Natural Disasters: Stay Ready!

I’m not a climate researcher, I only know enough to make informed decisions. But, even I would be derelict to brush aside clear evidence that our climate has shown consistent signs of dramatic change. I think back to my early years in the Caribbean, back in the 80’s when major hurricanes, flooding and other natural disasters occurred on rare occasions. I recently spent a few years there and in that time span I witnessed more natural disasters than all others my parents, grandparents, uncles and similar wise elders have seen over their long lives in the region.

In fact, I’ve observed the same trends around the globe. Since last year massive snowstorms in the United States, floods in Australia, record drought in China and Russia (leading to massive wildfires) have put people’s lives at peril, as well as threaten our global food supply.

Since climate conditions don’t show any signs of improving over the coming decade and the global community don’t seem to agree on clear goals for tackling its effect, we as individuals should take the logical best option; which is learning as much as we can about the risks we face and preparing for unpredictable situations. With that in mind I would preface a number of preparedness tips by sharing information from cutting edge studies on root causes for the wild weather gyrations we’ve been experiencing.

Climate Tipping Points: (Source:

Scientists know from the geological record that the Earth’s climate can change rapidly. They have identified a number of potential tipping points where relatively small amounts of global warming caused by human activities could cause large changes in climate. Some tipping points, like the losses to the Amazon forests, involve positive feedback loops and could lead to runaway climate change.

Arctic ice cap: The white ice cap is good at reflecting the Sun’s warming light back into space. But when it melts, the dark ocean uncovered absorbs this heat. This leads to more melting, and so on.

Tundra: The high north is warming particularly fast, melting the permafrost that has locked up vast amounts of carbon in soils for thousands of years. Bacteria digesting the unfrozen soils generate methane, a potent greenhouse gas, leading to more warming.

Gas hydrates: Also involving methane, this tipping point involves huge reservoirs of methane frozen on or just below the ocean floor. The methane-water crystals are close to their melting point and highly unstable. A huge release could be triggered by a little warming.

West Antarctic ice sheet: Some scientists think this enormous ice sheet, much of which is below sea level, is vulnerable to small amounts of warming. If it all eventually melted, sea level would rise by six metres.

I’ll introduce a new slogan for this blog, which is “Protect People First”. That said, below are a few tips on protecting yourself when natural disasters strike.

If there are only moments to spare, you need to know how to react to everything from an earthquake to a tornado and a flood to hurricane. Study up on the basics so you can be decisive during the destruction:


Heed evacuation orders, first shutting off utilities. If you stay home, turn off gas lines and fill your tub with water. Secure shutters. During the storm, move to an interior room and close all doors.


If a flash-flood warning is issued, move to higher ground immediately–don’t wait to gather belongings. In any flood, avoid downed power lines and moving water. Six inches of moving water can make a pedestrian fall, while a foot will float most vehicles.


Once you hear a storm warning, tune to a weather radio (or similar emergency information source) for tornado alerts. If an alert comes, seek refuge in a basement–either your own or a neighbor’s–or go to an emergency shelter. As a last resort, stay on the lowest floor of your home. If you’re in a car as a tornado approaches, get out and seek shelter indoors. If you’re caught in the open, lie flat in a ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands.


Crawl under a sturdy table and cover your face and head with your arms. Stay away from windows and large bureaus or bookcases that could fall. If you become trapped under debris, cover your mouth with a cloth or shirt, and tap against a pipe or other object to make noise. (Don’t yell for help unless you have to; you risk inhaling dangerous quantities of dust.) If you are able, leave the building once the shaking stops–aftershocks can bring down a structure compromised by the initial quake. Finally, if you’re outside during the quake, steer clear of buildings and utility wires.


Contact your local fire department, health department or forestry office for information on fire laws. Make sure that fire vehicles can get to your home. Plan several escape routes away from your home – by car and by foot. Teach each family member how to use the fire extinguisher (ABC type) and show them where it’s kept.  Keep handy household items that can be-used as fire tools: a rake, axe, handsaw or chainsaw, bucket and shovel


Respiratory illnesses, such as the flu, are spread by coughing, sneezing and unclean hands. Because of this, one of the most important things you can do to stop flu transmission is to wash your hands frequently with soap and warm, clean water for 10-20 seconds. If running water is not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used if your hands are not visibly soiled.  Since employees often spend up to eight hours a day in an office, breathing the same air and coming into contact with the same surfaces, the office can be a breeding ground for viruses and bacterial infections to spread. Pay close attention to personal and workplace hygiene.  During a flu outbreak, disinfecting is critical! Give special attention to highly touched environmental surfaces in your work area and office such as desks, keyboard/mouse, phones, printers, doorknobs, light switches, etc.

Last word on natural disaster preparedness: Do not undermine the power of social media as an early warning source of information. I personally use twitter to gather and forward information on risk conditions around the world. My experience has been that I ramp up intake of local and global developing situation faster and more accurately than any other media source. So, whatever your preference for staying connected, learn to harness the power of crowd-sourced information as your own miner’s canary.