sure to make more than one, as bushfires can spread rapidly and may cut you off with a moment's notice. That being said, do not immediately flee a bushfire. Cover yourself with a good covering of clothing. It may feel restrictive and the heat may be bad, but even a basic layer of clothing can protect you from burns and the waves of hot wind that will come from the fire. If at all reasonable, you can create a "fire circle" to protect yourself. Bushfire will not spread over already burned land, so if at all feasable, you can pre-burn a wide circle around your land with controlled burn techniques to prevent the bushfire spreading within the circle. Only do this if experienced, however, as it could lead to you inadvertantly destroying your own property.

Getting through it: Remember that smoke inhalation is a bigger killer than fire itself. Moisten a cloth, such as a bandana, and cover your mouth and nose to prevent smoke inhalation. Do not panic. Bushfires, while wild, will act in a relatively predictable fashion if you are observant. Watch the wind, watch the wildlife. Do not run wildly away from the fire, but instead stop and monitor the situation. There will be a clear exit. find it, and use it. If on foot, use streams or creeks to protect yourself. Partially immerse yourself in the water. Do not use water tanks for this purpose, as you may get boiled alive.
Sometimes it is possible to escape a bushfire by running through it to the already burned area in its wake. If the flames are too thick, this is far too dangerous, but sometimes there are quiet areas between the flames where there is not enough fuel for the fire to really burn well. This should be used as a last resort only, and if you're considering doing it, you should attempt to cover yourself as much as possible in mud, clay and water to prevent burns.
If you catch alight, don't keep running, as it will fan the flames. Drop to the ground immediately and begin to roll. Flames will extinguish very quickly if they have no oxygen to feed them, so the aim is to smother them as much as possible.

So hopefully this has given you some insight into how you can cope with natural disasters. Especially in light of my last blog post. Be informed, be prepared and be safe!

- CumQuaT

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