Rural Training Center, Thailand (RTC-Thailand)

Are You Prepare To Survive a Disaster? [with addendum]

May 14, 2008

The many disasters, natural and/or human, in the last few weeks and years make a strong case for both emergency preparedness and self-sufficiency. While experts and academics debate the issues of international aid and government disaster/emergency policies, there is one clear and obvious point: the first response happens on-site among the survivors. Individual, family, and local community members must deal with the calamity immediately. Response by a government and world beyond their village or town may take several hours if not days, weeks or longer to reach the more remote areas.

Everyone should recognize that each place on Earth can be characterized by a unique combination of weather/climate conditions associated with the atmosphere, landforms (the lithosphere), water resources (hydrosphere), and plants/animals/cultural practices (the biosphere). In a typical natural disaster, severe weather (e.g. the recent cyclone in Myanmar/Burma, hurricanes and tornadoes in the US) or an earthquake (e.g. the Indian Ocean tsunami, and the recent quake in China) disrupts the environment. Due to the flat terrain and losses of mangroves to development of the Irrawaddy Delta, the storm surge and heavy rains quickly flooded the region washing out roads and bridge. Strong winds damaged sheltering structures. The rugged terrain in Sichuan, China saw many landslides effective cutting road access to the region.

The following ideas should be adapted to your particular circumstances and needs. We suggest preparing at 3 different levels: 1) home---assuming that after the disaster, your home is safe and you can remain there; 2) car/truck---assuming that your vehicle survived and you may need to leave your home and evacuate to a safer area; 3) back pack---in the event that you must get out by foot. Each level of preparation compliments the other levels. Obviously, the limited size of a backpack forces you to set priorities for the contents. Your vehicle can hold more, so it can be a significant supplement to your backpack. Likewise, your home preparation kit supplements your vehicle kit.

In the Geographic Systems Model, people are part of the Biosphere. In the Model, one of the Biosphere checklists is SWFS: the letters SWFS (which can be pronounced as ?“swifs?”) reminds us Space, Water, Food, and Shelter are critical survival factors for living organisms. You can only go without water for a few days, without food for several days, and only a few weeks without shelter (depending on the prevailing weather/climate conditions). In a disaster, these needs are relatively immediate. The stressful conditions may significantly reduce your endurance unless you can get aid quickly.

Space means a safe zone beyond the danger of the current disaster site. You need adequate space to assemble and attempt to get water, food, and shelter. Consider the fact that if helicopters are available, the first deliveries of aid may come this way. So find safe landing zones in your area for helicopters. Surface access for relief supplies may be by railroad, road, or boat. Finding a landing zone near these facilities might make aid distribution easier. You should know all of the potential factors that could restrict or block the access routes for relief supplies to your area.

The amount of water and food needed depends on the past disaster response performance for your area. How long did it take for the government to get relief supplies in after the last disaster in your area or country? If it was 2-3 days, use that as a guide for the amount of water and food you need to have. A conservative approach would be to take the 2-3 days and add a ?“safety?” factor. It will be better to have more than to not have enough supplies.

After a disaster, the survivors often lack of clean, safe drinking water. For the sake of emergency preparedness, all of us need to have a store of drinking water in sealed containers. Survival studies suggest 4 liters of water per person per day. Making a solar water distiller enables you to purify any available water for drinking to supplement your stored water supply. Solar cookers can be used to pasteurize water to get safe drinking water. [Note: The RTC-TH has information about a low-cost solar cooker in the PDF section at]

Food supplies need to be put aside. And if your area is prone to flooding, water tight storage containers are needed. Preparing the food is another matter. Solar cookers don?’t require anything but sunlight. A solar cooker lets you save wood for other uses or for days without adequate sunlight. Learning about local edible plants can be a life saver. Consider planting alternative crops capable of surviving severe storms. For example, severe storms can devastate rice crops. On the other hand, potatoes may have the plant above ground destroyed, but the edible part of the plant is underground and can be dug up and used after the storm.

Shelter will be necessary to protection you from over exposure to the sun, wind, rain, etc. Plastic sheeting and tarps are compact and easily stored and transported. Don?’t forget ropes to fasten them to poles and supports. In the tropics, mosquito-borne diseases become a serious issue following many storm related disasters. So make sure you have mosquito nets in your disaster preparedness kit.

A good basic first aid kit with a first aid booklet enables you to tend to injuries to prevent infections. If possible, get first aid training. Clearly mark expiration dates on the perishable items. Routinely check the replace out-of-date items. A weather-resistant container should be used for the kit. Learn about basic sanitation methods and prepare dealing with human wastes when the toilet doesn?’t work. Human wastes as well as dead animals can quickly contaminate surface water supplies and water wells. This can add to the disease and infection issues facing survivors. Basic sanitation will be critical and is likely to be very difficult to do. Keep in mind that flood waters will be a mixture of many different substances?….toxic chemicals, human and animal wastes, bacteria, viruses, etc. Thus, minor cuts and scrapes can be quickly and easily infected. Be sure your first aid kit has ample amounts of disinfectant to clean wounds.

Normal communications may or may not exist. Many times, normal communications fail. Telephone lines and cell phone towers are damaged. Even commercial radio/TV stations may not be able to transmit. It is obvious that without clear and accurate details from the disaster site, emergency response from outside the village or region will be difficult to coordinate.

Emergency communications (EmComm) becomes the vital link to get information of your local condition to outside contacts and government authorities. Once they have the basic information, they can begin to allocate the appropriate resources to respond. Plan to have someone in your area trained and licensed to use an amateur radio (HAM radio). This can be a vital means of communication during an emergency. You can use a HAM radio to relay basic information to relief authorities. They need to know:
1)How to contact you. Advise them if your power supply is limited and set up a contact schedule and alternative contact frequencies.

2)Who is in charge locally?

3)The location, nature and extent of the emergency.

4)Your location and the location of the safe assembly area and access to your area.

5)How many people may be affected, the number and nature of any injuries or life-threatening conditions.

6)The amount of supplies on hand (water, food, fuel, shelter materials, bedding, etc), the amount of supplies needed and when you need them.

7)If a helicopter landing zone is available, be sure to indicate the size of the area and any nearby vertical obstructions. Try to provide local weather conditions to aid the flight crews. [Note: The RTC-TH has weather observation materials with additional notes on helicopter flight operations. Weather conditions for your location can also significantly affect the welfare of the survivors and relief aid planning.]

The many recent disasters in the news all point to the fact it is very, very difficult to recover from a disaster yourself. The vast majority of survivors were not adequately prepared for the disaster. You must know the geo-hazards particular to your area. For Nan Province, flooding, landslides, and storms with strong winds seem to be the main hazards. Be informed of the environmental conditions that are associated with triggering those hazards. Pay attention to weather conditions and have a portable battery powered radio as part of your emergency preparedness kit. Don?’t forget about extra batteries.

In most disasters, there was a pressing need for outside help. But you will be on your own until that help arrives. The farther you are from a main town or city the longer you may have to wait for aid. Relief efforts often give a priority to serving the most people possible in the shortest time. This often means having ready access to the greatest number needing help. Smaller remote communities will probably have to wait longer until outside help arrives. The better you can work together locally, the better a chance more people can survive the disaster.

Emergency preparedness starts at home. Start now by encouraging each person and family to put together a basic emergency kit. Make complimentary sets for home, vehicle, and back pack. Continue the effort by organizing friends and neighbors to do the same. It is important that you take care of yourself and your family. Once this is done, you will be better able to try to help others. Have everyone ready and able to help each other once their families are secure. Pay particular attention to families with infants and the elderly. They may need more help, and the elderly and the very young are often the most susceptible in disaster situations.

Remember, emergencies often occur quickly, and some times without warning. Once they happen, it is too late to try to organize and prepare. The time to prepare is NOW?….before the emergency occurs. So start today to plan for your safety and well-being and that of your family and friends.

Addendum: In a recent report from Chengdu, China, Chinese amateur radio operators were started communicating from the disaster area (Wenchuan) to amateur radio operators in Chengdu and then from Chengdu to Beijing. These amateurs are also setting up local repeaters in the disaster area to assist government officials to communicate from the disaster area. The amateurs are operating on their own without government support. This is just another strong example of the importance of amateur radio in times of emergency.

The following is a translated excerpt from the China Radio Sports Association:
?“On the afternoon of May 12, 2008, Wenchuan Area of China's Sichuan province was struck by an earthquake. Communications in some of the surrounding areas are currently cut off, and communications in some other areas are experiencing network congestion because of drastically increased traffic.

Chinese Radio Sports Association therefore calls on its members to take actions to ensure their amateur radio stations to operate properly, and to the extent possible stand by on often used short-wave frequencies. If any radio signal is heard from the disaster area, please do your best to understand what is most needed by people in that area and report it to the local government authority. If people in the surrounding areas need to pass messages to their loved ones over the radio, please help them to get in touch and get the messages across as soon as possible.

Amateur radio stations in the disaster area and surrounding areas if in working conditions should be used unconditionally to assist the local earthquake disaster relief authorities, and subject to permission by the said authorities, to provide communications services to them. For emergency communications purposes, amateur radio stations may also be used to pass messages for local residents on a temporary basis until local telecommunications services resume.

Amateur radio stations of all areas please give way to and stand by for emergency communications.

The short-wave frequencies for the above emergency communications are tentatively set on 7.050MHz and 7.060MHz.

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