Natural Disasters

Posted on September 14, 2011 by

Not so fun
Given the recent earthquakes in Colorado and on the US eastern seaboard as well as the passage of Hurricane Irene and the fact that due to luck or the grace of God, or possibly both relatively few people were hurt or injured it would seem to be a good time to talk about disasters, preparedness, and all that. I shall divide this into several sections – a brief description of the type of disaster and then some steps for protecting or mitigating it. Obviously, with some of these there is nothing one can do: God has called you, the cosmic dice have rolled your number, whatever. Still, there is an old saying that “God helps those who help themselves”, which I rather subscribe to. Before we do anything else we must start with a basic “survival kit”. While I know that many of the regular commenters on this blog are knowledgeable about at least some survivalist skills, there are always some who are new and otherwise have a lack of knowledge in these matters.

A Survival Kit

First, the basics of survival. One needs air to breathe, water to drink (or something you can drink that contains water) and food to eat. Of the three, air is the most important as one will be incapacitated or die within minutes without air, air being necessary to extract all the energy your body needs to run. Water is second. Dehydration will kill someone within 3 to 4 days even in moderate climates. Food is last, as a healthy person can last for weeks to as long as a few months without any food provided one has air and water. Over the thousands of years that we have some written or otherwise historical records of, people have had to survive in all kinds of environments and through all types of disasters. Because of this, survival techniques have been developed , tested and refined. Here, then, is a very basic survival kit that will help take one through a disaster as it is not always the immediate threat that kills you, but often what comes afterward:

– Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
– Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
– Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
– Flashlight and extra batteries
– First aid kit
– Whistle to signal for help
– Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
– Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
– Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
– Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)
– Local maps
– Cell phone with chargers
Of course it’s a good thing to have a cellphone, but there’s always a chance one will be out of the coverage of any towers, or have no way to recharge the cellphone. Thus one could learn Morse Code and use the flashlight as a signaling device, varying the length of time the light is on and off. This is usually good for simple repeat messages such as HELP or HERE.


Fire is often a result of a natural disaster and, in any case, is one of the more common issues that one might face in terms of disasters, natural, personal, or otherwise.
Fire prevention is probably something most are familiar with so I’ll go over it really fast:
In residential homes or any buildings:
A. Smoke alarms are recommended. Most also have a carbon monoxide detection system built in as well.
B. Sprinklers are recommended
C. Whether you have A or B or not, you should always have a fire evacuation plan. Basically: try to find an escape route from any room or area in the house should one be trapped there. Also if you do not live alone you should have a “meetup” area so that everyone can be counted.
For outdoor areas such as campfire:
Well, I’ll let Smokey speak.
Campfire tips

Now, let’s assume you are in a fire and attempting to make an escape, with or without attempting to rescue someone.
A. Before entering a room feel the door knob or door jamb to see if they are hot. Hopefully you will not have to enter a room or hallway where there is fire.
B. Shut any doors that are between you and the fire. This will slow it down.
C. As much as possible CRAWL along the floor. This will enable you to avoid the smoke and most carbon monoxide. One thing that kills many people in fires is inhaling too much smoke. If you must stand up to grab someone, try to hold your breath and get back as low as possible as fast as possible.
D. It goes without saying but getting out of the area that is on fire as fast as possible is recommended!
E. If you are in a forest fire you have far fewer options. It can be at times impossible to outrun those things and because of the trees and leaves burning smoke is produced in large quantities. Your best bets are to try to make your way to an area that is either opposite the direction the wind is traveling or to look for a relatively clear area (preferably sandy or rocky, hills are often good) as it will have less fuel for the fire. If there is a body of water one should make their way there and preferably find something to crouch down behind such as a floating log. Asphyxiation and falling foliage are your biggest worry at that point, so try to shield yourself somewhat and breathe close to the water. Of course if it is an honest to God stream or river one could try to make their way up, opposite the direction the fire seems to be spreading.


Another hazard that is rather common whether in a natural disaster or day-to-day is the danger of electrocution, at least when one is in one’s home or a civilized area. I’ll mention the very basics quickly and then get in to what to do if someone you love is being electrocuted. Unfortunately, short of not panicking (thus preserving your oxygen so you might survive longer) there is not much you can do yourself if you are being electrocuted because one’s muscles tend to freeze if there is significant current.
Basic electrical safety:
A. If working on something electric, always make sure to shut off mains power to the circuit.
B. Do not work in a wet area or where you, yourself, are wet. Water is an excellent conductor.
C. Watch out for frayed wires

It’s not voltage, it is current that kills. Current is measured in amperes, or more usually hundreds and thousandths of an ampere (micro, milli).
Currents between 100 and 200 milliamperes (0.1 ampere and 0.2 ampere) are fatal. Anything in the neighborhood of 10 milliamperes (0.01) is capable of producing painful to severe shock. The following link has a great table of the effects of various amounts of current:
Electrical safety

What to do if someone is being electrocuted?
1. IF it is a device, unplug it if possible. Or if you know where the fuse or switchbox is, turn off power that way.
2. If you don’t know how to shut off the power, or you cannot do so for whatever reason you should get something such a broom handle, branch, any other large piece of insulating material and try to push the person away from the source of the shock. Rubber shoes or boots are also good.
3. The following is not recommended by any official guide but may be used as a desperate ploy because in this case you WILL get shocked yourself: tackle the person who is being shocked in any direction whatsoever that will get them out of contact with whatever is shocking them. Your momentum will remove you and them from the circuit even if your own muscles thus freeze for a second or two. Do not attempt to grab them instead, you might find yourself frozen as well. In short, if all else fails and you must touch someone to remove them from an electrical shock: tackle! Run into them, jump into them, whatever works. This is probably halfway safe for household level currents, do not under any circumstances do this to try to help someone who is an area with “High Voltage” signs or who messed with a power line.
4. Speaking of power lines, should one fall on your car or house in, say, an earthquake, DO NOT remove yourself from your car or house unless a fire starts. In that case try to move out farthest from any visible wires. Risk of lethal shock is extremely high in those circumstances, and esp. in a car, because the car body makes a good conductor. Try to avoid touching ANY metal if you must get out of the car. In short, unless you MUST get out, do NOT get out. Use your cell phone to call for help if you can.

Falling or Collapsing Objects

This subject tends to come up in hurricanes or typhoons as well as earthquakes. Here is what to do:
A. If you are outside in a city, the biggest danger usually isn’t collapsing buildings per-se, it’s falling or wind-propelled glass and occasional small pieces of masonry. So you want to either stand in a door way or get underneath a parked car.
B. Inside a building or house the best thing to do is get under a desk if one is available or a doorway. If neither is available it is considered best to go into a corner of the room and curl up, chest and head and arms to legs and with anything you can find to shield you over your head.
C. There is an idea floating around internet that you might have seen. That is that one should get to the ground next to your desk or car , lying flat and relying on these objects to leave a small space nearby should they get crushed. They don’t get crushed very flat, so usually there is a 3 to 6 foot space nearby where one would be perfectly safe if you were in that space. Experts have examined this idea and it is not recommended except for direct pancake (“straight down”, like a heavy roof falling on you or something) style collapses of buildings or other things. Due to building codes in the US and most of Europe it is highly unlikely in even the strongest quake that a building would collapse straight down, most likely it would shake itself to pieces. Thus I ONLY recommend this if one is directly beneath, say , a small bridge that might fall down right on top of one. In that case if you are stuck, it might be best to get out of the car and lay flat along side of it. If the Golden Gate comes down, on the other hand, you are sh** out of luck anyway.


It is best to learn at least the basics of CPR, or cardio pulmonary resuscitation. During disasters , esp. hospitals will be either overwhelmed, offline to some extent, or otherwise unavailable. Here is a good link:

This concludes the first part of what I hope is a very useful series of two posts.
Basically, no one says you have to make like a survivalist and be ready for any contingency at any time, esp. since in large scale disasters there is a large element of luck or Divine Providence. However, I do think it is wise for everyone to do the following:
A. Familiarize yourself with the dangers in your area
B. At least get the basic survival kit in terms of supplies
C. Learn CPR
D. Make a fire escape plan, even if only for yourself
E. Remember my tips about fires , electrocutions, and collapses.

Posted in: Homemaking