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Disaster Management

General Preparedness

The main characteristics of a major disaster are that irrespective of the origin, after a little while the scene is the same:
  • total chaos all around
  • lack of utilities – which we have always taken for granted
  • no relief and rescue teams for several days
  • lack of medical facilities

Thus, the sufferings are not just due to the disaster, but, post-disaster, many more people die and suffer because of:

  1. lack of food, shelter
  2. lack of medical attention
  3. hygiene issues causing health hazards

The nature of disaster might only change the sequence of events – that’s all.
Hence, it is important to have the following precautions/preparations done – if your neighbourhood is prone to any of the disasters. While preparing, remember, after a major disaster it might be atleast 3 to 5 days, before the first signs of relief is visible. All your preparations should be done with this in mind. Its not just important to survive the immediate disaster, but, you need to be able to sustain yourself for next several days – all on your own – maybe, without any utilities etc.

First and foremost, remember, after a disaster, you might not have stores open. Everything might be closed down. Hence, its important that you have all the life-saving material with you – well in advance.

Here is a list of items that you should have with you, which can help you stay without utilities for a few days:

  • Non-perishable food to last you several days. These should be something, which do not require cooking, have high shelf-life, without need for refrigeration or other special conditions, and, preferably take lesser space to store – so that you can store adequate amount for a few days. These include: canned food items, dry-fruits, high protein biscuits etc.
  • Drinking water to last you several days.
  • Some blankets etc. to keep you warm, in case houses are damaged. Remember, there might not be electricity and/or gas-connections to provide you heating.
  • A supply of your medicines for several days.
  • Flashlight which operates on batteries. It might help you navigate your way in darkness, if electrical system has failed
  • A battery operated radio. It might be your only source of information.
  • Some spare batteries to run your flashlight/torch and the radio
  • If you use cordless phones, have a regular phone also connected. Cordless phones need electrical power to operate. In case of electrical failures, the cordless phones might not work.

In addition, you should have the following items:

  1. First Aid box, to take care of minor injuries (for yourself, your family members, and/or even unknown persons – who might be injured)
  2. Good, comfortable long-boots. With roads damaged, and, too much debris everywhere, you could be on your feet for next several days. A pair of good long-boots would be very helpful.
  3. The fuel-tank of your vehicle should always be above the Half-Mark. The petrol pumps (gas-stations) might either be non-operational, or, might have long queues. In case, an evacuation is required, the last thing you want to do is – get stuck in a huge serpentine queue at the petrol pump.

So, now that you have taken care of your food and shelter, one of the most important things is to maintain proper sanitary conditions. Toilet flush systems might not work – either due to lack of water, or, due to breakage/damage to plumbing pipes/fittings etc. Thus, a lot of people die due to outbreak of diseases associated with lack of sanitary conditions. Lack of water creates unhygienic conditions, which result in outbreak of such diseases. A simple technique can help you ward-off this situation.

You should have several (plastic/polythene) garbage-bags. Use these bags for excretion – inside it. The toilet paper can also be thrown inside the same bag. Once it has been used a few times, close its mouth tightly, and, let it lie in a corner. As long as it has been sealed properly at its mouth, there is little risk from it. Once the relief teams start coming in, and, utilities start returning back to normal, these bags should be disposed off. This is much safer than excreting in the open. That would be risky for you, as well as open-excretion would give rise to several sanitary issues.

Some other precautions that you can take, which would make it easier for you/your friends/relatives to control anxiety:

  • Designate a person outside your area, who should be your contact point. Instead of all your friends and family members trying to reach you (after the news of the disaster spreads) – to enquire about you, you should maybe, inform just one person – outside the zone of disaster. This one person should inform other friends and relations. This serves three main purposes:
    1. After a disaster, everybody is calling all their loved ones – to enquire about their well-being. This causes a severe burden on the communication system – which are not designed to handle everybody on the phone at the same time. Hence, many of your friends and relatives are not able to get through you – and thus, their anxiety about you keeps getting increased. Instead, if it was pre-decided, they all would call just one person – who is outside the zone of disaster, and, the communication network there is not over-stretched.
    2. The already over-stretched telecom network is saved some load. This allows relief agencies to use the available telecom bandwidth for rescue and relief operations.
    3. Your own supply of batteries etc. lasts longer, if you receive fewer calls
    So, suppose, I grew up in city A, and, then, have moved to city B. Hence, most of my friends and relatives are in city A. Now, if there is a disaster in city B, I would call up just one of my friends/relatives (pre-designated) in city A. All my other friends and relatives would get in touch with this pre-designated person in city A – to enquire about me.
  • Designate a meeting place for your entire family. When a disaster occurs, different members of the family could be at different places. Even if all of them have survived, you all might be taken to different shelter-camps and/or medical facilities. You don’t want you/your family members running all around the town – locating each other. Hence, there should be a pre-designated place, where, all of you would meet/send your locations – at the first available opportunity. This pre-designated place could be some friend/relative outside the immediate zone of disaster, say a friend’s place. Even if you can not physically be there, you can atleast call up and leave a message there – about your location and/or well-being, as soon as there is an opportunity.
  • If you have a school-going child, arrange with someone to pick up the child – in case of a disaster. With communication and transportation network having broken down, this someone (which could be you-yourself) has to be somebody in the walking distance of the school. This person can simply walk down to the school, and, pick up the child. The school should be informed in advance about this person being one of the allowed guardians to pick up the child in case of an emergency/disaster.

    Once again, have phone numbers for your child’s friends’ parents with you. Instead of everybody trying to call up the school, share information among each other. The number of phone lines that a school would have would be too few – compared to the number of parents trying to get information about the safety of their kids. Hence, if a fewer parents call up, and, can share information among each other, it would be helpful.

    Also, remember, with so many kids on their hands, the teachers and the school staff would have their own anxiety. Hence, cooperate with the school, rather than trying to complicate matters for them – by insisting/questioning/rushing-in etc.

  • The above is also true, if you have an aged parent at home, and, there is nobody at home – to help them evacuate etc. during the time of disaster. Please enlist the help of some neighbour to provide timely assistance to the aged and feeble people.
  • You should know the location of the controls for your utilities, as well as how to turn them on/off – specially, water, electricity, gas etc. Depending on the situation, you might need to shut off certain utilities. E.g. if water lines are leaking, and, water is pouring in, you might want to turn off the water line. Or, if electrical wires are snapped, you might want to turn off electricity supply. Usually, there are several levels of controls, e.g. for electricity, there might be switches to turns off supply for individual rooms, entire house, or, even entire neighbourhood. Depending upon the exact risk-location and nature of the risk, you might want to turn off at the appropriate location. E.g. if the risk is only inside a house, turn off the supply for just that one house, rather than the entire neighbourhood.

Now, that you are adequately prepared:

  1. Do NOT panic at the time of the disaster. Think clearly. If you are already prepared – by having mentally gone through your disaster preparedness several times, you might just know what to do. And, if you have already taken the precautions – you might have all the tools to deal with the situation.
  2. Be prepared to stay in it for the long haul, rather than getting desperate and loosing hope.
  3. If possible, try to help others – those who are weak, e.g. the aged, small children, people with any special needs, those who are sick etc.

Once you have secured your own life, try to help others also – depending on your strength – both physical and emotional. Just make sure – not to put your own life and safety into jeopardy. You could help in one or more of the following:

  1. immediate help to the possible victims
  2. search and rescue
  3. record keeping (who is being sent to which hospital etc.) – As soon as people start coming to their senses, they would start looking for their near and dear ones. A good record keeping system would allow people to know which of their near-and-dear ones have survived, and, where have they been taken (specific relief camps, treatment facilities etc.)
  4. Crowd control – so that people don’t risk themselves by trying to go near damaged structures – because, inspite of their best of intentions, they could cause more damage to either themselves or others

Try to be on your own and pick up your lives as soon as its possible and safe to do so. Don’t depend on alms and doles to bail you out.

Medical and other help would be really limited. Don’t try to make too much noise about minor stuff. Adjust and compromise. Let resources be used by those who have greater need for it.

If it appears that it will take a long time for the life to return to normalcy, and, one has to move (creating situations of migration/refugee etc.), try to move in with a relative or friend for the duration, rather than relief camps being run by various relief agencies. This will have several benefits. The most notable being:

  1. lesser burden on the relief system
  2. lesser concentration at one place, because, the places running the relief centers also get overburdened by the sudden increase in demand to support a much larger number of people
  3. better sanitary and hygienic conditions
  4. Most importantly: much less distressing – psychologically and emotionally