Natural Disasters

Natural disasters can develop suddenly and without warning. Therefore, you should know the principles of safety and First Aid. All members of the household need to plan survival actions for at least 72-hours, whether you shelter-in-place or evacuate. This Client Handbook will provide some general information that applies to many emergencies and some specific details relevant to the most common disasters.. You can find resources online that will provide details on how to prepare and react to specific types of disasters and emergencies.

Following are some useful American resources that could apply to either country, with the exception of any information specific to individual states and individual provinces. Your agency can incorporate all of them or just select one or 2 for your customized handbook. You should consider whether to distribute the information in printed form to your clients (in which case you might remove the links in the handbook); or, to provide the website addresses to them (in which case you would leave the links in this handbook). However, the easiest way would be to just leave the links in the Client Handbook, as they are; and, when you want to also give printed information to clients, you can distribute it with the handbook.

Note: The American Red Cross’s Disaster Preparedness Information Booklet for Seniors is great for this demographic. (See third bullet “Older Adult below.)

How to Prepare for Natural Disasters

Determine the Risks

Knowing the risks of potential disasters and emergencies in advance will not only help protect you and household members but also will strengthen your abilities to cope. You should:

  • Become familiar with the types of natural disasters that could strike in your region, community or neighborhood (e.g., flood, hurricane, tornado, earthquake, tsunamis, avalanche, landslide, wildfire, power outages, severe storm, storm surge).
  • Evaluate your vulnerabilities, e.g.:
    • Do you live alone?
    • Do you have any physical, medical, thinking or learning limitations?
    • Has your vision or hearing deteriorated?
    • How is your sense or smell?
    • Do you have or drive a vehicle?
    • Do you rely upon medical equipment or devices?
    • Do you rely on a Caregiver?
Develop an Emergency Plan

Take time to develop an Emergency Plan and ensure all members of your household participate in its development or knows the plan details. Important specifics to work out include:

  • Determine the best and safest routes to evacuate your home and your neighborhood.
  • Establish meeting places for household members to gather outside the home and outside the area.
  • Make a list of contact persons who are close-by and out-of-town.
  • If a household member has special needs, incorporate details on how to manage the extra assistance that will be needed in the Emergency Plan and First Aid Kit.
  • Designate an individual to pick up children.
  • Ensure adults and older children know where the home’s fire extinguishers, water valve, electrical panel, gas valve and floor drains are located.
  • Make a plan for evacuating pets and determine a place where they can stay.
  • If you can’t evacuate your home, prepare to be self-sufficient for 3-days.
  • Have health and insurance information available for all household members.
  • Practice your evacuation plan regularly.
  • Include plans for your house fire:
    • Install smoke detectors on each level of the home.
    • Place fire extinguishers on each floor.
    • Create an escape route.
    • Know where exits are (doors and windows).
    • Check escape windows to ensure they open easily.
    • Place a ladder or rope on all floors above the first level.
    • Hold regular fire drills.
Compile an Emergency Kit

Purchase an Emergency Kit from an organization (e.g., Red Cross): American Red Cross

Assemble your own Emergency Kit. A well-stocked Emergency Kit would include:

  • First Aid Kit;
  • your Emergency Plan and contact information;
  • flashlight & extra batteries;
  • wind-up or battery-powered radio (and extra batteries), water:
    • two quarts (liters) per person per day for drinking; and,
    • two quarts (liters) per person per day for cooking and cleaning;
  • household chlorine bleach or water purifying tablets
  • food that doesn’t spoil (e.g., canned food, energy bars and dried foods);
  • toiletries and personal hygiene items;
  • hand sanitizer, toilet paper and garbage bags;
  • cash, travellers' cheques and change;
  • extra keys for your car and house;
  • important family documents (e.g., identification, insurance and bank records);
  • prescription medications, medical equipment;
  • candles and matches or lighter;
  • changes of clothing and footwear;
  • sleeping bags or warm blankets;
  • prepaid phone card, mobile phone charger;
  • pet food and supplies;
  • infant formula, baby food and supplies;
  • activities for children like books, puzzles or toys;
  • utensils, plates and cups;
  • manual can opener;
  • basic tools (e.g., hammer, pliers, wrench, screwdrivers, work gloves, pocket-knife);
  • small fuel-operated stove and fuel;
  • whistle to attract attention; and
  • duct tape.

What to Do During a Natural Disaster

  • Emergency Calls: use “9-1-1” to:
    • report a fire;
    • report a crime; and,
    • save a life.
  • Non-emergency Calls: use the phone numbers listed in your local phone book for:
    • Police;
    • Fire Department; and,
    • Paramedics.
  • Follow your Emergency Plan.
  • Get your Emergency Kit.
  • Make sure you are safe before assisting others.
  • Listen to the radio, television or Internet for information and instructions from local officials.
  • Follow the recommendations provided for specific types of natural disasters.

Types of Disaster

Winter Storms
  • Stay indoors during the storm.
  • Have Emergency Kit accessible.
  • Keep your home well heated:
    • Eliminate sources of heat loss.
    • Use safe, supplemental heat (e.g., electric heater, fireplace).
  • Live in one room to conserve heat.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol.
  • Dress warmly even if you do not feel cold:
    • Wear several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing.
    • Wear mittens or gloves and a hat.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you have any of the following: a body temperature below 96° F.; excessive shivering; loss of coordination; sleepiness; confusion; slurred speech, stiffness in your legs or arms, red skin.

Floods are most common and widespread natural disaster. Become knowledgeable about your area’s geography and its susceptibility to flooding. Homes located in a low valley or near a body of water (e.g., reservoir, lake, river) are more at risk. Know what to expect and be prepared. If the local authorities issue a flood warning, prepare to evacuate. Flash floods are especially dangerous, as they can develop in an instant and cause immense damage very quickly.

When a Flash Flood Strikes

  • Grab your Emergency Kit.
  • Leave the premises.
  • Follow your Emergency Plan.
  • Evacuate the Area. If evacuation is not possible, move to higher ground.
  • Do not attempt to drive or walk through flood water, as moving water can carry you and your car along its path and may contain hidden debris.
  • Don’t return home until authorities advise it is safe to do so.
  • Use caution with flood damaged buildings, as foundation and utilities may be damaged.

Returning Home After a Flood

  • Do not return home until authorities have advised that it is safe to do so.
  • If the main power switch was not turned off prior to flooding, do not re-enter your home until a qualified electrician has determined it is safe to do so.
  • Do not use any appliances, heating, pressure, or sewage system until electrical components have been thoroughly cleaned, dried, and inspected by a qualified electrician. The main electrical panel must be cleaned, dried, and tested by a qualified electrician to ensure that it is safe.
  • Take precautions against Carbon Monoxide poisoning by not using generators, pressure washers, charcoal grills and other fuel-burning tools indoors or near open doors, windows or air vents.
  • Minimize contact with dirty water, which may be mixed with sewage and hazardous substances, or which could be concealing downed powerlines or sharp objects. Be cautious with open wounds as they increase risk of diarrheal diseases or infections.
  • Dry out homes as soon as possible and thoroughly wash and disinfect clothes, linens and hard surfaces. Discard anything that cannot be cleaned, including contaminated drywall and insulation.
  • Control mold, as its spores can pose a respiratory risk if they enter the air.

If a Wildfire is Nearby

  • Be prepared to evacuate at any time. Know your escape route.
  • Monitor local radio/tv stations for fire information and road closures.
  • Prepare escape vehicle:
    • Position vehicle so front faces escape route.
    • Close its windows and doors.
    • Place valuables, Emergency Kit & Emergency Plan in vehicle.
  • Move animals, pets and household members to a safe location.
  • Keep all doors, vents and windows closed in your home.
  • Cover windows, vents and other structure openings with duct tape or plywood.
  • Remove flammable drapes, curtains, awnings or other window coverings.
  • Keep lights on in house, porch, garage and yard to aid visibility in case smoke fills your home.
  • If you have a ladder, prop it against the building so you and firefighters have access to its roof.
  • If hoses and adequate water are available:
    • Fill buckets and large containers (e.g., pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, or tubs) with water.
    • Turn sprinklers on to wet roof.
  • Remove combustibles, including lawn furniture, firewood, yard waste, barbecue grills, and fuel cans, from your yard.
  • Shut off natural gas, propane, or fuel oil supplies.
  • If advised or ordered to evacuate:
    • Wear protective clothing and footwear to reduce harm from flying sparks and ashes.
    • Leave immediately.

If You are Caught in a Wildfire

  • Don't try to outrun the blaze. Instead, look for a body of water such as a pond or river to crouch in.
  • If there is no water nearby, find a depressed, cleared area with little vegetation, lie low to the ground, and cover your body with wet clothing, a blanket, or soil. Stay low and covered until the fire passes.
  • If you ae near a road, lie face down along the road in a ditch or depression. Get under the road if you can squeeze into a culvert or drainpipe.
  • Protect your lungs by breathing air closest to the ground, through a mask or moist cloth, if possible, to reduce smoke inhalation.
  • The most dangerous places to be are uphill from the fire and downwind from the flames.
  • Determine which direction the wind is blowing:
    • If it is blowing toward the fire from your position, run into the wind.
    • If it is behind the fire and blowing towards you, run in a direction perpendicular to the wind.
  • If you are trapped in your vehicle:
    • Stay in the vehicle.
    • Find a safe place to park with little or no vegetation.
    • Turn on headlights and emergency flashers to make your car more visible in heavy smoke.
    • Close all windows and doors, shut off air vents, and turn off the air conditioner.
    • Get under blankets or coats, preferably wool, and lie on the floor.
    • Wait until the fire front passes and the outside temperature has dropped. Then get out and go to a safe area that has already burned.

If you are indoors:

  • Drop under sturdy furniture (e.g., table, desk).
  • Cover your head and torso for protection against falling debris.
  • Hold onto the object you are under to remain covered.
  • If no object is available to get under, flatten your body or crouch against an interior wall.
  • If you are in a wheelchair, lock its wheels and protect your head and back of neck.
  • If you are in a shopping mall, go into the nearest store.
  • Stay clear of windows, fireplaces, shelves with heavy objects and that could fall over (e.g., appliances).
  • Stay inside to avoid being injured by falling glass or building parts.
  • Ensure utilities are cut off at the main valves, if instructed to do so.

If you are outdoors:

  • Move into an open area away from buildings and power lines.
  • If you are instructed to evacuate, follow the authorities’ instructions on where to go and what route to take.
  • If you are in a mobile home or at a low lying/beach front location, leave the home/area immediately to avoid being marooned.
  • If you are not instructed to evacuate:
    • Stay indoors during the hurricane and stay clear of windows, fireplaces, woodstoves, and heavy furniture/appliances that may fall over.
    • Go to the basement or storm cellar. If there is no basement, go to an interior room on the lower level such as closets and interior hallways.
    • If you are in a high-rise building, go to a small, interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible. Avoid being directly under heavy appliances on an upper floor.

If you are indoors:

  • If you have a tornado safe room or engineered shelter, go there immediately.
  • Go at once to a windowless, interior room, storm cellar, basement, or to the lowest level of the building.
  • If you do not have a basement, go to an inner hallway or a smaller inner room without windows, such as a bathroom or closet.
  • Stay clear of windows, fireplaces, woodstoves, and heavy furniture or appliances that may fall over.

If you are outside:

  • If possible, get inside a building.
  • If shelter is not available or there is no time to get indoors, lie in a ditch or low-lying area or crouch near a strong building.

Be alert for possible flooding.

  • Be aware there is often little warning that a Tsunami is going to hit, depending on how far out in the ocean the earthquake occurs.
  • Evacuate to higher ground that is at least 50-feet above sea level if:
    • the ground is shaking, and it is evident that an earthquake has occurred; or,
    • if the sea level has suddenly changed.
  • Be aware that successive waves are often stronger than the first one. They can occur minutes apart and can continue for several hours, after the first wave strikes.
  • Stay put until all is safe or until you are ordered to evacuate.

What to Do After a Natural Disaster

These general instructions can be applied to many types of natural disasters, but adaptations may be necessary in some situations.

  • Try to stay calm.
  • Check yourself and others for injuries. Give First Aid to people who are injured or trapped. Take care of life-threatening situations first. Get help if necessary.
  • Confine or secure pets.
  • Check neighbors who are elderly or disabled, if possible.
  • Use the battery-operated radio from your Emergency Kit to listen for information and instructions.
  • Do not use the telephone except to report a life-threatening injury. Leave the lines free for official use.
  • If possible, put on sturdy shoes and protective clothing to help prevent injury from debris, especially broken glass.
  • If you are inside, check the building for structural damage. If you suspect it is unsafe, leave and do not re-enter.
  • Do not turn on light switches or light matches until you are sure that there aren't any gas leaks or flammable liquids spilled. Use a flashlight to check utilities.
  • Do not shut off utilities unless they are damaged, leaking or if there is a fire. If you turn the gas off, don't turn it on again. That must be done by a qualified technician.
  • If tap water is available, fill a bathtub and other containers in case the supply gets cut off.
  • If there is no running water, check your hot water tank, toilet reservoir or ice cube trays.
  • Purify your water supplies, as they may be contaminated.
  • Do not flush toilets if you suspect that sewer lines are broken.
  • If you are in a high-rise building, do not use the elevator in case of power outage. If you are in an elevator, push every floor button and get out as soon as possible.
  • Pick up your children from school or the pre-determined collection point.
  • Stay away from damaged areas unless you are asked to help or are qualified to give assistance.
  • Do not go near loose or dangling power lines. Downed power lines can cause fires and carry sufficient power to cause harm. Report them and any broken sewer and water mains to the authorities.
  • If the power has been off for several hours, check the food in the refrigerator and freezer in case it has spoiled.

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