Today I end my hypocrisy.
I am embarrassed to tell you, friendly reader, exactly how UNprepared I am despite my extensive knowledge of and buy-in to disaster facts. I have no bug out bag, no emergency supplies for my cat, no evacuation plan (my husband and I share a car! How will we evacuate if we’re separated?), and no copies of important documents. I have a fire extinguisher only because it was here when we moved in (Landlords, take note!). But, I’ve decided to reject my feelings of shame and do something about it. Therefore, I’m introducing a new “Boot Camp” series. And I’d like you to partner with me! I’m taking a lesson from weight loss psychology. No shame, no guilt, only working together toward progress.
Notice, I said working toward progress not perfection. The thing about disasters is that they are uncertain. Take tsunami’s. We know that tsunami waves decrease exponentially in power the farther they get in land. And we’ve seen from the Japanese earthquake/tsunami that people who left immediately survived. Since no one can tell you exactly how far inland the tsunami will hit–both mathematically and practically–every step you take up or in increases your chances of survival. It’s the same for other disasters. Don’t be overwhelmed and disheartened by the awe-inspiring lengths Preppers go to survive an extinction-level event. No one can say exactly how big of an event you’re likely to experience, so every little bit of preparation adds up to better survival. You’re FAR better off BEGINNING to prepare than “finishing” (if you ever do finish, which is debatable). So if beginning is what’s important, let’s do that.
Ready? Goal One: Find out what hazards are in my area.
I’ve grown up in this area so I felt pretty confident in my assessment of the hazards. (Maybe you feel the same). Even when I lived briefly in Tornado Alley and the Wintery North East, I felt I understood what natural disasters I faced from their reputations. But, recently, I’ve discovered not one, but TWO different hazards in my home town that I didn’t even know existed. Awkward. Every Communications and Management expert will tell you that good decision making starts with knowing your initial conditions. So let’s do that. Let’s verify what out there.
1. Know the history. Let’s start with this simplified map which makes a list of likely disasters by region. I like this one because it includes tsunamis, pandemics, and economic downturns that the other maps don’t.
Now, let’s look at a more detailed map of disaster declarations over the last 50 years from FEMA (It’s really big and beautiful. It has to stay in a link because of formatting issues). Then, let’s look at this more recent map for the last 10 years.
There’s lots to see here. Notice that FEMA breaks up the US into “Regions”. This will be helpful to you later on. Each state is broken up into county. The darker red the county is, the more disaster declarations it’s had. The red doesn’t tell you what kind of disaster, just how many (see the key at lower right). The pie charts, on the other hand, tell you what kind of disasters but not where. So…you’ll have to do a little inferring. It looks like we all have flooding and winter storms in common. Last thing: in some pie charts you’ll notice “Other.” The “other” is different between the maps, so I highly recommend you look at the definition waaaaay down at the bottom left. For instance, in the 50 yr map, volcanoes, dam breaks, and landslides are included in “other” This is where knowing what land features are around you would be helpful.
Level up: Here’s where you can search a list of disaster declarations by year, government, or type. You could search by county, for instance, to discover what’s common in your hometown.
2. Know your area. Let’s do a little geology/geography.
- Ask your local authorities. A quick Google search of your town, county, or state’s “Emergency Management System” or “Disaster Response”. Some may continue to use “Civil Defense” name, though that is becoming increasingly rare. I highly encourage you to do this!
- The NYT has a delightful map about the most and least risky spots to live. Complete with type of disaster.
- Here’s a collection of USGS maps based on the various disasters (click for larger). I got them from the side panel of the Red Cross Map Library.
- Interactive fault map from the USGS. Will tell you where the faults are in your area and when their last was an earthquake.
- More detailed Urban and Regional earthquake maps. includes liquefaction details for some areas.
- Map library based on state. Has maps of roads, rivers, elevation, etc. If you click on the river map in your state and scroll down, you’ll find a drought map, water flow rate map, and more. (Left: water features of Washington State. Right: drought map of Nevada)
- USGS “water watch” site. Updates drought and flooding maps daily.
- EPA EnviroMapper. Search for chemicals and industry that could affect your air or water.
- Red Cross map library. Find state maps and externally resourced maps (like USGS, FEMA, EPA, etc).
Level Up: A lot of places have information on the intensity of a potential disaster. San Fransisco, for instance has numbers on how big of an earthquake to expect. Ask your local authorities if this information is available for your area.
3. Gather situational awareness. Situational awareness is knowing what’s happening around you right now. Do you know where to go for severe weather advisories or flood predictions?
- Know what kind of warnings your area uses. Outdoor alarms? Push notifications (reverse 911)? Often you have to opt-in to local or regional push notifications. Your jurisdiction EM office should have information on how to do that.
- Red Cross weather hazard library. A collection of constantly updated maps. Find rainfall/flood risk maps, wind gusts, status of tsunami and earthquake monitoring stations, air quality or heat maps, etc.
- Map of seismic zones overlayed with nuclear reactor locations (courtesy Mike Meuser via CrisisHQ)
- You can make your own “Lifeline” map here. (A lifeline map shows roads, sewers, electrical plants–anything a city needs to survive). I encourage you to play around with the map. There’s lots and lots of USGS info on it that you can overlay onto your specific area. It’s a really good source for local knowledge.
- ESRI Severe Weather Public Information Map. Real time, crowd sourced severe weather reports. Puts NOAA warnings, and Twitter, Youtube, and Flikr info on a map. (Click “Fullscreen” over upper left map corner to get details like pic below).
4. Know what to do about it.
The Red Cross has a list of (almost) all possible hazards. It’s good to start with a long list so we don’t miss something important. Notice the lovely alphabetical order and the lots and lots of further resources listed underneath.
I think that’s enough for today. Whew! Good work, everyone. Look at how much better prepared we all are!
If you found helpful resources, please do share them below.