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What To Do Following a Natural Disaster

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: November 24, 2020
What To Do Following a Natural Disaster

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Having lived most of my adult life on the West Coast of the US, the probability of a major earthquake has not been an if but a when proposition. The same can be said for residents of the East Coast; simply change the word “earthquake” to “hurricane”.  For middle America, there are tornados. The point is that regardless of where you live, there is a risk of a natural disaster happening in your own backyard.  It is simply a matter of when.

Are you ready?  The most likely answer to that question is sure, kind a sort a.  Most of us are well prepared for some aspects of a natural disaster but not so much the others.  For example, I would expect that your water heater is strapped to the wall, shut-off valves for utilities are accessible well marked, and you have stashed away a reasonable supply of food, water, cash, and other essential items that may be needed following a major disruptive event of the Mother Nature type.

What To Do Following a Natural Disaster | Backdoor Survival

While It is common sense to shut off utilities and call your loved ones following a disaster, but what if there is devastation, destruction, and shock, panic or both?  What then?  I suggest you create a post-disaster to-do list and tape it inside a closet next to your bug-out-bag or emergency first aid kit.

To help you get started, I am sharing my own “no-brainer, I am too panicked to think”, to do list. You will see that this list is within the context of an earthquake because I am most familiar with that type of disaster.  Use it as a starting point for creating a checklist more specific to the probable and likely disasters in your geographical area.

What to Do After an Earthquake (or Other Natural Disaster)

Expect aftershocks. These secondary shockwaves are usually less violent than the main quake but can be strong enough to do additional damage to weakened structures and can occur in the first hours, days, weeks, or even months after the quake.

Listen to a battery-operated radio. Listen for the latest emergency information.

Use the telephone only for emergency calls.  This also applies to cell phones.

Open cabinets cautiously. Beware of objects that can fall off shelves.

Stay away from damaged areas. Stay away unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire, or relief organizations. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.

Be aware of possible tsunamis if you live in coastal areas. These are also known as seismic sea waves (mistakenly called “tidal waves”). When local authorities issue a tsunami warning, assume that a series of dangerous waves is on the way. Stay away from the beach.

Help injured or trapped persons. Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance such as infants, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Give first aid where appropriate. Do not move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Call for help.

Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately. Leave the area if you smell gas or fumes from other chemicals.

Inspect the entire length of chimneys for damage. Unnoticed damage could lead to a fire.

Inspect utilities.

Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can and call the gas company from a neighbor’s home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.

Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice.

Check for sewage and water lines damage. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap.

Execute a predetermined plan to meet-up with children, spouses and other family members.  Have meet-up plan in the event you are separated from family members when disaster hits.

And don’t forget the following:

Keep a list of emergency numbers handy.  This should be posted directly inside your closet or wherever else you will have ready access to in the event of a natural disaster.  Keep a copy in your bug-out bag too.

Keep a printed cell phone and email listing of family members.  You will want to contact family members as soon as communication lines become available for non-emergency use.  The last thing you want to do is scramble around looking for numbers, especially if you need to leave your home or office in order to move to a safer location.

Be aware that texting may be the only form of communication available: Know enough to be proficient at texting under stress even though you may not text on a normal, day-to-day basis.

It is easy to get caught up preparing for a major disruptive event such as an EMP, extended power outage, pandemic, or global economic collapse.  On the other hand, knowing what to in the hours following a natural disaster is equally important if not more so due to it’s unpredictable nature.

And that, for now, is all I am going to say about that.

The Final Word

Does it seem odd to you that I write about earthquake readiness while, at the moment, I am on the road to Arizona?  If you think about it, however, perhaps it is not so odd.  Any time you relocate, whether temporarily or for the long-term, some thought should be given to creating a geographically and risk specific emergency checklist you can refer to at a moment’s notice that is.  In my case, it will likely be wildfire and drought related, the details of which will be fine-tuned when I reach my destination.

How about you?  Do you have a regionally specific emergency and disaster checklist?  If not, what are you waiting for?

 Here are some items that will come in handy during the period a few of the items I included also with other items that will help you become disaster ready.

iRonsnow Dynamo Emergency Solar Hand Crank Self-Powered AM/FM/NOAA Weather Radio, LED Flashlight, Smart Phone Charger & Power Bank: This  unit has it all in one portable package.  It can be also be powered using 3 AAA batteries.  This is a great value.

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter:  The LifeStraw is considered the most advanced, compact, ultra light personal water filter available. It contains no chemicals or iodinated resin, no batteries and no moving parts to break or wear out. It weighs only 2oz.  making it perfect for the prepper. For more information, see my LifeStraw review.

Choetech 19W Solar Panel:  This lightweight and compact solar panel works great.  The two integrated USB ports are both rated equally so you do not have to fiddle around to see which one will work with your device. Learn more:  Charge Your Devices With the Choetech Portable Solar Panel.

EasyAcc Monster 20000mAh Power Bank:  This is a robust power bank that can be charged from your laptop, a wall charger, or a solar charger.  This one is beefy, with 4 USB ports that can be used at once.  It also appears to hold its charge for a long time.  I charged mine up then set it aside for a couple of months,  When I pulled it out of its box, it was still fully charged.  A nice unit that comes in very handy when power is out.

Nokero N233 Solar Light:  I first heard about these solar lights from a reader a few years back.  Now that I have tested them, I am impressed by the amount of light they give off as well their sturdy construction.  I especially like how they hold a charge for 12 months, meaning your can store them fully charged and can count on them to work during an unexpected emergency.

Tac Force TF-705BK Tactical Assisted Opening Folding Knife 4.5-Inch Closed: This is a great knife with free shipping.  Not only that, it is ranked as the #1 best seller in both the camping and hunting knives categories.  The reviews raved about this knife so I bought one, used it, and can recommend it.  See The Inexpensive Tac-Force Speedster Outdoor Knife.

Light My Fire Swedish FireSteel:  This “Scout” is the one I own. Using this basic pocket fire-starter, you can get a nice fire going under almost any conditions. This is a small, compact version and is my personal favorite.

BaoFeng UV5R Dual-Band Two-Way Radio:  I own two of these.  Something to keep in mind that if you are just planning to listen, you do not need a license.  Still, it is a good idea because it will make understanding the technical aspects of HAM radio a whole lot easier.


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11 Responses to “What To Do Following a Natural Disaster”

  1. 23 April 2018
    In an Emergency use SALT to put out a grease fire in a skillet on top of the stove.
    I used this method at my Granny Briggs’s house back in 1969 I had just got back from Vietnam, it works Great and no mess to clean up.

    This method can be used while camping too if you have a sandwich bag with a lot of Salt in it.

    Robert Bobby Briggs USN Retired.

  2. Did you know that you should look at your fire extinguishers at least monthly. According to my local fire department and retired fire chief neighbor you need to gently shake your fire extinguisher monthly to keep the powder inside from settling to a large blob. This could cause your extinguisher to not work effectively when you need it. Make sure the dial says full. A fire extinguisher really should not be laid on it’s side. If the extinguisher is many, many years old it might be time to take it outside to a safe area and practice putting out a pretend fire just to keep yourself in practice and then plan on getting a new one. I put my purchase date on the cylinder with a permanent marker.

  3. Dear Gaye:

    Welcome to Arizona! I have lived here for 25+ years and am a transplant from the east coast. Even though we do have the occasional earthquake, dust storm and monsoon storms, I love the desert, and I know you will love living in Arizona. Are you anywhere near Phoenix? Perhaps we could do a Meetup with other Backdoor readers. If not, that is not a problem. Here in Arizona we are used to driving long distances to a destination. What do you say?

    • We are NW of the Phoenix area but are also planning on a Mountain Retreat on the Rim. After receiving this comment, Shelly and I talked about a meetup and the logistics. Perhaps you and some other readers could do the coordinating and find a venue then we could simply show up. My guess is I could get some advertisers to cough up door prizes and a few might even show up.

      It would take some planning but it doable after I get more settled.

    • Wow, I would love to meet up with you and other preppers! I feel all alone in the prepping world. Please contact me as soon as you can. I see you wrote this in October 2017. I hope I haven’t missed out. Oh, I’m so excited! So much to learn, share, ask, and to meet others…
      Thank You! I live in El Mirage, Az

  4. First priority is taking care of medical needs. Then in order: shelter, water, food. American Red Cross can assist with notification of family members and search for people who have checked in. May be able to assist with shelter.
    According to my local FD, house fires (usually starting in the kitchen) are an event many of us are likely to experience. Keep smoke alarms & extinguishers in ready condition. Only attempt to fight a small fire (about 1 square foot) if you know how to use the extinguisher and can get out safely.

  5. Nice list, but I wouldn’t follow one piece of advice: “Return home only when authorities say it is safe.” So-called “authorities” have their own axes to grind, and have zero credibility in my mind. For examples, begin with Katrina in New Orleans. People who didn’t listen to government “authorities” made out much better than those who did.

  6. Gaye. I am so glad you are coming to AZ. The region you are going to does have an occasional earthquake, but nothing like the potential from where you came.
    Welcome…I will be in touch, but from the other end of the state.

  7. if you live in an apartment building, a house fire is a major concern. no matter how careful i am about fire hazards in my apartment, i have no control over what other tenants do. the fire walls in the building may prevent a fire from spreading, but i could still have a lot of smoke or water damage in my abode. just something i’ve been thinking about lately.

  8. My husband & I started talking about list this week so ‘everyone’ would be on the same page. Here it’s torndoes, hurricanes toward the coast, and fires. I’d lost everything in a house fire 23 years ago. He hd lost everything to a fire that many years ago also. Similar lives he & I had. I’m glad you can mark off the needed list for a Tsunami or earthquake, Gaye. None of us live in purely safe areas. Thank you for the article. A written list is so important, not just verbal.

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