This article contains a large amount of useful information and advice for individuals whose lives have been affected by natural disasters. Specific sections of this article discuss several important topics including disaster preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation in general. These topics provide measures and strategies that people can employ to manage and minimize the risks posed by natural disasters. Additionally, this article will guide you towards more specific information about your individual situation. There are various links to other websites as well as the information already provided by this site. Even if your region is not susceptible to natural disasters, you should know what to do in the event of an emergency. Fires and accidents can occur at any time. Knowing what to do could be the key to your safety and survival.

Our world is immensely alive, everyday, under our feet. At any time, extreme sudden events caused by environmental factors have the power to shake the universe. They are caused mainly by weather and geology - the turning and churning of our planet as it moves around the sun creating weather patterns, storm systems, and climate differences, while our earth shifts on plates and rivers of magma deep beneath the crust. Sometimes those interactions manifest themselves as great global changes that we call natural disasters or hazards.

A natural disaster is a natural hazard event that causes widespread distress, usually including loss of human life and notable damage to social systems or property. These events can affect the lives of many thousands of people each year and cause large-scale damage from which recovery is either impossible or long-term. They can bring sorrow, but they can also teach important lessons about who we are, what is important to us, and what joys life can hold for every human being. Besides the obvious, direct impacts of natural disasters (such as a tornado destroying a house), there are usually many indirect impacts. Although these impacts may be less obvious, they are often more costly and can add years on to the recovery time from a disaster. As people who live in communities that have been devastated by a natural disaster will often say, there is no such thing as a complete recovery - disasters can forever change our ways of living.

What are they?

Natural disasters are catastrophic both for the people and the land they affect and include, but are not restricted to the following: drought, earthquake, fire, flood, hurricane (cyclone, typhoon), landslide, tornado, tsunami, volcano, thunderstorm, disease or famine, and acts of terrorism. It is important to know that, many times, one natural disaster triggers or is accompanied by another. For example, earthquakes and volcanoes sometimes occur together because they are both caused by geologic movements. Earthquakes can damage water pipes, causing wildfires. They will sometimes trigger tsunami, which in turn flood the land, causing landslides. Hurricanes can cause thunderstorms and heavy rain that causes avalanches. Each tiny change within earth's atmosphere, including human activity, can affect something else in this dynamic system.

Surviving a disaster itself is truly terrifying, but that is only the beginning. Once the disaster passes, survivors are in for a difficult experience as they face the aftermath. In some cases, the first hours or even days following the disaster are every bit as dangerous and difficult to survive as the disaster itself.

Contingency Action Plans

Because natural disasters are such an essential, and often overlooked, part of our lives, it's important to know how they function and how to prepare for them. While not all natural disasters can be predicted and prevented, a state of preparedness and ability to respond quickly to a disaster can considerably mitigate loss of life and property and the human suffering and restore normalcy at the earliest. It is, therefore, of paramount importance that a plan of action for dealing with contingencies that arise in the wake of a disaster is formulated and periodically updated.

Disaster Preparedness

Disaster preparedness includes all of the activities that are carried out prior to the advance notice of a catastrophe in order to facilitate the use of available resources, relief, and rehabilitation in the best possible fashion. Disaster preparedness starts at the local community level and if local resources were insufficient, it would branch out to the national level, and if needed, the international level.

Disaster Mitigation

Disaster mitigation is the ongoing efforts to lessen the impact disasters have on people and property. Fewer people and communities would be affected by natural disasters with the use of this process. Because of the varying degree of each natural disaster, there are different mitigation strategies for each. Earth scientists around the world use NASA satellite imagery to better understand the causes and effects of natural hazards. The goal in sharing these images is to help people visualize where and when natural hazards occur, and to help mitigate their effects.

Disaster Management

Disaster management is the process of addressing an event that has the potential to seriously disrupt the social fabric of the community. Disaster management is similar to disaster mitigation, however it implies a whole-of-government approach to using community resources to fight the effects of an event and assumes the community will be self-sufficient for periods of time until the situation can be stabilized. Through disaster management, we cannot completely counteract the damage but it is possible to minimize the risks through early warning, provide developmental plans for recuperation from the disaster, generate communication and medical resources, and aid in rehabilitation and post-disaster reconstruction.

Disaster Prevention

Disaster prevention is concerned with policies and programs to prevent the recurrence of natural disasters and covers the long-term aspect of such disasters. The small price to pay for any method of prevention and protection pays off in the long run. An example of this is whereby a company will invested a large sum of money to protect its facilities from an earthquake. If an earthquake was to hit the area in the vicinity of the company, then the prevention the company took, could save million in damages.

General Preparedness

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports that it generally takes about 72 hours for most emergency and relief services to be established after a major natural disaster. Essential services like police, fire, ambulance, communication, water and electricity, and natural gas may be cut off for an indefinite period of time. Until help arrives, victims of the disaster are largely on their own. Some neighbourhoods may not get any outside help at all. Those who did not or could not adequately prepare often experience the greatest suffering.

How you can help

The first thing you as an individual can do is to become educated about them. Ready yourself in other ways as well - involve your community, start awareness programs, and make sure your family and home are well protected. Supply yourself with the necessary items to help yourself and others out of catastrophic circumstances. You need to be prepared ahead of time because you won't have time to shop or search for the supplies you will need when a disaster strikes. Therefore, a disaster plan will help with safety, security, and comfort. Regardless of the type disaster, there are things you can do to prepare.

These are a lot of ideas. You may not be able to do everything that is suggested- that's OK. Do what you can. Taking even limited action now will go a long way toward preparing you financially before a disaster strikes.

Disaster Supplies Kit

By taking the time to create a family disaster supplies kit, your family will be prepared in the event of a disaster. The kit also helps children feel more secure knowing it is there in case of an emergency. The supplies can be kept in a plastic tub, small suitcase, or other container. Some things to include are:

1)  First aid kit and first aid manual
2)  Flash light and extra batteries
3)  Battery-operated radio 
4)  Supply of prescription medications
5)  Credit cards and cash
6)  Identification for each family member
7)  An extra set of car keys
8)  Matches in a waterproof container
9)  Signal flare
10) Phone numbers and a map identifying safe places to go
11) Special needs items such as diapers, baby formula, hearing aids, spare eyeglasses or             items for other physical needs
12) Three gallons of water per person
13) Three-day supply of non-perishable food
14) Kitchen tools (mechanical can openers, utensils, etc)
15) Complete change of clothes for each family member
16) Tools and other accessories  (hammer, nails, saw, rope, tarpaulin)
17) Sanitation and other personal hygiene products such as toilet paper, soap,                              toothpaste, and toothbrushes
18) Entertainment such as games, books, compact discs and tapes with                                      battery-operated players.

Home Contents Inventory

Make a complete inventory of your home, garage, and surrounding propernventory can be either written or videotaped and then store a copy of the record somewhere away from home, such as in a safe deposit box. Include information such as serial numbers, make and model numbers, physical descriptions, and price of purchases (receipts, if possible). This list could help you prove the value of what you owned if your possessions are damaged or destroyed and can help you to claim deductions on taxes. For a complete guide to making a household and property inventory visit

When Disaster Strikes

Confronted with an impending natural disaster, most people feel uncertain, confused, and afraid. Thinking clearly and rationally is difficult and it is important to remain calm. Under no circumstances should evacuation be delayed because of a search for personal items. Property can always be replaced but human life cannot.


Some  disasters  strike  with  little or no warning while others may allow some time to prepare. Evacuate  immediately if told to do so. Authorities  do not ask people to leave unless they truly feel lives may be in danger. Local officials  will  provide you with the most appropriate advice for your particular situation. If told to evacuate, you should always:

   1)  Wear protective clothing and sturdy shoes. Disaster areas and debris contain many                 hazards. The most common injury following disasters is cut feet.
   2)  Lock your home. Others may evacuate after you or before you return. Secure your                   house as you normally would when leaving for extended periods.
   3)  Use travel routes specified by local authorities. Don't use shortcuts because certain                 areas may be impassable or dangerous.

If you have only moments before leaving, grab the following items and go:
   1)  Disaster Supplies Kit (see above)
   2)  A change of clothes and a sleeping bag or bedroll and pillow for each household                      member.
   3)  Car keys and keys to the place you may be going (friend's or relative's home).

If there is enough time, you could take the following actions:

Protecting Your Home

If you're sure you have time and if local officials haven't advised an immediate evacuation, but there's a chance the conditions may get worse, take steps to protect your home and belongings:

Cleaning Up After a Disaster

After a natural disaster, going back into your home can be dangerous because of structural, electrical or other hazards. Remember, do not smoke, use candles, gas lanterns or other open flames around your home. Always have someone with you as you check your home and do any repairs.

The following information assumes that you have some experience in construction and electrical repair, if you do not have this experience do not try to do this work yourself. Hire a qualified contractor or electrician. If you cannot afford to get professional help check with your Red Cross or local emergency manager to see if there are any volunteer programs available to you. A guide to carrying out general safety checks can be found at

Coping After a Disaster

The impact of any disaster or traumatic event will affect people at all levels of involvement: victims, bereaved family members, friends, rescue workers, emergency medical and mental-health care providers, witnesses to the event, volunteers, members of the media, and citizens of the community, the country, and the world. The disaster or traumatic event can cause people to feel angry, frustrated, helpless, and afraid.  They can also make people want to seek revenge. Studies have shown that acting on this anger and desire for revenge can increase feelings of anger, guilt, and distress rather than decreasing them.

However, there are strong mechanisms that contribute to natural recovery from these events. Many trauma experts agree that the psychological outcome of our community as a whole will be that of resilience. For most survivors, symptoms of fear, anxiety, re-experiencing, urges to avoid, and hyper-arousal, if present, will gradually decrease over time.

What psychological problems might one experience as a result of surviving a disaster?

Most child and adult survivors experience one or more of these normal stress reactions            for several days:

What factors increase the risk of readjustment problems?

Survivors are at greatest risk for severe stress symptoms and lasting readjustment problems if any of the following are either directly experienced or witnessed during or after the disaster.

Some individuals have a higher than typical risk for severe stress symptoms and lasting PTSD, including those with a history of:

Disaster stress may revive memories of prior trauma, and may intensify pre-existing  social, economic, spiritual, psychological, or medical problems.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 

As mentioned above, natural disasters often result in loss or destruction of property, homelessness, physical injury, financial hardship, and emotional distress. The intensity and often unpredictable occurrence of natural disasters often result in symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Symptoms of PTSD, which may be experienced by survivors of natural disasters, include difficulty sleeping, exaggerated fears, increased irritability, flashbacks, and emotional or physical distress when reminded of the event.

Survivor Guilt

Many survivors of disasters report a deep sense of guilt, combined often with feelings of numbness and loss of interest in life. Survivors often feel that they did not do enough to save those who died or feel like the wrong persons may have survived. Not everyone will experience it. There is nothing abnormal about feeling it and there is nothing wrong if you don't feel any survivor's guilt. It may happen when you find yourself in a situation where you think you should feel grateful and yet you don't.

If you feel that your feelings are overwhelming seek professional help right away. Talk about this with others. Don't feel guilty and be alone; don't add shame to this as others may also feel guilty. Remember that any feelings of guilt, anger, questioning, and intense sadness, are perfectly normal. Patience and time are the only ways to minimise your guilt; there are no shortcuts through this healing process. Here are some further suggestions in dealing with survivor guilt:

What can survivors do to reduce the risk of negative psychological consequences and to best recover from disaster stress?

Researchers are beginning to conduct studies to answer this question. Observations by disaster mental-health specialists who assist survivors in the wake of disaster suggest that the following steps help to reduce stress symptoms and to promote post disaster readjustment.

Protect: Find a safe haven that provides shelter; food and liquids; sanitation; privacy; and chances to sit quietly, relax, and sleep at least briefly.

Direct: Begin setting and working on immediate personal and family priorities to enable you and your significant others to preserve or regain a sense of hope, purpose, and self-esteem.

Connect: Maintain or re-establish communication with family, peers, and counsellors in order to talk about your experiences. Take advantage of opportunities to "tell your story" and to be a listener to others as they tell theirs, so that you and they can release the stress a little bit at a time.

Select: Identify key resources, such as the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or the local and state health departments, for clean-up, health, housing, and basic emergency assistance.

Taking each day one at a time is essential in disaster's wake. Each day is a new opportunity to FILL-UP:

You can visit the website Self-Care for Survivors of Disasters for more information on specific coping strategies in the wake of a disaster. Also, there is helpful advice and sources of additional information provided in our useful Links (Natural Disasters) page.

Post-Disaster Scams and Fraudulent Activities

In the aftermath of a disaster, there are those who will prey upon consumers using marketing scams, deceptive door-to-door sales, home improvement scams and misleading solicitations for non-existent charities. There is often an influx of highly over welcome visitors including looters and sightseers. Always try to remain vigilant for these nuisance individuals. If you are being harassed by these people, do not be tolerant to their intrusion. Alert the law enforcement authorities and ensure that appropriate action is taken. While it is impossible to list all scams that might develop, some are:

Home Repair Consumer Tips

Unfortunately, after a disaster fraudulent home repair companies may flock to your area. As you rush to make your home or office inhabitable again, use good judgement.

Remember, if an offer is good "now or never," you can bet it will never be good.

Charitable Solicitations

While there are numerous legitimate organizations providing relief to disaster victims, history has shown that con artists move in to collect funds for non-existent charities and then pocket the money and run. How can you protect yourself?

  1.   By law, all charities soliciting money must be registered with your State or Country.
  2.   Don't give cash. Write a check and make it out to the charity.
  3.   Don't give your credit card number to strangers over the phone.
  4.   Legitimate charities will give you time to decide whether and how much to donate.

Price Gouging

When a disaster occurs there may be temporary shortages of essentials. When those circumstances arise, some individuals may attempt to charge exorbitant prices for such goods. If you feel you are paying excessive prices for goods or services you may file a complaint with a Consumer Affairs Department or your local consumer protection agency.

In Summary

In any survival situation, knowledge and advance preparation are crucial although loss cannot be completely prevented nor predicted. Yet understanding the tendencies of a natural disaster can enable one to become prepared physically and emotionally. Surely the mistakes made and the lessons learned from past disasters will not soon be forgotten- or will disasters continue to put unprepared people into desperate straits?

All of the above information makes good sense, regardless of the potential problem. For more information on how to get ready for disaster and be safe when disaster strikes please contact your local Red Cross charter. You can find it in your telephone directory or through their home page at For information about your community's specific plans for response to disasters and other emergencies, contact your local office of emergency management.
Surviving Natural Disasters
Rediscover Hope
Strategies for Life's Tough Times
Natural Disasters
Expert Advice
News Stories
Useful Resources
Recovery Plans
Expert Advice
By Peter Jenkyns (University Graduate)
25th January 2004