The tragic earthquake that rocked parts of southern Turkey and northern Syria has a rising death toll of more than 33,000 (at the time of publication). Emergency relief teams and foundations from around the world have flown to the aid of Syrians and Turks to help the tens of thousands who have been injured and displaced.
The Turkey-Syria earthquake is one of the deadliest of the past decade, but it is not the first natural disaster of 2023. At the end of January, Auckland, New Zealand experienced nearly 10 inches of rain in one day, the equivalent of an entire summer season. Four people were killed and hundreds of homes were damaged.
In the U.S., 123 tornadoes were confirmed as of February 3, 2023. Seven people were killed in Alabama, two in Georgia, and thousands of homes in many states suffered severe damage.
How to Prepare for Natural Disasters
The uncomfortable reality is that Mother Nature is extremely powerful, and when she gets going, we see how small we truly are. However, precautions can be taken to prepare for natural disasters and increase our safety when these disasters strike.
Earthquakes can happen anywhere, but primarily in three major zones:
● The circum-Pacific seismic belt, also known as the “Ring of Fire,” where 80% of earthquakes and volcanic activity occur
● The Alpide earthquake belt, accounting for 17% of global earthquakes
● The mid-Atlantic Ridge, which is directly beneath Iceland
Preparing for Earthquakes
If you live in an area prone to earthquakes, you need an emergency plan. In your home or workplace, identify a safe place to go should an earthquake strike. You should also have an emergency supply kit with water, non-perishable food items, flashlights, a whistle, first aid kit, and more. (The California Earthquake Authority has a comprehensive list for an earthquake emergency kit.)
For families, your place should include a contact and location in another state or country to go to in case you get separated from each other.
You should fix residential structural issues before you actually need to – whatever is possible that you can afford. Secure heavy furniture to the wall if possible. Put emphasis on safety, not aesthetics. You may want to purchase earthquake insurance, as homeowners’ insurance does not cover that.
If an earthquake strikes when you’re home, avoid doorways and do not run outside. If you are outdoors, stay away from houses and tall buildings. You should usually drop to the ground and protect your head and neck with your arms.
Some floods can be predicted, while others (flash floods) occur quickly, leaving little time for warning. Those that can be predicted are caused by the overflow of water onto dry land from a river, stream, or other water source.
Flash floods, on the other hand, are hard to predict. Forecasters can usually tell when the conditions are right, but flash floods can come on so suddenly there is often little time to issue warnings between the conditions and the actual onset. Flash floods are caused by extremely heavy bouts of rainfall, thunderstorms, or dam breaks. The flooding occurs less than six hours from the onset of the rain. The damage, however, is usually severe and causes many fatalities each year.
Preparing for Floods
According to National Geographic, floods can happen anywhere, and climate change is increasing the risk of floods worldwide. Everyone should have an emergency flood plan, especially those living in areas with a history of floods or flash floods.
Similar to preparing for an earthquake, consider buying flood insurance for your home. You should have an emergency kit always stocked and an evacuation plan. Families should also plan for reconnecting should you get separated.
The CDC reports that more than half of flood-related drownings occur when vehicles drive into flooding water. If you are driving in heavy rain and see a large puddle or what looks like flood water ahead, do not continue. It is hard to tell how deep the water is. If your car starts to submerge in flood waters, roll down the window and get out. You can find detailed instructions here.
Above all, listen to weather reports and take all warnings seriously. What may look like light rainfall can turn into a flash flood in minutes. You do not want to be caught off guard.
The United States has more tornadoes than any other country, though they can occur in Europe, Australia, Africa, Asia, and South America. Within the U.S., tornadoes are most common East of the Rocky Mountains, usually across the Great Plains, the Midwest, and the Mississippi Valley.
While tornadoes are rather frequent occurrences in many parts of the U.S., they are unpredictable. Meteorologists may be able to identify weather conditions favorable for tornadoes up to seven hours in advance — not much time.
In the past two decades, the U.S. has seen anywhere between 10 to 553 tornado-related fatalities a year. Therefore, those living in an area prone to tornadoes should be prepared.
Preparing for Tornadoes
The best place to be during a tornado is a basement or a room without windows on the lowest floor. If you are outside, look for the nearest shelter and go inside (to a basement or room with no windows). If you are driving and see an actual tornado, do not try to out-drive it. Again, drive toward the nearest building and get inside.
As for all emergency situations, you should have an emergency plan. This includes:
● Keeping an emergency kit and supplies in your basement or home
● Learn to recognize signs in the sky of a tornado (and teaching your children)
● Running tornado drills
● If you have kids, find out the school’s emergency dismissal policy and make a plan for reconnecting after the tornado
● Stay tuned to the radio/social media/news for the latest weather updates
Being Prepared Can Save Lives
Mother Nature is strong and has many surprises. Sometimes, she is too strong for us. Still, we can try to minimize damage by preparing in advance. In many situations, preparing for natural disasters can save lives. It can also make the difference between how well we deal with a natural disaster as it unfolds and how we cope with its after effects.