Life-saving facts that could help in almost any natural disaster, from fires to hurricanes
From rainfall to wildfires, 2017 was a record-breaking year for natural disasters.
In August and September, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria left behind a high death toll, drowned homes, and destroyed power lines. Hundreds of people died in earthquakes around the world, from Mexico to the Iran-Iraq border, and nearly 1,400 people were killed during monsoon rains in South Asia.
Fires devastated locations around the world, perhaps most notably in California, where the government spends over 10 times as much money on fighting wildfires as it did 20 years ago.
Many of these disasters were caused by elevated temperatures on land and at sea, and climate experts expect these events to keep getting worse.
While people may be able to heed their city's evacuation notices or take advantage of evacuation help, some situations are unexpected and make this impossible. Only three in 10 Americans say they have an emergency preparedness kit and 42% say they are not at all prepared for a disaster, according to a recent poll from Business Insider partner MSN.
Here are some tips for staying safe during a natural disaster:
Avoid using contaminated water for drinking or personal hygiene.
Drinking water may not be available or safe to use, particularly after floods, which can contaminate well water with chemicals, human sewage, and livestock waste.
You should only use bottled, boiled, or treated water for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene.
The best way to make water safer is by boiling it, which will kill disease-causing bacteria and parasites. If boiling isn't possible, you can use a disinfectant like unscented household chlorine bleach, iodine, or chlorine dioxide tablets.
Keep in mind that water contaminated with toxic chemicals won't ever become safe to use through boiling or the application of disinfectants.
Minimise sweating if you're low on water.
If you are running out of water, take steps to minimise how much you sweat. In an interview with National Geographic, Weather Underground co-founder Jeff Masters recommended reducing activity and sheltering from the sun. Masters said people should also cover their skin with loose, lightweight clothing that can slow evaporation and loss of water.
Wearing a hat, sunglasses, and gloves helps as well.
Keep enough non-perishable food for at least three days.
Power outages could last for several days following a disaster, so make sure you have a stock of canned foods and dry mixes that don't require refrigeration. Food kept in fridges or freezers can become unsafe without electricity.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that you store enough non-perishable food for least three days. Suggested items include ready-to-eat canned meats and vegetables, protein bars, dry cereal, peanut butter, and dried fruit.
You shouldn't eat anything from cans that have been dented, swollen, or corroded, according to FEMA. Throw away any food that has touched contaminated water, and don't eat anything that has been sitting at room temperature for over two hours.
If cell towers go down, a radio can help you get important information.
It's important to have additional batteries for electronic devices, but cell towers may go down during a natural disaster.
FEMA's list for creating disaster kits recommends having a battery-powered weather radio, which can provide lifesaving information, including evacuation orders and shelter-in-place directions.
In an interview with National Geographic, survival expert Tim MacWelch said weather radios are the best option because they tune in to local weather radio bands, which provide reliable emergency updates.
If you're in cold or wet conditions, take steps to insulate your clothing.
MacWelch said stuffing your clothes with insulating material is the best way to stay warm. A variety of items can be used — crumpled paper, leaves, or even bubble wrap. Sharing body heat is another way to maintain warmth if you're trapped in wet or cold conditions. If you have access to a stone that has been near a fire or a hot water bottle, hold the object between layers of your clothes. It's also a safe way to help hypothermia victims, MacWelch said.
Avoid stepping into deep waters.
A storm surge or flood can contaminate water with bacteria and various chemicals. If you have any cuts or get injured during a disaster, find clean water or alcohol to flush out the cut. If you're outside and can't see the bottom of the water, avoid stepping into it. There could be a nail or sharp object hidden from view, and puncture wounds can lead to tetanus or other infections.
Know how to shut off your home's natural gas.
It's possible for natural gas leaks to cause fires, so you need to make sure you are able to shut off your home's natural gas.
FEMA recommends that you reach out to your local gas company whenever you move into a new home for instructions on shutting off gas service and appliances.
If you smell gas or hear a hissing noise during a disaster, open a window and leave immediately. If possible, use the outside main valve to turn off the gas. Don't try to turn the gas back on yourself afterwards.
Don't tie your pets inside your home.
Warren Faidley, a survival expert and extreme weather photographer, told National Geographic that people shouldn't tie their pets inside or outside their house.
If you can't find shelter for your pet, let them loose. It's the last resort, though Faidley said a free animal has a much higher chance of surviving a natural disaster. They can swim or climb to safety.
Even if you're not caught in a flood, a chained pet is unable to get out of falling debris or escape exposure to other elements.
You may need to leave your home and seek shelter elsewhere.
If you don't think you will survive where you are, you'll need to find a new place with water and shelter. Faidley recommends gravitating toward airports and hospitals, as supplies are likely to be coming in there.
Keep emergency supplies in multiple locations.
You never know where you will be when a natural disaster begins, so make sure you can access emergency supplies at home, at work, and in your vehicle.
An emergency kit in your vehicle can save your life if you end up stranded, and the kit at home should be ready in case you need to leave on short notice.
If you are at work when an emergency occurs, you may be stuck there for hours. Your kits should have food, water, first aid kits, local maps, manual can openers, dust masks, moist towelettes, battery-powered radios, flashlights, and prescription medicine.
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