They’re known for their brutality, their indiscriminate drive to steal, destroy and cause havoc. They are nature’s unsettled offspring, throwing titanic tantrums across huge swaths of pristine landscape. They are natural disasters; and they spoil lives and deliver only human sorrow and pain. While we cannot tame nature’s spirited outbursts, we can prepare ourselves. We can brace ourselves for their inevitable fury. In fact, performing our due diligence can significantly mitigate the threats natural disasters pose. We have the opportunity to avoid the tragedy they bring.
The Earth’s Most Wanted
Consider their violent rap sheets.
Hurricanes take top billing.
According to the Weather Channel, 2005’s Hurricane Katrina holds the top dishonor. While not the strongest, Katrina killed 2,000 people and ravaged more than 90,000 square miles of land.1
Galveston’s 1900 hurricane, the most deadly, comes in second. It killed nearly 12,000 people. The Miami hurricane of 1926 is third.2
The six-month hurricane season starts June 1. Researchers predict this year’s outlook to be “slightly above average.” Others paint a bleaker picture.3
Expect 14 named storms this Atlantic hurricane season, according to the Colorado State University Meteorology Project. Seven of those are expected to become hurricanes; three may reach major hurricane strength (with sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour).
Next up on the list: earthquakes. While not No. 1 in the United States, these seismic monsters rank at the top spot on the planet.4 They killed more than a quarter million people in their most active year (2010) of the 21st century.5
Sometimes spawned by hurricanes, tornadoes are particularly vicious. Some of the more intense ones can produce wind speeds of up to 300 mph.6
The peak months for tornadoes are April, May, and June, when they are at their most powerful and most deadly. May has historically been the high point, with an average of 275 tornadoes.7
Tornadoes are lethal: 1925’s Tri-State Tornado killed 695 people; the Natchez Tornado of 1840 took 317 lives; and the Joplin, Missouri tornado took 158 lives on May 22, 2011. The Joplin tornado, with wind speeds exceeding 200 mph, ripped across the Missouri landscape for 22 miles.8
Storms often express their incendiary rage with lightning strikes. Sudden, brilliant, and deadly, strikes can reach temperatures of 54,000° F, which is about six times hotter than the sun’s surface.9
Last year only 16 people were killed by lightning strikes, the lowest of any year on record. Experts attribute the low rate of deaths to greater awareness and better-built structures. The earth gets struck by lightning 100 times per second.10
Wildfires tell a different tale. More than 66,000 wildfires swept across the United States in 2017, many lingering for weeks and months, relishing in their devastation. Most (90%) were caused by humans. Some 4.5 million homes in the United States have been identified as being at high or extreme risk of wildfire. Losses from wildfires reached $5.1 billion in the past 10 years.11
Flooding hit a record year in the United States in 2016; 19 floods swamped large areas across the country, the most since record keeping of floods began in 1980. The worst was in August in Louisiana where more than 13 were killed and around 60,000 buildings were destroyed. Damages reached $10 billion.12
The wintery counterparts of flooding and heavy storms are the snowstorm and the blizzard. While recent history records some major snowstorms, the late December 2017 blizzard took top honors, grounding 7,000 airline flights. It also stranded New York City transit passengers in subway cars for nearly nine hours.13
The New York City snowstorm has to step aside for the March 1993 Storm of the Century, which caused 300 deaths and nearly $10 billion in damages.
Other natural disasters include landslides, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis, which are more prominent in other nations.
Why Should You Prepare?
Despite the gloomy picture, emergency officials say making preparations can significantly reduce the risk of property damage and potential for loss of life from a natural disaster.
“It makes sense to invest in preparedness,” said Elhadj As Sy, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). It is the “moral thing to do… It saves lives and that is the ultimate, the most important goal.”14
What can you expect by getting prepared?
Alberto Monguzzi, the IFRC’s disaster management coordinator for the Europe zone office, said the return is substantial.
“We estimate that for each dollar spent on disaster preparedness, an average of $4 is saved on disaster response and recovery.”15
How Do You Prepare?
Preparing for a natural disaster ought to be a priority.
Here are some basic tips from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security:16
Where will you go? If a disaster is about to strike, you should know where the shelters and the evacuation routes are. Your local or county emergency management office should have helpful information.
What will you bring? Put together a bag or kit of emergency items to take on short notice: flashlights, batteries, cash, first aid supplies, medications, and copies of important documents.
What will you do? If orders haven’t been given to evacuate and you decide to stay, make sure you stock up on adequate supplies in case of power outages. That may include extra water and nonperishable food.
What should you do? Develop a family emergency plan that describes in detail the supplies you’ll need, who to contact, and where you’ll go.
Who should you contact? Many communities and local governments provide emergency text or email alert systems for notifications. Go online and search for local emergency preparation information using your town or community name and “alerts.”
Prepare Your Home
Getting your house prepared may be the single most important part of an emergency plan. Here are five tips to help safeguard your home:17
1. Trim trees and branches around your house.
2. Secure rain gutters. Clear out clogged areas to help water flow and to prevent flooding.
3. Reinforce roofs, windows, and doors.
4. Invest in a portable generator or have one installed for power outages. Keep generators at least 20 feet from your house during storms.
5. Look into building a FEMA safe room.18
How about your finances? What steps should you take to protect your financial well-being?19
Should a natural disaster strike your home, here are some tips to keep you safe financially:
Do an inventory. Make a list of all your possessions inside your home—furniture, electronics, appliances. Do one outside as well: cars, boats, landscaping, furniture. Take photos of the big items and include the images with your list. Store your list online.
Check your insurance. Review your policy to see what’s covered. Eliminate unnecessary coverage (floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions). Examine your coverage and deductible amounts. Keep important and original documents (birth certificates, deeds) in a safe deposit box at your bank. Keep copies of important documents and cash in locked, waterproof, and fireproof boxes at your home.
Build an emergency fund. Start saving to cover six to nine months of living expenses. Calculate your monthly expenditures (rent, mortgage, groceries). Set aside an amount for savings to build the emergency reserve, which should be separate from other savings accounts.
What Do You Do After the Storm?
The storm’s gone. The natural disaster has passed. What next?
Here are some tips from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security:20
• Listen to news or emergency updates (on a battery-powered radio if the power is out).
• Inspect your home with a flashlight.
• Beware of stray animals.
• Use your cell phone only in emergencies.
• Watch for fallen power lines and trees, and damaged roads, sidewalks, and walls.
Don’t go into your house if:
• You smell gas.
• The area is flooded.
• Fire damaged your house and authorities have not declared the area safe.
Prepare Now for a Safe Future
Preparing for a natural disaster shouldn’t generate anxiety or stress. While storms, both in nature and in our individual experiences, are part of the normal course of our lives, we’re not required to allow them to dominate our thinking or bring us down.
Getting prepared for life’s uncertainties is wise and healthy.
Take steps today to make sure you’re ready for whatever nature intends to do.