Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Disasters All Over the Place

The last few days has provided a range of disasters to learn from.

Nuclear Disaster: As usual, I was working last night on some documents with the TV on in the background. I generally have the History Channel, Discovery Channel, or other station on as background noise and once again, a show piqued my interest so not a lot of work got done. The show was on the History Channel and was called 'Day After Disaster' which looked at what would happen if Washington DC became ground zero for a nuclear attack. There was a lot of information about how federal agencies would respond to such a disaster but they did offer some tidbits of information for the civilian population, including:
  • Don't look in the direction of the initial blast of light from the bomb, it could blind you.
  • During the blast, keep your mouth open to equalize the pressure in your ears so you don't burst your eardrums.
  • After the blast, protect your nose and mouth with a cloth so you don't breathe in dust and debris.
  • High doses of radiation will kill you, how quickly or slowly depends on the distance you are from ground zero.
  • After the blast, get out of the radioactive zone as quickly as possible.
  • Keep a wind-up radio in your emergency gear for news and information after the blast. You'll want to know which direction the plume is travelling and go the other way.
  • There are 37 primary radio stations that will broadcast information after a disaster.
  • If there is one bomb, there may often be a second or third as well.
  • Shelter in place in the nearest appropriate building. This means kids will shelter at school and parents will shelter at home or the office. It is not a good idea to go running all over town through highly radioactive areas trying to collect up the family and it is an even worse idea to try to evacuate via car out of a major city when everyone else has the same idea; everyone will be left stranded, sitting in their cars, in the radioactive "hot" area.
  • Another good reason to shelter in place as opposed to evacuating is that hundreds of thousands of people evacuating to another area will overwhelm the infrastructure of the location you are evacuating to and you may end up with less resources there than where you were.
  • The safest place to shelter is in the basement or center core of a building (preferably concrete and steel building), less optimal is to shelter in your car, and least optimal is out in the open. Even standing flat against a building offers more protection than being out in the open (although if you've ever been to the Hiroshima Peace Museum and saw the outlines of the people burned into the concrete steps where they were sitting when the atomic bomb was dropped in that city you will think twice about that idea).
  • Seek shelter immediately so as to limit the amount of fallout you are exposed to.
  • Take potassium iodide tablets if you are exposed to radioactive fallout to protect your thyroid.
  • NEST (Nuclear Emergency Search Teams) are trained for search and rescue efforts after a nuclear disaster. Nice to know but again, you have to be able to care for yourself because there are hundreds of NEST members yet hundreds of thousands of civilians which would be impacted by a nuclear event in a large city.

Flooding: Two cities that I frequent, Atlanta and Manila, have been under water over the past week or so. Fall (which coincides with hurricane and typhoon season) is the time for flooding, not just in the south and southeast Asia, but anywhere that heavy rains can cause rivers to overflow. Here's some tips:

  • Get flood insurance.
  • If you live in a flood-prone area, move. Seriously, I have never understood why people who are displaced by flooding every year continue to rebuild in the exact same spot!
  • Get a NOAA radio, especially if you live in a disaster-prone area. Many people in both the US and SE Asia were actually caught unaware that massive flooding was possible and actually expected.
  • Pay attention to the news and follow evacuation orders.
  • Have a flood evacuation plan. People who live in flood-prone areas (this means anyone within range of rivers that can over run their banks, dams that could be breached, coastal areas, et al) need to know what they will do in the event of a flood. What is the quickest way to higher ground? Do you have a boat to evacuate in? Do you have stored food and water to take with you when you evacuate? What will you do with your household goods in the event of a flood? Can they be put on a roof/etc? How will you purify water for drinking and cleaning after the flood (the stuff that comes out of your faucet after a flood won't be fit to drink)?
  • If you are poor, you are more likely to be screwed during a flood. It is often people who are poor, sick, and/or elderly that are most devastated by a flood because they have more barriers to evacuating (no car, no money for gas, no place to evacuate to), and have more problems after a flood (may run out of medicine, have limited funding and social support to help them recover/resettle after a flood).
  • A flood doesn't care if you are rich or poor. Floods are equal opportunity disasters and if you happen to be in the middle of one, your options are only slightly better if you are rich than if you are poor. A number of people who are wealthy and/or famous were calling for help along with everyone else in Manila when their homes were inundated by flood water.
  • How's your business continuity plan? No matter your business, if you are impacted by a flood, you will need to have a plan for continuing to provide products and services to your customers so you will continue to earn money (or provide services to those in need if your business is part of the city's critical infrastructure).

Tsunami: Samoa, like other beautiful islands in the South Pacific, is a great place to vacation. Like all islands and coastal areas, especially if they are located in the "ring of fire" in the Pacific, they are vulnerable to tsunamis which form after an earthquake.

  • The bad news? You probably won't feel the earthquake that causes the tsunami. In the Samoa tsunami, the earthquake happened 120 miles away. Often your first warning that the tsunami is coming is the tsunami arriving.
  • The good news? Since the Indonesian tsunami nearly five years ago, monitoring for these potential disasters has been stepped up.
  • If you are in a tsunami-prone area, pay attention to tsunami warning alerts, know where the evacuation routes are, know what to look for in beach conditions in case the tsunami warning is not made, and if you get caught in one, run to the highest place you can find as quickly as possible.

The bottom line:

  • You are responsible for your own safety, every time, all the time.
  • You need to know what kind of disasters are likely to impact where you live, work, and vacation, and be educated about how to react to such disasters.
  • Make every disaster that happens (preferably by watching from afar) a learning experience for you and your family. What worked for the people caught in the disaster, what didn't work, what are the lessons learned, etc.


  1. Why shall I prepared?

    Disasters allways happens in other places and to other people.
    Not to me or in the U S A.

    Just in case we have F E M A .

    Couch Potato.

  2. ROFL...at least about the FEMA part...