Understanding Climate Change and Natural Disasters

Photo Credit: 12019 via Pixabay

All over the world, we hear about shocking earthquakes, powerful tsunamis and devastating cyclones all happening one after the other. Coupled with the current climate crisis, it’s natural to assume that the seemingly increasing and more devastating weather occurrences are attributed to the effects of climate change. However, the link between climate change and natural disasters isn’t always that straightforward. Below, we’ll try to dissect current claims on the connection between climate change and the increasing amount and severity of natural disasters.

Increasing Droughts

A drought is a prolonged dry period in the natural climate cycle. In recent decades, the outcomes of droughts have been lessened through man-made irrigation systems. With the negative effects brought about climate change, experts predict that droughts will become longer and more extreme by the end of the century. Researchers from the University of Arkansas found that if we don’t take steps to mitigate climate change, up to 60% of wheat-growing areas worldwide could have severe, prolonged and simultaneous droughts in the near future. If this prediction does materialize, this could shock the global food system and lead to food insecurity for many parts of the world. The findings reflect more than future predictions, as cases like Syria have already proven how intense droughts can upset a whole region.

Severity of Tropical Cyclones

Aside from droughts and heat waves, rainfall is another indicator of the detrimental effects of climate change on natural weather occurrences. The Independent interviewed Dr. Friederike Otto, the deputy director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, who said “We’re now finding that for many kinds of extreme weather events, especially heatwaves and extreme rainfall, we can be quite confident about the effect of climate change.” The US Geological Survey found that because of warmer ocean temperatures, tropical storms are becoming more severe. Most of these tropical storms are affecting archipelagic countries in certain parts of Asia. Daydreaming in Paradise says that the vulnerability of Southeast Asia to natural disasters is not only due to geographic location, but to how people there live. The region is full of young rapidly urbanizing economies where large populations are squeezed into poorly designed cities. As tropical storms become more common and more severe, these densely populated areas are at high risk.

Danger of Premature Conclusions

However, there is also a certain danger in immediately associating extreme natural disasters with climate change. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report on hurricanes and global warming found that while anthropogenic warming is likely to cause more intense tropical cyclones, it’s still premature to conclude that the same can be said for other natural disasters like Atlantic hurricanes and earthquakes. While hurricane patterns are likely to be affected by man-made forces if they haven’t already, scientists have currently found no direct ties to the recent Hurricanes Harvey or Irma. Thus, although compelling arguments to the extricable causation between climate change and current natural disasters seem hard to deny, it’s always important to take everything with a grain of salt and look for claims that have proper scientific backing.

Written exclusively for ENN.com
by Melanie Friedman


Invisible Threat Following Natural Disasters

After a natural disaster strikes, it’s difficult to decide where to begin the recovery process. From water damage and electrical outages to damaged infrastructures and scattered debris, it can be an overwhelming task that requires endless months of hard work to salvage what’s left behind.

First responders, clean-up crews and local patrons are often eager to start the cleanup process and restore the home they all know and love. However, the reality is that the likelihood of environmental exposure is just as prominent as the visible damage left in front of our very eyes. We encourage anyone impacted by a natural disaster to protect their health before jumping into restoration efforts by learning of the typical toxins that arise from extreme weather.

Natural disasters can occur anywhere at any time and include everything from severe storms and floods to earthquakes, landslides, wildfires, dust storms, and tornadoes. While it’s true that the extent of toxic exposures depends on the location, those who live near areas that are vulnerable to natural disasters, such as the coast, are at higher risk.

Just this past summer, The D.C Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the EPA enforcing prevention practices to combat the accidental release of toxic chemicals. While these safety practices were planned to be implemented in March 2017, unfortunately the plan was delayed just three months before Hurricane Harvey struck our nation.

This catastrophic event resulted in major power outages throughout Houston, leaving the Arkema chemical plant unable to function and stop volatile chemicals from flooding the city. On top of this, New Orleans was also saturated with toxic sewage that included lead and arsenic, and both found to have adverse effects on human health.

Along with contaminated water, building products were once full of dangerous ingredients including lead, PCBs, and asbestos; thus, leftover debris can also pose a threat. Residents and workers should remain cautious of any old infrastructure including homes, public buildings, and even abandoned property that could have released airborne toxins as a result of damage. In the case of asbestos, avoiding exposure can be life-saving as the toxin is often associated with insidious cancer, mesothelioma.

While Hurricane Katrina ravaged three entire states covering nearly 90,000 miles, this major event brought government officials together, agreeing that our nation should have better protection practices in place for the future. Fortunately, the Obama administration began to relieve some concerns; however, certain manufacturing companies were unwilling to reveal relevant information and petitioned the EPA to reconsider the accidental release risk management policy. Although the agency is still processing the proposal, officials agree that first responders, at the very least, should be fully trained on the matter and provided with protective gear proper decontamination tents to prevent unnecessary exposure.

Poison Prevention Week: The Importance of Understanding Toxic Air Pollution

Every March, National Poison Prevention Week is recognized as a way to spread awareness about toxins of all kinds, especially ones that are detrimental to human health. A form of poison that we often do not think about is the pollution that is invading our indoor and outdoor air. Whether it is carbon monoxide (CO) as a result of vehicle exhausts or microscopic asbestos fibers from a home renovation, hidden dangers lurk within all facets of our lives.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 91 percent of the global population lives in areas where the air is deemed polluted. In order for us to combat this, we must understand how our carbon footprints are affecting the environment, and what we can do to reduce hazardous pollution that is a byproduct of our everyday activities.

Things such as carpooling or riding a bike to get from place to place can reduce CO emissions, something that can protect our well-beings in the long run. CO has been linked to short-term health issues such as dizziness, confusion, and headaches. If exposed to CO for a prolonged period of time, serious complications can arise such as permanent damage to the brain, cardiac issues, and even death. CO is also hazardous to the environment by creating a potentially harmful ground level ozone, which can create problems amongst our plants and wildlife.

For more information about carbon monoxide and the hazards associated with your health, check out the EPA’s page on CO.

With spring cleaning and home renovation season right around the corner, it is important to be cognizant of our indoor air and the toxins that we may exposing ourselves to. As mentioned previously, asbestos is a seriously harmful toxin that can create havoc within our internal organs. Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma cancer, a rapidly progressing disease that is often misdiagnosed due to symptoms that mimic less severe aliments. If your home was built prior to 1980, it is vital to have it tested for asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) and other toxins such as lead and benzene before renovating and cleaning.

To get involved in National Poison Prevention Week, consider spreading awareness by sharing this article across all platforms of social media. The more people that are involved in this initiative, the faster the results will be in reducing the pollution that causes so much damage to our health and environment year after year.

For more information about mesothelioma cancer and asbestos exposure, check out mesothelioma.com.

Asbestos and Occupational Wellness

Asbestos and Occupational Wellness

Professionals who work daily in mines, shipyards, construction sites and industrial plants are constantly exposed to different types of threats on the job. Environmental risk plays a role in occupational health, as there are less-known natural factors that put the health of workers at risk as well. Asbestos is an especially dangerous mineral that has been affecting the health of workers for decades. Today, asbestos remains the leading cause of occupational cancer in many countries around the world, and those on the job could still be exposed.

Shining a light on these naturally occurring occupational risks can lead to bigger discussions around why it is important to hold worker safety to a high standard. With more discussion around safety in the workplace, we can decrease the number of workers harmed annually on the job by preventable injury and sickness.

Asbestos related illness

Asbestos is still the leading cause of occupational cancer and in the past been a harmful material that has plagued those in the construction and industrial industry. Asbestos was first discovered to be harmful when asbestos miners in the early 1900s came down with cases of asbestosis and what would later become known as mesothelioma cancer. Despite the link to disease, asbestos would continue to be used in the construction of buildings, insulation, heating appliances and machinery such as pipes and boilers through much of the 20th century.

There is now legislation in place that controls the amount of asbestos used in new products. However, due to its previous widespread use, asbestos has been built into many buildings and materials that are still intact today. When asbestos containing materials in buildings or piping is broken apart, the risk of inhaling the microscopic fibers increases. Once inhaled or ingested, asbestos settles inside the body, irritating the organs and can lead to cancerous tumors. Therefore, those who work closely with broken building materials are more likely to be exposed.

Occupations with the highest risk

Construction workers and laborers – During the haydays of asbestos use, the mineral was noted for its strong qualities, resistance to heat and ability to absorb sound. These characteristics made asbestos a valuable product to use in the construction of buildings and homes. During a demolition or renovation project of an older building, asbestos can stay in the air up to 72 hours, so workers could be unknowingly exposed. To avoid inhaling any unwanted fibers, workers should make sure that they are wearing the proper clothing and masks, and only abatement professionals should attempt to remove asbestos.

Firefighters – When asbestos-containing materials in homes and other structures catch fire, asbestos can be displaced and become airborne. Firefighters can be especially vulnerable when materials are cooling, and the threat seems like it is contained. Asbestos can become airborne as damaged structures are cooling off, so firefighters and officials should be wary of removing safety equipment and masks. Relief workers and volunteers should also be aware of these risks as they rebuild or pick up materials in the wake of a storm or natural disaster. Both firefighters and relief workers should wash off their bodies and clothing before going home at the end of the day as to not bring harmful toxins into the home.

Mechanics and Automotive workers – Asbestos was widely used in brake pads, brake linings and car parts throughout much of the 1970s. Today in the United States, car parts are in the minority of materials that still include asbestos. Replacing brake pads and other materials could lead to accidental exposure for those who work as mechanics or manufacturing car products. To avoid unnecessary exposure, it is important for mechanics who work closely with these materials to wear the proper safety garments and use ready-to-install products when possible rather than altering materials that could lead to friable asbestos, meaning the toxin is easily damaged and turned to powder.

Monitoring Health and Symptoms

In the past, workers were heavily exposed to asbestos in mines, shipyards and in the military. Naval vessels were also known to be places of highly concentrated levels of the dangerous mineral. While employees and service members in these areas are less likely to be exposed to asbestos today, those who formerly worked in these positions should monitor their health closely. Symptoms of mesothelioma and asbestos-related disease can take anywhere from 20 to 50 years to develop in the body, so communicating work history with a family physician is important. Mesothelioma can also be easily misdiagnosed due to the vague nature of the symptoms. Veterans and former miners should be especially watchful of their health and keep up on annual doctor’s visits. For patients with lung cancer and mesothelioma, early detection is extremely important, so catching these cancers in the early stages can help with treatment options and a patient’s quality of life.

The article was written by Molly McGuane Communications Specialist at the MAA Center.


Hope for a World in Crisis

An Introduction to A New Reality by Jonas and Jonathan Salk

 The shape of the world population growth curve provides a perspective for understanding our current social, political, and economic turmoil.  It indicates the necessity of moving forward to a future of sustainability, interdependence, and balance with the environment.

World Population Growth

If we look at the growth curve for world population using UN median projections to the year 2100, it is clear that, after a long period of acceleration, world population growth is slowing and is projected to plateau.

We are currently at or just past the point of inflection of that S-shaped or sigmoid curve. 

Two Eras

If the S-curve is separated at the inflection point, we see two curves representing two distinct eras in human history.

The first is a period of acceleration, growth without constraints, and apparently unlimited resources.  The second is a period of deceleration, clear limits to growth, and limited resources.  In the first era, short-term thinking, competition, independence, and unrestrained exploitation of the environment are rewarded with success.  In the second, longer-term thinking, cooperation, interdependence, and balance with nature confer advantage to individuals, communities, and the entire human species.

Conflict and Transition

As we pass through the transition point between these two eras, there is, necessarily and expectedly, conflict.  Looked at in the short-term, we see only uncertainty and turmoil.  However, viewed from the long-term perspective of the sigmoid growth curve, this difficult period is seen as a predictable developmental and evolutionary phase of transition.  Importantly, it is clear that the way forward is the adoption of the new value system.

This understanding is crucial, as we see some segments of society reacting to the current uncertainty by returning to values of the past – growth, reliance on fossil fuels, denial of climate change, and isolationism – while others are looking forward, advocating equilibrium, development of renewable resources, strategies to reduce greenhouse gases, interdependence and a cooperative approach to international relations.  Over time, this more forward-looking value system will likely be adopted not because it is idealistic or morally correct but because it is necessary for our survival and for the maintenance of life as we know it on this planet.

A Positive Outcome

It is increasingly clear that coordinated movement toward social, political, and economic changes that support sustainable development, a balanced relationship with the environment, and the welfare of all human beings are the keys to successful adaptation to the future.  Together, we have the opportunity – in fact, the obligation – to facilitate this change and enter a new reality.

This article was authored by Dr. Jonathan Salk.


Fortifying the Resiliency of NYC’s Urban Forests

When you think of forests, the largest city in the US probably doesn’t come right to mind. However, New York City is home to over 7000 acres of urban forest land — mostly found throughout its extensive parks.

The addition of trees and shrubbery to an urban setting makes the air fresher in an otherwise stagnant city setting and provides a habitat for wildlife in the middle of the urban sprawl. The Forest Management Framework for New York City has outlined several threats to these natural oases, and also examines a plan for mitigating them.

Threats to the Trees

Global warming and the intrusion of several destructive foreign species are two of the most significant concerns for the long-term wellbeing of the urban forests. With warmer, drier climates likely around the NYC area in the coming decades, some of the species that inhabit urban green spaces may have trouble surviving. Furthermore, warmer temperatures mean that new varieties of insects, fungus and other tree-munching species will likely migrate north, which presents a compound threat to the health of the trees.

Likewise, the introduction of foreign species into an isolated area can be disastrous. An insect that targets a specific type of tree, like the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, might lack natural predators or other population checks that would usually exist in nature. Further, the annihilation of one species is more impactful to a smaller, less diverse ecosystem of an urban forest.

The Plan

The Forest Management Framework project is emphasizing data-supported research and findings and will be advising other branches of the city’s extensive network of park conservancies, such as the Forest Park Trust and the Prospect Park Alliance. The ultimate goal of this 25-year plan is laid out in a one-page summary of the project and includes reducing the number of invasive species to 10 percent of their current level and boosting climate-related resiliency.

The other goals of the plan include fostering comprehensive and informed stewardship of the forest within the greater NYC community. Though not explicitly stated in the documentation, pollution is another concern facing the urban forests. These areas tend to have a disproportionate amount of traffic in comparison to natural woodlands. More people usually means more pollution and litter.

Pollution is estimated to cause up to 20,000 deaths per year. The addition of air-filtering plant life helps mitigate this. By instilling in communities a sense of the worth of forest land, this project hopes to maintain its quality.

Urban Forests

For those of us who live in cities, contributing to your local urban forest initiatives and park programs can be a fun and helpful activity. After all, all of us have to breathe the air, and adding a few trees to the urban landscape is an easy way to make that air cleaner and healthier.

Kate Harveston
Political Journalist & Blogger

Why Growers Should Transition to Eco-Friendly IPM Instead of Using Harmful Pesticides

Using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for your farm, yard or garden is a healthy and eco-friendly alternative to pesticides.

IPM is a way to control the presence of creatures we traditionally refer to and think of as “pests” that is both environmentally friendly and uses common sense. It is a multi-step process that takes into consideration all aspects of pest control to rid your farm, garden or lawn of bugs and animals that you simply can’t allow to stay there.

Every circumstance is different, so it is important to inspect, monitor and report on your situation before determining the best course of action. Below are some basic facts and steps you can take to start implementing an IPM pest control plan.

Determine What to Look Out for

We share this world with a variety of different animals and insects, and while not all of them are desirable to have hanging around in our daily human operations, they have a place and function in the environment — and they have a right to life. However, some species can cause health hazards that impact our quality of life.

It’s important to be aware of health hazards and do your best to avoid exposure to them for yourself and your workers. IPM educates workers on humane ways to avoid too much contact with these kinds of creatures.

Determine the Best Control Route

To determine what will work best for your situation, you’ll need to know exactly what types of insects and animals are present in your work area, and also what types of plants you have. Depending on what types of plants you have and what time of the year it is, there are different prevention methods for your lawn, farm or garden. For your IPM to be successful, you need to know exactly what types of creatures will be attracted to your grow area.

Prevent and Control

Once you’ve determined what creatures to be aware of, you need to determine the best way to prevent or control them. If the level of pests present hasn’t reached your health hazard level, then there are steps you can take to simply prevent them from entering your grow area. These can include steps as simple as just removing things that attract them, such as food and shelter.

Implement a plan to control these animals and bugs and give yourself time to test it out. Steps may include things like humane trapping and releasing. Keep track of what’s working and once you’ve found a perfect IPM plan for your situation, stick to it.

Don’t Spray Pesticides

Controlling bugs and rodents in your lawn, garden or farm area is an ongoing process. While it may seem easy and convenient to spray pesticides, it’s incredibly harmful to the environment and your health. Implementing an IPM and reducing the number of chemicals you use will be eco-friendly and better for your health.

Kate Harveston
Political Journalist & Blogger

Asbestos Awareness Week: The Environmental and Health Implications of Asbestos

Author: Shawn Tallet, MAA Center

       The first week of April is designated as Global Asbestos Awareness Week, a time to educate and bring attention to the dangers and pitfalls of asbestos. A known human carcinogen, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have both decreed that there is no safe amount of asbestos exposure. Every April, experts, advocates, and victims join together to bring focus to the perils that this deadly substance causes.

A Brief History

        Asbestos wasn’t always a word that alarmed homeowners and environmental activists. A naturally-occurring silicate mineral, the substance forms in crystalline structure and has been mined and utilized for thousands of years. However, asbestos use increased substantially with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, when large-scale mines were opened throughout North America. The mineral was used as an additive and fortifier in many different applications, including insulation, flooring, and roofing. Due to the material’s inherent fire resistance, durability, and strength, asbestos was a very desirable building material. It wasn’t until after builders, miners and others who worked closely with asbestos started getting sick that the mineral’s true dangers began to reveal themselves. Builders eventually found safer alternatives to asbestos, and federal regulations banned some applications of the substance and heavily regulated others.

Severe Health Risks

Exposure to asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a rare and severe cancer. The disease is the result of cancerous cellular growth after the inhalation of asbestos fragments, making old, dilapidated asbestos-containing material incredibly dangerous. After the particulate matter is inhaled, it settles in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart, where the body is unable to remove the fragments. Symptoms of mesothelioma usually manifest after an extensive latency period ranging from a decade to 50 years, and may include chest tightness, chronic cough, and fluid buildup in the lungs. Due to the commonality of symptoms with other disorders, combined with the disease’s relative rarity, mesothelioma often goes misdiagnosed until its late stages. Prognosis for the disease is grim, with most patients facing a 12-21 month life expectancy after diagnosis. Although breakthroughs in immunotherapy and other treatments have shown some promise for patients, there is currently no cure for mesothelioma.

Environmental Threats

Due to the toxicity of asbestos, improper disposal can pose serious environmental hazards as a pollutant. While there’s no surefire way to test for asbestos without a professional, most homes built before 1980 are likely to contain the substance somewhere. Asbestos-containing materials in poor condition can compromise air quality because they may release fibers into the air we breathe. If one suspects their home may be contaminated, they should call a licensed professional to test the area and determine if asbestos is present.  This is especially important to do before attempting to take on any do-it-yourself project. Furthermore, in an effort to maintain public health, there are stringent policies and requirements for proper, responsible asbestos disposal. Generally, specific landfills in municipalities are designated for discarded asbestos-containing materials. Adherence to these practices can greatly diminish environmental hazards, such as contaminated waterways and urban environments.

Global Asbestos Awareness Week

     More than 60 countries around the globe have placed outright bans on asbestos, including all of the European Union, Australia, and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Canada is currently issuing a ban which will go into effect in 2018. While asbestos usage has diminished substantially in the United States, there is still no ban in effect. The goal of Global Asbestos Awareness Week is to ultimately focus on the banning of mining, manufacturing and use of asbestos, prevent exposure, and increase compliance and enforcement of existing laws and regulations. Through education and progress, the threat of asbestos can be greatly diminished and eradicated for the health of future generations.

Tackling Climate Change as the Very Real Humanitarian Crisis That It Is

In many cases, the issues of global warming and climate change are hotly debated and contested, but science consistently backs the findings that environmental changes to our atmosphere are occurring and will continue to occur, and that these are, specifically, changes humans have accelerated and exacerbated.

To solve this crisis, we need to recognize it and implement policies of change. We don’t always think of this as a humanitarian crisis, but it is. Many people don’t realize just how vital every part of the ecosystem thriving is. We are only just recently starting to recognize this and try to find ways to deal with this issue, but more can and needs doing.

The Effects of Climate Change Will Be Felt Around the World

Climate change will have a far-reaching and deep impact on every aspect of life on Earth. It will change weather patterns. It will impact how we grow crops, raise livestock and where we live. Growing crops and raising animals is highly dependent upon the weather. Too many extremes in one form or another — too much rain or not enough — affects what crops can grow and how much yield the crops will produce at the end of the season.

The weather also affects animals. Extremes in cold or hot temperatures can impact how livestock fight off disease, how they reproduce and how much milk they produce in their lifetime. If crops or grasslands are affected by inclement weather, it may be more difficult to feed livestock since they depend on those plants to survive.

Even fisheries and other bodies of water — the ocean, rivers and lakes — will be impacted by climate change. In some regions of the world, fish is a major source of protein for many people. Changes in weather patterns, and hot and cold indexes, will impact where fish live, putting them in competition with other species for food and habitat. This could potentially kill them if they can’t find the resources they need to eat or reproduce.

Climate Change Has Already Had an Impact

Climate change has already affected some areas in this particular way, and experts believe things will only get worse. Crops have failed, leading to food shortages in numerous places around the world. Heat waves and droughts have dried up water sources in various places, forcing inhabitants to move to new areas. A large influx of people into an area with an already short supply of water and food will inevitably lead to more issues.

A few solutions that have been proposed to combat this humanitarian issue are a higher reliance on alternative energy and better management of sustainable resources. But in order to get citizens on board with these strategies, our society as a whole needs a better understanding of what exactly we’re facing.

There’s no denying that global warming and climate change will have a major impact on the world and cause a humanitarian crisis. By working together and acknowledging the threat, we can find ways to combat the issues and thrive as a species.

Kate Harveston
Political Journalist & Blogger

How to Save on Emergency Supplies – Disaster Prep on a Budget

It’s no secret the world is a dangerous place. Every day, we hear about something – whether caused by humans or nature – that’s turned lives upside down. Bad news greets us in the morning and follows us to bed at night.

What are we to do?

flooded house illustration

Fear and stress are killers. They kill us from the inside out. We must find constructive ways to defuse the situation. Faith practices, physical exercise, counseling and peer groups… all can help, but there’s one thing everyone should consider: Get prepared.

When you take the initiative to recognize potential problems and prepare to deal with them when and if they come, you not only position yourself to face those difficulties, but knowing you’re ready helps lower stress.

In this guide, we’ll talk about disaster preparedness. We’ll talk about the supplies and equipment you and your family need to weather out the storm or make it through the crisis. And we’ll suggest ways you can save money and still get high quality goods.

By getting ready now, you won’t have to worry so much about what might happen. If a news alert says severe weather is headed your way, you’ll be ready for it.

You’ll know that whatever comes down the pike, you’re not going to be joining the crowd desperately trying to find a store with something left on the shelves or wondering how in the world to live without water and electricity.

We’ve tried to keep the recommendations here in line with those suggested by the American Red Cross. Responding to disasters is a big part of what they do every day.

Most of Us Are Not Prepared for an Emergency – WHY?

Why don’t we stay ready, just in case the power goes out, the water doesn’t flow from the tap, or the grocery store has to close for a few days?

It’s a perplexing question.

We know disasters happen. We know we’re susceptible. Yet most of us are sorely unprepared.

tornado house illustration

And if we examine the usual answers to why that is, they all fail in the light of reason:

  • I don’t know how to prepare
  • We just don’t have time to figure it out
  • It hasn’t happened yet, so why worry about it?
  • I don’t have the money to get everything I need together
  • Public services like police, fire, and medical can handle any problem

According to data from the United States Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey only about one-third of American households have developed a communication plan and agreed on an emergency meeting location.

In this emergency preparedness guide, we’ll talk about the preparations you should make and suggest ways to check each item off with a minimum of expense and hassle.

After all, the best plan in the world won’t work if you don’t have the means to enact it.

Be aware of your particular situation

House fires are hands-down the disaster any of us are most likely to face. More Americans die each year, as a result of fire, than from all natural disasters combined.

According to statistics from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), your chances of experiencing a reportable house fire during your lifetime is one in four.

house fire illustration

Wildfire, floods, winter storms, wind storms, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanos – all pose different problems and require specific preparations. We won’t attempt to go deeply into the variables here. Rather, we’ll provide direct references to the information you’ll need to get aware and get prepared.

Hazards vary by location. The map below is based on mortality rates due to natural disasters over a 30+ year period.

Know your immediate environment

The Red Cross suggests a “hazard hunt” in and around your home. If you use natural gas, do you know how to shut off the gas? Do you know where the water and electrical shut-offs are? Are there rickety steps, frayed wires, or overloaded outlets? Take a walk around your property with an eye towards hazard identification.

While you’re on the hazard hunt, remember to also look for hazard abatements. Where are your smoke, heat, and CO2 detectors? Are they operating properly, and are the batteries being replaced regularly? Do you have fire extinguishers? Where are they, and are they properly pressurized? Where are water outlets and hoses? Where are emergency flashlights and batteries?


To be prepared, you not only need to make sure you have the necessary tools, but you must know where they are and be able to access them quickly.

The potential hazards examples

  • Do you know how to shut down the supply?
  • Do you know where the water and electrical shut-offs are?
  • Are there rickety steps, frayed wires, or overloaded outlets?
  • Where are your smoke, heat, and CO2 detectors?
  • Are they operating properly, and are the batteries being replaced regularly?
  • Do you have fire extinguishers? Where are they, and are they properly pressurized?
  • Where are water outlets and hoses?
  • Where are emergency flashlights and batteries?

Know where to get accurate, up-to-date information

FEMA’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) is an integrated network meant “to provide the President the capability to address the American people within 10 minutes during a national emergency.” Anyone watching television or listening to a radio station will receive those messages automatically.

For mobile devices, the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WES) system provides similar notifications. To find out more about the technology and how to tell whether your phone is WES ready, go to the NOAA website, Weather Ready Nation.

emergency alerts by phone

You should also subscribe voluntarily to emergency broadcast systems. From news about severe weather conditions near you to law enforcement announcements, those channels give you an early heads-up about things you might later hear covered in scheduled news broadcasts.

Here are some of those options:

  • American Red Cross logo

    American Red Cross: This is our favorite site for emergency preparation. Go there for training, get the Red Cross notification apps, sign up for news… but don’t leave until you’ve begun the process of becoming an American Red Cross volunteer. Make a difference for others while you learn. The Red Cross offers several smartphone apps to help keep you informed about hazardous conditions of all kinds.

  • National Weather Service logo

    National Weather Service Alerts: There’s a ton of information on the National Weather Service (NWS) website. You can drill down to the specific county or region, and you can install an app on your smartphone to get mobile notifications.

    Here in the Internet Age, it’s not unusual to hear breaking news on Twitter or Facebook before it gets broadcast on traditional news channels. Early notifications can certainly help you avoid traffic jams and get ready quicker to face an oncoming emergency, but be sure to verify what you’re hearing online with official channels.

  • ready.gov logo

    Ready.gov: This is the national clearinghouse for public safety. Find out about wireless emergency alerts, the emergency alert system, NOAA weather radio, and more. Although much of the information here is duplicated on the previously mentioned Weather.gov site, Ready.gov is a prime spot for getting information on how to deal with emergencies.

Alternative alert platforms are available for specific regions, for boats and ships, for those who are deaf or hard of hearing, for those near specific potential hazards (tsunami risk areas, for instance), and more. The weather.gov website offers an expanded list of options.

Get familiar with the alert platforms you choose and be sure to learn the terminology. A perennial source of confusion is the need to understand how imminent the threat is. From less severe to more severe, here is the progression:

  • advistory iconAdvisory: Hazardous conditions are expected and may be hazardous. While there could be considerable inconvenience, conditions should not be life-threatening.
  • watch iconWatch:: Hazardous conditions of significant proportion are possible. Get ready. Conditions could be severe. There is a possibility of electrical power loss and danger to life. Prepare and stay tuned to monitor the situation.
  • warning iconWarning: A hazardous event is underway or about to begin. Take cover and stay alert.

Problems occur when multiple advisories are issued over a period of time, but conditions don’t get too bad. When the advisory changes to a watch or warning (meaning the likelihood of occurrence is now considerably greater), people are often less prone to believe the prediction, thereby leaving themselves vulnerable to the hazard. By knowing what the terms mean, you’ll be in a better position to take appropriate action.

Talk, Plan, Practice – The Red Cross Prescription

It may sound like an out-of-order sequence for teaching someone how to deliver a speech, but the Talk, Plan, Practice model promoted by the Red Cross covers all the fundamentals of emergency preparedness.

Let’s look at the components to see why.

Talk with everyone in your family and anyone who could potentially be on your team

preparedness meeting

Not only does teamwork make the work lighter, but it helps you uncover unrecognized concerns and do a better job of advanced planning. Each person can share their personal concerns, ideas, and capabilities.

One way to extend the zone of protection is to talk with neighbors. There could be someone who would need special assistance in the event of an emergency, another may have special equipment that could make hard work easier (a chainsaw, for instance), or there could be someone with medical or first responder training.

Not only does teamwork make the work lighter, but it helps you uncover unrecognized concerns and do a better job of advanced planning. Each person can share their personal concerns, ideas, and capabilities.

One way to extend the zone of protection is to talk with neighbors. There could be someone who would need special assistance in the event of an emergency, another may have special equipment that could make hard work easier (a chainsaw, for instance), or there could be someone with medical or first responder training.

Getting your neighbors involved in a community discussion about emergency preparedness will help expedite the teamwork process when it is needed. After all, you’d naturally come to the assistance of others in your neighborhood. Why not spearhead the effort to get organized before help is needed?

For sure, you’ll want to talk with the people who live with you. From the youngest to the eldest, everyone should take part in the discussion. Make a list of the resources you have available. That list will be invaluable in the next step.

Prepare a plan for dealing with all likely emergency situations

You’ve already identified the risks, and you know how to monitor them. You’ve spoken with those most likely to face an emergency with you, and you’ve prepared a list of available resources/skills.

That gives you the starting point for an informed emergency plan. You want to know who does what and how you will communicate during the event.

Who does what and how will you stay in touch?

checklist illustration

If a storm watch is issued, will dad pick up the kids from school, while mom makes a final run to the grocery store? If home evacuation is necessary, which exit will each person use, and where will you meet as a team to be sure all are clear?

Your plan will vary according to the hazard and your particular situation, so talking through each scenario and setting the plan down in writing will help clarify the responsibilities of each person. When the emergency is underway, it is critical that clear communications take place and everyone understands exactly what needs to be done and who is in charge of the task.

Neighbor Discussion Checklist

  • Special needs
  • Special training
  • Helpful equipment for emergencies
  • Contact information
  • Ideas and Questions

Prepare a contact information card that includes the phone numbers of all group members and other contacts you may need (doctor, utilities, insurance info, etc.), then laminate the cards and give one to every group member.

Ready.gov provides in-depth coverage on how to prepare your emergency communications plan. You can even get downloadable templates to fill out and print. Remember: It’s often possible to send a text message via your cell phone, even when voice calls aren’t going through.

You’ll want to identify a nearby emergency meeting place where head counts can take place, but you’ll also want to pre-plan an emergency check-in location further away from your home or business.

You’ll also want to identify and enlist the help of a third-party who doesn’t live in your neighborhood and isn’t normally nearby. That will give your team a common check-in point in case you get separated.

Be sure to coordinate with others. Get a copy of the emergency plan at the schools your children attend. If loved ones are in care facilities, get the plan and use it to inform your own plan.

Here are five special tips from the Red Cross:

  1. plus iconChoose someone out of state for your distant contact. In a disaster, it may be easier to make a long-distance call than it is to make a local call.
  2. plus icon Register on the Red Cross website that allows families or teams to confirm their situation. Here is the link for that communications tool: Safe and Well.
  3. plus iconCode emergency information on your phone by prefacing it with “ICE” (In case of emergency). That will make it easier to access.
  4. plus iconDuring disasters, landline telephones may still be in service after cellular service is unavailable. Make sure your phone is one that does not require electricity to operate.
  5. plus iconCheck your insurance policies in advance to determine your coverage for the most likely events. You may need a separate policy to cover some types of disasters.

Having the talk and preparing the plan are excellent ways to build confidence, but the real rewards come when you put the plan into action… with practice.

  • Check second hand stores for an old-style landline rotary dial phone. They are rugged and require only an active telephone landline for operation. The current price on Amazon ranges from about $35 to $70.
  • You’ll want a waterproof container for your important documents, but you don’t have to buy a special document box. Rather, you can enclose them in gallon-sized plastic bags, then place them inside a sealed plastic container. Both are inexpensive and available at any Big Lots or other discount store.
  • It’s a good idea to laminate your emergency contact phone lists. Any office supply store will carry do-it-yourself lamination sheets or pouches that will do the job just fine. You could use freezer bags, but lamination is best.

Practice your plan

If “practice makes perfect,” then emergency preparedness is something you want to be an expert at. Your plan can be the difference between a catastrophe and an exciting story, or between life and death.

Set the situation, then walk through the response. For instance, have your family members go to their bedrooms and imagine it’s two in the morning and the smoke detector suddenly goes off.

checklist illustration

What’s the plan?

We won’t cover individual responses to every possible disaster in this guide. Instead, we’ll point you to the Red Cross page that covers each in detail. We’ll assume you’ve identified the hazards and included them in your master plan.

For instance: components for fire would include pre-planning escape routes, practicing low crawling in case of dense smoke, and knowing to stop/drop/roll if clothing ignites.

The Red Cross suggests practicing earthquake and fire drills every six months at a minimum. That same twice-per-year schedule should include a full-scale evacuation of your home, along with your emergency gear and pets.

Collect Your Emergency Supplies and Equipment

Carrying out your plan can be a whole lot easier and more effective when you have the proper gear on hand – ready to use and in working order.

Smoke detectors, for instance, need a source of power. The batteries should be tested regularly. And the grocery store may run out of supplies in short order during a disaster. You’ll need to stock up in advance to be prepared.

battery illustration

Batteries can get expensive. Here are our top tips for saving money, staying safe, and choosing the best type:

  • batteryThe fewer types of batteries you need, the better. Choose your emergency gear accordingly
  • batteryNine-volt batteries are fine for smoke detectors, but you’ll get more life from AA batteries to power your lights and lamps.
  • batteryChoose alkaline over non-alkaline batteries, even if the non-alkaline are cheaper
  • batteryGeneric batteries and name-brand batteries perform and last about the same for general purpose usage.
  • batteryFind batteries on sale and buy in bulk. Store them at room temperature and humidity. Don’t freeze alkaline batteries.
  • batteryAlkaline batteries can typically last 10 years in storage. Check expiration dates on the package.
  • batterySearch Coupon Chief for deals on batteries and other emergency prep equipment.

It’s true that you can cut open a nine-volt battery and retrieve six AA batteries from the case. That could be helpful information in an emergency, but it’s not a practice we recommend.

Let’s move on to consider Red Cross recommendations for the types of kits you’ll need and the contents of each.

The minimum emergency preparedness kit

Let’s move on to consider Red Cross recommendations for the types of kits you’ll need and the contents of each.

Three things are essential: water, food, and first aid supplies.

  • waterWater: The Red Cross recommendation is for one gallon per person, per day, for a minimum of three days. You should also have a plan for what you’ll do should the water supply run out.
  • foodFood: You’ll want to store foods that don’t require refrigeration or cooking. Make sure there’s enough to feed everyone in the family for a minimum of three days.
  • first aid kitFirst Aid Kit: Bandages, antiseptics, first aid cremes, and the basic first aid supplies should be packaged together in one container. You should also be sure to keep an adequate supply of prescription drugs on hand. Don’t wait until the last day to refill.
  • You’ll need to rotate your water supply every six months. You can begin by purchasing gallon jugs of distilled water every time you go to the grocery store. While not an ideal method, it’s a quick way to get your gallon per person per day backup started. You can use the water for cooking, refilling water bottles, making iced tea, and such – meaning you’ll have a constant flow of water going out and water coming in. That ensures rotation. The downside is this method can take up considerable space.
  • Some grocery stores have water dispensing machines. Once you have a sufficient number of jugs, you can refill there to save money. Our local Whole Foods provides water refills for free. You can also check for natural springs near you and use those for refills. Check the Find a Spring website to see if that’s an option for you.
  • The optimum storage container for water is a UV-resistant, food-grade plastic container. Look for plastics identified as #1, #2, or #4. Typically, containers made specifically for water are blue (helps keep the water free of bacteria). Clean water stored properly will never “go bad.” Prices vary considerably, so shop around. Check Craigslist or other local for sale sites. Check your local outdoor stores. The big box stores like Walmart, Costco, and Home Depot are also places to find affordable pricing.
  • Your food emergency reserve can start with a 25-lb bag of dry beans and 12-lb bag of rice. Fill up a five-gallon plastic bucket (about 30 lbs) full of each and you’ll have enough food for one person to survive on for almost two months. For best results, make sure the food is sealed in plastic bags before placing in the bucket. Brown rice, because of the oils it contains, won’t keep as long as other varieties of rice. Costco and the other big box stores carry rice and beans in bulk at low prices.
  • You’d probably get a little tired of rice and beans after a while, so start collecting canned goods on your trips to the grocery store. Get in the habit of buying extra cans of the foods you like most. Keep an eye out for sales and coupons – always an excellent way to save money. The big box stores carry foods in cases, but always compare prices. Everything that comes in a bigger package is not always less expensive. Be sure to check cans and discard or return any that are dented.
  • You can purchase pre-packaged emergency food kits containing freeze-dried foods. A popular product on Amazon comes in a five-gallon bucket and contains a month’s supply of food for one person. The cost is $83.99. That can certainly be the easiest way to get your emergency food together, but it will cost more money and isn’t likely to be as tasty as the rice, beans, and canned foods you choose on our own.
  • Ready-to-go first aid kits are a quick way to get started. We recommend getting one with a durable case (you probably already have one), then checking to be sure you have the items you need. Normally, for instance, you’ll want to add extra adhesive bandages. You’ll also want to check dates on the items that expire (aspirin, cold tablets, etc.) and make sure to rotate them.

Go-bags and other emergency kits

You’ll want to secure duplicates of some of the things you use every day, then store them in a common location. This is often called a “Go bag” or “Bug out bag.” It holds the bare-bones essential items you would need for an emergency evacuation. The Red Cross calls it your “emergency preparedness kit.”

emergency go bag

Choose your own terminology, but get this kit together first. You’ll want a larger, more substantial store of goods in case you need to hunker down at home, but your go-bag will be the first substantial evidence you’re serious about being prepared.

To begin, you’ll need a bag. You may already have a backpack that would work. You want something tough and easy to carry.

Features you’ll want in your bug out bag:

  • Plenty of space and compartments
  • Durable and weather-resistant
  • Camouflage or inconspicuous appearance
  • The more pockets, straps, and loops the better
  • A tactical vest makes a good addition to your pack
  • Plenty of space and compartments
  • Durable and weather-resistant
  • Camouflage or inconspicuous appearance
  • The more pockets, straps, and loops the better

Here are examples of the types of items you’ll want to stow inside:

  • Extra batteries as needed
  • Emergency food
  • Water and storage container
  • Drinking container
  • A knife and nail clipper
  • A supply of cash
  • Water purification tablets
  • A small first aid kit
  • Fire-starting supplies
  • A poncho
  • Duct tape
  • Eating utensils
  • Candles
  • Essential medicines
  • A signal mirror
  • A signal whistle
  • A fishing kit
  • Shelter and bedding
  • Personal hygiene articles
  • A hand compass
  • A multi-purpose tool
  • A wire saw
  • Survival cord
  • Sewing kit with safety pins
  • Sturdy shoes that go above the ankle
  • Appropriate maps
  • Compact binoculars
  • An emergency blanket
  • Pen and pad
  • A flashlight and extra bulbs
  • Self-defense equipment
  • A small hand-crank emergency radio
  • A cell phone and a crank charging device
  • Protective clothing (long-sleeve shirt, long pants, gloves, poncho, jacket, wide-brim hat, cotton underwear, wool socks, neck scarf (shemagh)

Much depends on how heavy you want the bag to be and how much you have to spend. We consider the items listed above to be essentials.

Here are tips on what to look for and how to save money on your basic emergency preparedness supplies:

  • All of this gear can get heavy. Ideally, you’ll want your bug out bag, when packed, to weigh no more than about ten percent of your body weight. You can purchase bags already loaded with gear. That’s quick and easy. However, you probably won’t get the best quality and durability.To get started, you can keep your list with you and purchase the items you need a little at a time. Of course, the sooner the better.Bag selection is critical. You want it to fit you well and be comfortable. It must also be extremely durable.
  • You can shop for bags at your local sporting goods or military discount store. Once you know what you like and how it feels, you can compare prices online and check local second hand stores for a bargain find.
  • For shelter and bedding, the top end is a lightweight tent and sleeping bag. To save expense, you can use a tarp for a makeshift shelter and a wool blanket or space blanket for bedding. Check backpacking supply stores for ideas.
  • Self-defense equipment can range from a handgun to a bottle of pepper spray. Choose whatever makes you feel most comfortable, but you will want to be prepared to defend yourself against attacks from both animals and humans.
  • Satellite phones are more dependable during an emergency, but also considerably more expensive. Hand-held two way radios are another communications option.
  • Don’t forget garage sales, moving sales, and second hand stores for finding items to go in your emergency pack. Always be looking. Keep you list handy.
  • Online places to look are local Facebook groups that list things to sell, Craigslist, and Nextdoor.com. Always check for discount coupons as well.
  • It’s always quicker and easier to buy the pre-made kits for sewing, fishing , and first-aid kits. You’ll typically get higher quality products and a better price by putting your own together. That also makes you more familiar with the contents.
  • All of this gear can get heavy. Ideally, you’ll want your bug out bag, when packed, to weigh no more than about ten percent of your body weight.
  • You can purchase bags already loaded with gear. That’s quick and easy. However, you probably won’t get the best quality and durability.
  • To get started, you can keep your list with you and purchase the items you need a little at a time. Of course, the sooner the better.
  • Bag selection is critical. You want it to fit you well and be comfortable. It must also be extremely durable.
  • You can shop for bags at your local sporting goods or military discount store. Once you know what you like and how it feels, you can compare prices online and check local second hand stores for a bargain find.
  • For shelter and bedding, the top end is a lightweight tent and sleeping bag. To save expense, you can use a tarp for a makeshift shelter and a wool blanket or space blanket for bedding. Check backpacking supply stores for ideas.

Items to stow in your vehicle

If you need to evacuate, chances are good you’ll be able to take your vehicle with you. That’s why it’s wise to keep the gas tank topped off. You can either take your go bag with you when you drive, or you can create a totally separate emergency preparedness kit for your car.

gas can

If you need to evacuate, chances are good you’ll be able to take your vehicle with you. That’s why it’s wise to keep the gas tank topped off. You can either take your go bag with you when you drive, or you can create a totally separate emergency preparedness kit for your car.

Either way, you can definitely store larger items in your vehicle, and you should always take a go bag with you when you head out of town.

Here are examples of the additional items you can store in your car, but probably wouldn’t want to keep in your personal go bag:

  • Sleeping bags, blankets, pillows
  • A mechanic’s tool kit
  • A full-size tent
  • Extra tarps, gloves, and caps
  • Hiking boots

Quick-grab itemsYou’ll also want a few items by your bed for quick-grab-and-go situations. To keep it simple, just make sure you have shoes, a jacket, your glasses, and a flashlight within reach. Practice in the dark to be sure you know exactly where they are and how to get to them quickly.

Preparing a longer-term kit for hunkering down at homeWhile the Red Cross recommendations are to be prepared to go at least three days without access to the utilities and conveniences you normally enjoy, it’s possible you could face a disaster that will last longer. You’ll feel better with a 14-day or 30-day supply of food and water.

Most families have enough goods on hand to go three days without a grocery store. But what if you needed to sit out a week or more, using only the supplies you have right now? That could be tough.

You’d want to first use up the food in your refrigerator, then the food in the freezer (If the power is off, don’t open the door until you’re ready to get food out), then your emergency supplies and the food in the pantry.

For more information, see the federal CDC emergency preparedness website.

Here are some tips on where to shop and what you’ll need.

  • Canned food is excellent for long-term home storage, but not so great for your go bag. For that, your best bet is freeze-dried food.
  • Check outdoor stores and big box stores like Costco and Sam’s Club for deals on emergency meal packs.
  • You can dehydrate your own emergency supplies. With enough sun, you can do it outdoors, or you can purchase an electric dehydrator fairly inexpensively. Here again, remember to look for deals at garage sales, second hand stores, and online.
  • Getting your emergency preparedness kits together can be a fun family adventure. After you’ve collected what you need, don’t stop. Test your systems. Make sure you know how to use all of your tools. Taste the food. Have a bug out day and go camping.Make it fun!

Be Prepared: A Good Motto for Us All

Since 1907, the Scouting movement has relied on “Be Prepared” for its motto. Those two words describe the essence of identifying, monitoring, getting ready for, and facing potentially disastrous events.

The Scouts say one should be prepared in both mind and body. We’ll add to that and say one should be prepared with planning and supplies – those help ease the mind and will help protect the body.

be prepared sign