We can always learn from statistics, general advice, and other forms of information--but what tends to stick in our memories and remain in the forefront of our minds are stories. That’s why in this post, I’m sharing collected disaster advice from five survivors of three scenarios: wildfires, earthquakes, and civil unrest.
From understanding the importance of evacuation plans in advance, to developing skills and knowledge for self-reliance, there is a lot to be gleaned from those who have actually experienced worst-case scenarios. As you read, take note of the variety of tips and advice--you never know when you’ll need to suddenly know this helpful information.
Wildfires: 2018 California Wildfires
The devastating wildfires in northern California in 2018 were a not-so-friendly reminder that nature can be unforgiving in its actions. The Camp Fire virtually destroyed the town of Paradise, California, and killed 75 people along the way.
Many residents waited until too late to evacuate and were caught in traffic as the fire closed in. The New York Times shared the story of Kevin Jeys, 62, who stayed at home as he didn’t own a cell phone or vehicle and missed orders to evacuate. Eventually, Kevin went outside to scope out what was happening. “Propane tanks were exploding all over the place, people were screaming and the embers from the buildings on fire around me were crackling. But I knew then and there I wasn’t going anywhere. I thought, where the hell am I going to go with three cats?”
By some miracle, Kevin and his cats survived, his house untouched by the fire. However, the majority of his neighbors and their houses weren’t so lucky.
It’s also important to prepare for life after a wildfire, especially if you lose your home and need to reside in a temporary shelter for some months. Don’t rely on governmental organizations like FEMA to necessarily help you out--as Buzzfeed News reported, the organization “received nearly 27,000 valid registrations from wildfire victims asking for aid, but has approved just a fraction--7,891.” Making it equally difficult to receive aid is the fact that many residents’ documents were destroyed in the fire. To get warnings as they are issued, be sure to sign up for evacuation alerts on your phone. Always evacuate sooner rather than later. Those that delay usually get stuck in traffic and gridlock on the roads. When you evacuate, you’ll want to have an emergency kit to take with you, stocked with some emergency food, compass, battery or solar-powered radio, medication, water, and other survival essentials.
It’s always worth it to store a stock of supplies and copies of important documents at a friend or family member’s home in case your home is destroyed. Buzzfeed reported that Facebook pages for wildfire survivors often include requests for prepaid gas cards, portable showers, children’s books, clothing, and places to stay.
After the fire, power and telephone services still weren’t on for three weeks. Kevin Jeys relied on a landline to access the internet, and therefore didn’t have a way to keep in touch with people on social media. However, he was able to remain informed by listening to a local AM station on a battery-powered transistor radio.
Aside from communication and information gathering, a lack of electricity also means a lack of warmth. Buzzfeed shared the example of Kimberly Omiela, who “can’t remember the last time she felt warm since she lost her home and all of her possessions” in the Camp Fire. She was forced to move into a small, dilapidated trailer on her property, which lacks electricity. She used a bright blue tarp over the trailer in an attempt to insulate it from cold temperatures, but it’s not enough. “It’s a constant battle just to survive,” she said.
Investing in products and devices to keep you and your loved ones warm if you lack electricity will be well worth it. With wildfire season here, there’s no time like the present to take steps to prepare for the worst.
Earthquakes: Indonesia 2018
The second disaster scenario, earthquakes, can happen at any time of year. For example, Lombok, Indonesia, was struck by a 6.9 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami on August 5, 2018. Over 100 people were killed, and over 20,000 were left homeless. Residents and tourists alike were greatly affected by the disaster and struggled to get basic necessities afterwards.
One major after-effect of earthquakes is the closure of roads, bridges, and public transport systems in need of repair. The International Federation of Red Cross shared the story of an Indonesian man named Kadri. After the earthquake, public transport wasn’t easy in his village, Dangiang, in North Lombok. Fortunately, he owned a motorbike, which allowed him to get around town in a way that a car or bus could not. “My wife is pregnant now and we are expecting our second child. I can use this motorbike to move around fast in case my wife needs urgent help when I am outside.”
Earthquakes can happen right here in the United States--take the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Anchorage, Alaska, in 2018. There were various road closures, meaning difficulty accessing places like grocery stores, pharmacies, and more. For this reason, make sure you have a supply of nonperishable food supplies at home to last you for a few days or even weeks, as well as medications and first aid supplies.
Oftentimes, earthquakes will knock out electricity and water as well. Investing in a portable generator and water filtration system will certainly come in handy.
Civil Unrest: Siege of Sarajevo
The Siege of Sarajevo, which lasted from 1992 to 1996, was a bloody time period in Bosnia when the country went through a brutal war following its independence from Yugoslavia. In addition to daily shelling and sniper attacks, citizens were without water, electricity, and supplies for the three years and ten months that the siege lasted. (See our Survival Scout about Survival Lessons from Bosnia.)
SBS News interviewed various survivors of the siege, many of whom shared their shock that the whole thing happened to begin with. As Sarajevo resident Marko Ivakovic shared, "I couldn't believe something like that could happen in 1992. However, it can happen, that's exactly what happened. As bloody as you can get. Just shooting at people for no particular reason, all the time, most of the time. But perhaps it was to be expected to happen sooner or later."
We never know when violence may erupt, and it’s important to make sure that you’re prepared for this type of situation. Make sure you have enough supplies at home if the streets become too dangerous to travel--whether it be due to rioting, a sniper situation, or worse. Nonperishable foods, home gardens, medications and first aid kit, battery-powered radios, water filtration, weapons, and ammunition will come in handy in these types of situations.
Additionally, as it was with Sarajevo, civil unrest can lead to the loss of services such as water and electricity. For example, Alma Milos had an infant son she had to worry about. Sarajevo is subject to cold temperatures in the winter, and Alma had to resort to alternative sources of heat to keep her and her son warm.
"We'd burn anything we could. First we started with the things we really didn't need and then we'd burn the things we needed, the things we loved. People would burn the books they loved, shoes, furniture...We just threw everything into the fire, first of all so we could cook ourselves something to eat, then to stay warm. It was mere survival, nothing else...Just mere survival."
The emotional toll of civil unrest is another harsh reality you may have to face. Alma shared that she and her neighbors all “lost weight, we changed, we all had fear in our eyes, but we managed to smile sometimes, and to sing.” Relying on positive distractions such as songs, games, books, and more will help you and your loved ones remain resilient and strong in the face of adversity. Therefore, don’t forget to remember and invest in those resources as well.
It could be an earthquake tomorrow or civil unrest next year. Whatever the case may be, the fact of the matter is that disasters have and will continue to occur. Denying this fact will only place you and your loved ones in further danger. Taking steps to prepare now rather than when a disaster hits will ensure you make it through.
Stay safe and always keep preparedness in the forefront of your mind.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply