How to Survive a Natural Disaster at Home

How to Survive a Natural Disaster at Home

Surviving Natural Disaster Needn’t Cause Cabin Fever

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports that occurrences of natural disasters have increased from less than 50 per year in 1960 to 350 per year in 2000. At least some of them could happen where you live.

In 1972 there was a “100-year flood” in western South Dakota, meaning that a flood of such intensity in that location only happens every hundred years. Most areas have some disaster that is supposed to happen only infrequently like this. However, with the increase mentioned above, a “100-year flood” could become a “13-year flood.”

There were only 10 category 4 or 5 hurricanes recorded from 1900 to 1955. But from 1950 to 2005, 25 of these intense hurricanes were recorded.

In disasters such as an electrical blackout or blizzard, the wisest course of action is to stay inside. In some disasters you may be instructed to “shelter in place.” This means something has happened that makes it dangerous to go outside; it is safer to stay inside (e.g., chemical accident or attack, ash in the air from volcanic explosion). The “shelter in place” direction is telling you to make an air-tight shelter out of the place you are in (or that you can get to most quickly).

You should take steps now to prepare your home for a “shelter in place.” Prepare for the worst; assume that you will face a disaster that involves airborne chemical agents.

Find out when warning systems are to be tested in your area; then listen to be sure you can hear them. (Although it is beyond the scope this article, you need to develop and practice a family emergency plan.)

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Choose an above-ground room with as few windows as possible, and access to a bathroom—such as a master bedroom. Be sure there is a land-line phone accessible in the room (equipment for either land-line or cellular service may be overwhelmed or damaged during an emergency, so having both is important).

Buy duct tape and 2.4-mil plastic sheeting. Cut the sheeting into pieces 6″ wider and taller than each door, window, fan, and vent in the room. Label each piece. Put these pieces of sheeting, a battery-powered or crank-up radio, extra batteries, food and water, towels and blankets into a box. Include supplies for entertainment of children (and adults!). Store it in this room.

In the event of a disaster

1. Get everyone in the house or yard (including pets) into the room as quickly as possible.

2. Lock all house windows and exterior doors.

3. Close window shades/blinds/curtains if there is danger of explosion.

4. Turn off all fans and the heating and air conditioning systems; close all fireplace dampers.

5. Close the door of your safe-room, and duct tape the plastic over doors/windows/etc. Tape the corners first, and then tape along the edges.

6. Continue listening to your radio until you hear “all is safe,” or a message that tells you to evacuate. In some disasters, evacuation of areas at most risk may be called for.

Then have fun—with preparation and imagination, turn this disaster into a “family sleepover.”