Natural Disaster Survival Tips

Natural disasters come in all shapes and sizes. Hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding and landslides, forest fires, tornadoes, and many other disasters can present themselves unexpectedly. They all can have a major disruptive affect on our lives. Being prepared for these events can help you and your family ride out the storm and come out on the other end safely and better able to handle post disaster situations. 

Here are 10 tips to help you become more prepared for natural disasters:

  1. For the possibility of flooding, have an axe and life preservers available. Stash an axe and life preservers in the upper story, or attic, of your home. Remember, most of the drowning victims of Hurricane Katrina were people who stayed in their homes and found themselves trapped by rising waters with no place to go. Many drowned in their attics, unable to break through the roof to the outside. A few bucks spent on these items ahead of time could save your life!
  2. Water is critical. Water is absolutely essential for human survival; it plays a part in all of the body’s biochemical reactions. You may not believe it, but most of us could survive for several weeks without food, yet a single day without water in extreme heat can kill a person. Water requirements vary depending on activity level and temperature. The absolute minimum for survival, with little or no activity and cool conditions, is about one quart of drinking water per day, and two quarts of water per day will usually sustain moderate activity at an acceptable level of comfort under moderate conditions (you will feel somewhat dehydrated). More than 1 quart of water every hour can be required to perform heavy physical labor under extremely hot conditions. Typically allow for at least one gallon per person per day. Clean drinking water can easily become unavailable before, during, and after a natural disaster due to supply shortages, contamination, and power outages.  Store water today to meet your needs in an emergency.
  3. Fill your bathtub and tap off your toilets. After a major disaster hits, the public water system may be polluted or entirely shut down for weeks. Immediately fill your bathtubs, sinks, and other available containers with water. This will provide your household with a short-term supply of clean, potable water. Check out the WaterBOB Emergency Drinking Water Storage for easier storage and access.  There is also a supply of clean, potable water in the toilet tanks, hot-water heater, and piping in your house. When you notice that the tap water has stopped flowing, conserve the water in your toilet tanks (the tanks, not the bowl, contain potable water) and immediately notify all other occupants to not flush the toilets. (CAUTION: Do not drink the toilet tank water if you use an automatic toilet cleaner with blue toilet water).
  4. Drain your water heater and pipes. Water heaters are supplied with a vent located near the top of the tank and a drain near the bottom of the tank. Open the top vent (pull on the little lever on the spigot) and drain the tank into containers as needed. If there is dirt and sediment in the water coming out of the tank, do not discard this water. Simply allow the sediment to settle and drink the water off the top. Make sure you turn off the electricity or gas to your water heater before draining or it will be ruined! Crack an upper faucet and open a lower hose bib or faucet to drain a few gallons of water out of your home’s piping.
  5. Use water filters and treatment chemicals. I know from experience that most anyone will drink from the worst, scummiest water after having gone without water for more than a day in extreme heat!  If you must evacuate your home, carrying a personal water supply on your back would be extremely difficult (at a gallon per person per day, a family of four would consume 100 lbs of water in three days). Flood waters are usually extremely contaminated with farm waste, human sewage, and industrial chemicals, so I highly recommend that you purchase a bacteriological back-country-type water filter that has a carbon core to also remove toxic chemicals, bad tastes, and odors. You can chemically treat surface water with household tincture of iodine (5 drops per quart) and pure chlorine bleach (4 drops per quart) and allowing water to stand for 30 minutes. See Chapter 5 of When Technology Fails for full water treatment details and my personal water filter recommendations. (I design these things for a living, so I know what I am talking about). Boiling for just one minute will kill all water-borne organisms, but will do nothing to remove toxic chemicals, bad tastes, and odors.
  6. Put together a 72-Hour Grab-and-Run Kit. Every family should have at least one Grab-and-Run kit that can be thrown in the car on a moment’s notice, or carried on your back, if the need should arise. Grab-and-Run kits should provide the basic emergency food, water, shelter, and first aid supplies that you and your family will need to survive the critical first three days after a disaster. See my other WSID article:  72-Hour “Grab-and-Run” Survival Kits.
  7. Store your Grab-and-Run Kits in “dry packs.” If you live in hurricane country or other areas with potential for serious storms and flooding, I strongly recommend that you purchase a “dry pack” for each of your grab-and-run kits. A “dry pack” is a special combination backpack and waterproof bag used by river guides. They have removable padded shoulder straps, are made of extremely tough, waterproof material, and are 100% sealed against water intrusion. So in addition to keeping your stuff dry in a deluge, they will also double as floatation devices to help keep you afloat in flood waters. A “dry pack” stocked and ready to go for every member of your family is cheap insurance!
  8. Keep a colloidal silver generator. After a natural disaster, homemade colloidal silver will purify drinking water and will help fight infection and viruses when high-tech pharmaceuticals may be unavailable or ineffective. All hospitals use silver-based ointments to fight infection in severe burn victims, where traditional antibiotics are simply not enough to fight the infection over large areas of burned skin.
  9. Formulate a disaster plan, including out of town contacts (relatives, family friends, etc.) and a central meeting place where your family should meet if separated and local communications are cut. When a widespread disaster strikes, you will usually be able to reach friends or family outside of the disaster area long before local communications can be re-established. See the Preparedness Checklist on page 50 of When Technology Fails for full details.
  10. Use waterproof LED headlamps. I highly recommend that you purchase a waterproof back-country-type headlamp with LED bulbs. Headlamps leave your hands free to carry or work on things. LED bulbs use a fraction of the power, are far more shock resistant, and last far longer than traditional light bulbs, so your batteries (don’t forget to stock spares) last many times longer.

~ Matthew Stein

About the author: Matthew Stein is a design engineer, green builder, and author of two bestselling books: When Disaster Strikes: A Comprehensive Guide for Emergency Planning and Crisis Survival (Chelsea Green 2011), and When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency (Chelsea Green 2008). Stein is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he majored in Mechanical Engineering. Stein has appeared on numerous radio and television programs and is a repeat guest on Fox News, Coast-to-Coast AM, Alex Jones’ Infowars, Vince Finelli’s USA Prepares, and The Power Hour.  He is an active mountain climber, serves as a guide and instructor for blind skiers, has written several articles on the subject of sustainable living, and is a guest columnist for the Huffington Post. and

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