Are You Prepared for a Natural Disaster?

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, February 11, 2015

If you’re a news junky like me, you probably wonder why the news for the last several years features so many stories on weather and natural disasters. When I was growing up Walter Cronkite hardly ever did a piece on the weather. Now we can’t go a day without hearing about some big natural event somewhere on Earth on the nightly news.

This piece of information jumped out at me while reading This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein:

Over the course of the 1970s , there were 660 reported disasters around the world, including droughts, floods, extreme temperature events, wildfires, and storms. In the 2000s, there were 3,322— a fivefold boost. That is a staggering increase in just over thirty years, and clearly global warming cannot be said to have “caused” all of it. But the climate signal is also clear. “There’s no question that climate change has increased the frequency of certain types of extreme weather events,” climate scientist Michael Mann told me in an interview, “including drought, intense hurricanes, and super typhoons, the frequency and intensity and duration of heat waves, and potentially other types of extreme weather though the details are still being debated within the scientific community.” 36

Klein, Naomi (2014-09-16). This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (p. 107). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Since I wondered about those statistics I did a Google search and found EM-DAT The International Disaster Database. The site is full of statistics and wonderful charts like this one:


Whenever I watch the news and see stories about hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornados, fires, blizzards, etc., it always disturbs me to see people made homeless, or forced to live without power and water. We once lived without power for thirteen days. Since then I’ve had the power go out a couple times for 2-3 days. When I see these news reports I often wonder what I would do if my house was destroyed, or if I had to live without utilities for a very long time. I’ve known a number of Katrina refuges. They just moved away from New Orleans forever.

Who do I know around the country that would put me up? Luckily, my wife works out of town, so I have a second home to go to. But if I had to stay in Memphis, I know a number of friends who’d put me up. But that would only be temporary. And what if I was homeless without any of my paperwork, maybe without even my wallet, how do I reestablish myself? I know the Red Cross helps people in times like that. This makes me think I should cache some important papers in a bank vault or at a friend’s house.

Ever since Hurricane Elvis devastated Memphis in 2003, with straight line winds, I’ve always kept a bunch of flashlights and battery lanterns around. I should keep more bottled water and ready-to-eat non-refrigerated food. And what about medicines? It makes me wonder if I should have an emergency backpack? And what should go in it? It’s something to think about.

Living without electricity and heat is one thing, living without plumbing is a whole other issue. When the water is shut off and you can’t flush the toilet, you quickly realize the value of civilization. I once wondered when the water was shut off while the utility company was working on the main, if I shouldn’t store several plastic jugs of water for flushing the toilet. However, I don’t know how practical that would be.

What if my truck was destroyed, or the roads were blocked? Could I just walk away? Bicycle? Where would I go? Generally, disasters are local. Cell phones are a miracle. I could call a friend that lives somewhere nearby that’s outside of the damage zone. Who? Luckily, I don’t have children or pets. That must be an extra nightmare to deal with.

I should read blogs and memoirs by people who have lived through catastrophes to pick up tips. This is an interesting topic to think about. More than likely, I won’t do much to prepare, assuming like most people, that I’ll always be safe. But it probably wouldn’t hurt to make some preparations.

And has climate change worsens, I suppose we could have many times more natural disasters each decade. What if there were 10,000 in a decade? Will everyone become super-prepared? Can we build tornado proof houses? When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s some people built bomb shelters because they were afraid of nuclear war. Will people start building natural disaster proof houses? Or weather bunkers?


3 thoughts on “Are You Prepared for a Natural Disaster?”

  1. Well James,

    If you are thinking about survival when things go horribly wrong I suggest you check out this lovely little chap book, it might help your situation when or if something bad happens again.

    Odd, yet well thought out and reasoned decisions for why various things are included or excluded like a few children’s toys. Not terribly expensive, hand crafted, and chock full of non-heroic, real life advice for getting through those times when it hits the fan big time.

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