5 Critical Lessons for Surviving a Natural Disaster

Super typhoon Haiyan ravaged areas of the Philippines over the weekend, killing over 10,000 people and displacing another 600,000.  Looting and mass graves abound, with survivors said to be wandering around in a “zombie-like” state.

In the days and weeks to come, many more of those initially surviving a natural disaster will ultimately succumb to starvation, dehydration, disease, infection, or violence.  Typhoon Haiyan was a natural disaster on a scale that is hard to fathom, and is fortunately quite rare.

What are the lessons to take away from such a disaster?  While it is unlikely the United States mainland would suffer such a catastrophic storm with equal widespread devastation, it is likely for local areas to be hit just as hard.  Just ask those in the path of Hurricane Katrina, or the tornado outbreak in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, or Joplin, Missouri.

Many thousands have had to deal with similar disasters such as blizzards, droughts, floods, wildfires, tornadoes, and hurricanes.  While each type of disaster presents unique challenges, there are some common lessons for preparing for, and surviving, these events.

How to Prepare for Surviving a Natural Disaster

  1. Have adequate stores of water, and a means of treating other water sources.  Water is heavy, and takes up a lot of room, so it is difficult for most families to have the minimum requisite amount of water on hand for emergencies.  However, everyone should have enough water on hand to provide a gallon a day for each family member for at least a week.  Beyond that, water filtration systems and the ingredients required (iodine, bleach, filters, heat sources for boiling water) are vital.
  2. Store 30 days of non-perishable food.  When planning your food storage requirements, count on each person in your family at least 2,000 calories for daily survival.  Sure, you can live on less, but in the aftermath of a disaster you will be expending more energy making repairs, rescuing neighbors, searching for food and water, etc. and will require a higher caloric intake.
  3. Be able to defend items 1 and 2.  Having an elaborate food and water storage plan won’t help much if you cannot defend it.  Security will become increasingly important, and if you plan on surviving a natural disaster, you better be able to hold your ground.  If you are in an area where guns are still legal, buy one, learn how to shoot, store and clean it safely, and stock up on 1,000 rounds of ammunition per caliber, minimum.  If you are anti-gun, or live in an area where they are illegal to own, consider an alternative to guns.
  4. Have some cash on hand.  After the Tuscaloosa, Alabama tornado outbreak, news reports told countless stories of people being turn away from local grocery stores because they could not process credit/debit transactions.  Many stores and gas stations were operating on a cash-only basis because of power and network outages.  I recommend keeping $500-$1,000 in small bills, enough to pay for gas, groceries, fuel and/or a hotel room in case you have to grab the bug out bags and leave home for a few days.
  5. Stockpile basic medical supplies and medicine.  In the aftermath of a natural disaster, many survivors of the original event ultimately die from the infection and disease that runs rampant in the squalid conditions that follow.  Surviving a natural disaster extends well beyond the actual event itself.  Without clean water and proper sewage treatment options, diseases causing diarrhea and fever weaken an already stressed immune system, leading to life-threatening malnourishment and dehydration.  Have plenty of over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medication, fever and pain reducers, and any extra, unused prescription antibiotics stored safely in waterproof bags or crates.

While it is impossible to be 100% prepared for every event, these five ideas will provide a basic foundation of preparedness that should increase the chances of your family surviving a natural disaster.  The most important lesson is to begin your stockpile now, because by the time a disaster is bearing down upon you, it will be too late.


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