Why People Fail to Prepare for Hurricanes and Earthquakes (And How You Should Prepare)
We are officially in hurricane season. Are you prepared? As the saying goes, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Sadly, disaster preparedness is not taken as seriously as it should. Whereas earthquakes happen with no warnings, hurricanes give people time to prepare. However, there are always people who suffer due to a lack of preparedness in both circumstances.
For example, Robert Meyer, who studied hurricane risk prediction, found “only 23% of people who were located right along the immediate coast — the people who were most in harm’s way from [Hurricane] Sandy — made plans for what they would do if they had to evacuate.” Even with hurricane warnings in place, people acted as though the incoming hurricane would not affect them personally.
Dennis S. Mileti, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he also served as Chair of the Department of Sociology and as Director of the Natural Hazards Center, has studied how humans prepare and respond to disasters. He explains, “I’ve learned many things from my studies, but some lessons are at the top of the list, and they seem to hold regardless of hazard and disaster type, and these include: (1) people are reluctant to prepare because they really don’t believe that a disaster will happen to them, (2) if a disaster actually does happen it will directly impact other people and not themselves, and (3) preparing for disaster is a good idea that they’ll get around to doing someday, maybe, perhaps.”
Does that sound familiar? At some point, we’ve all claimed one of the three as a reason for our personal failure to prepare for natural disasters. The problem is that hurricanes and earthquakes have repeatedly proven these notions are false. While we can’t predict when our lives will be impacted by a natural disaster, we should take steps to prepare for the very real possibility that it can happen.
Failure to Understand the Terminology
When it comes to hurricanes and earthquakes, many believe part of the failure to prepare is due to a lack of understanding of the terminology. For example, most people know hurricanes are rated on a scale of five. As meteorologist Marshall Shepherd points out, “People often perceive a category 3 hurricane to be just ‘a little’ bit worse than a category 2 hurricane.” The problem is that believing it will only be a “little bit” worse means people do not adequately prepare for what will potentially be a much more dangerous storm
This same problem occurs with earthquakes. Our understanding of the damage they cause based on the numeric scale we hear is often flawed. For example, on July 6, 2019, an earthquake occurred northeast of Ridgecrest, California. However, the preliminary results estimated magnitude ranged from 6.9 to 7.1. These numbers seem incredibly close, but they actually signify much more damage. Meteorologist Steve Bowen tweeted, “For those curious, a M7.1 earthquake is 5 x bigger than a M6.4, but is 11.2x stronger in terms of energy release. The Richter scale is logarithmic; meaning, a M7.1 would be 10x bigger than a M6.1 and 100x bigger than a M5.1.”
In short, our failure to understand the terminology used when discussing hurricanes and earthquakes tricks us into a false sense of security.
Failure to Understand the Dangers of Earthquakes and Hurricanes
The problem with falling into a false sense of security regarding natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes is that we put our lives at risk. We start to think we are not in danger, but hurricanes and earthquakes are extremely dangerous.
Let’s continue using the example of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. This powerful hurricane devastated New York after is made its way up the Atlantic Coast from the Caribbean. In total, 285 people died (125 US deaths) as a result of Hurricane Sandy.
Robert Meyer explains, “Most of the deaths in New York City [as a result of Sandy] were due to people drowning from floods, and something like 250,000 cars were lost due to flooding. These were all avoidable losses; people simply had to move inland a little bit; people just had to move their cars to higher ground.”
Too often, people are more fearful of the potential wind damage from a hurricane and fail to realize that hurricanes are notorious for causing massive flooding. As FloridaSmart explains, “Most of the fatalities from Hurricanes come after the storm from flooding, power lines, generator inhalation, lack of resources, heat or falling limbs.”
For example, when it comes to preparing for hurricanes, many people simply prepare to make it through the hurricane itself. They don’t consider the days after the storm passes; instead, they think there will be calm after the storm.
Meyer describes, “In the case of Sandy, that was never really in the cards for most people. What was in the cards, particularly for people living inland, was [potentially] being without power for two weeks. And in that particular case, people were all set to survive the night — they had enough beer and they had enough pizza and they had enough snacks to get them through the storm event, but they weren’t really prepared for the two weeks afterward.”
Whereas we can prepare in advance for a hurricane, earthquakes strike without any warning. And they are just as devastating as hurricanes. For example, the largest earthquake to strike the Southern California area was the Fort Tejon Earthquake, an 8.0 on the Richter Scale, on January 9, 1857. According to Los Angeles County, “Were the Fort Tejon shock to happen today, the damage would easily run into billions of dollars, and the loss of life would be substantial.” Since this time, even the earthquakes that have not been considered major temblors in Southern California have caused hundreds of deaths and millions in property damage.
Similar to hurricanes, all is not calm once the earthquake ends. Earthquakes tend to be followed by aftershocks, fires, tsunamis, landslides, or avalanches. Plus, if the big one strikes where you live, experts recommend being prepared to survive for two weeks independently since you may be without power or water for that long.
Failure to Recognize the Difficulty of Disaster Response and Recovery
Another reason that people fail to prepare adequately for hurricanes and earthquakes is that they do not recognize the difficulty of disaster response and recovery. For example, many people do not realize that both hurricanes and earthquakes cause road blockages that may make it difficult for rescue crews to reach you.
The response stage refers to the immediate aftermath of a disaster. FEMA explains, “Personal safety and wellbeing in an emergency and the duration of the response phase depend on the level of preparedness.” In other words, how safe you are during this stage of a disaster is determined by how much you prepared in advance.
The recovery stage refers to the final stage of a disaster when you are focused on restoring homes, businesses, and lives. This includes physical repairs, as well as trying to prevent and reduce financial burdens. Recovery doesn’t happen overnight – the recovery stage is a lengthy process.
Many people do not consider disaster response and recovery when they are preparing. As we mentioned earlier, they tend to focus just on the main event – the hurricane or the earthquake. Unfortunately, these types of natural disasters can result in prolonged responses and recoveries, such as damaged roads, power outages, and lack of water.
For example, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and caused a complete blackout, which caused nearly $2 billion worth of damage to the electrical lines. Then, they were hit by an earthquake and Puerto Rico’s power system failed again. Ultimately, the country is still suffering from the devastation done to their power grid by Hurricane Maria and the earthquake. Additionally, without electricity, the country’s residents could not get clean water for months. Water treatment plants could not operate, and electric pumps couldn’t deliver water to homes.
In the event that a hurricane or earthquake devastates a community, you will rely on your neighbors and what you have stocked. The Waterfull Barrel stores 30 gallons of emergency drinking water, so when the need arises, you’ll always have fresh water to drink.
Don’t Fail: How You Should Prepare for Hurricanes and Earthquakes
Now that you know better do better. That starts with taking steps to prepare. Preparing for both hurricanes and earthquakes starts with creating a disaster plan and building an emergency kit for your family. For a complete guide, see The Simple Essentials for Your Disaster Plan, which covers everything you should do in preparation and what items (and how much) you need for your emergency kit.
While there are some different preparation steps for hurricanes and earthquakes, some preparedness steps are the same. For both hurricanes and earthquakes, you should:
- Know the risk factors for your area. You should know if you live in a hurricane, earthquake, or flood zone.
- Learn your community’s warning systems and disaster plans.
- Create a family disaster plan that details how to get in touch with one another and safe places to meet.
- Stock a disaster supply kit with essentials, such as food, water, medications, and flashlights.
- Keep important documents in a secure location.
- Strengthen your home. Preparing for hurricanes and earthquakes both require you to take steps to ensure your home is safe. For hurricanes, this means investing in hurricane shutters and moving outdoor furniture indoors. For earthquakes, this means checking your home for structural issues and securing furniture within the home.
If you live in an earthquake zone, you should also familiarize yourself with the Drop, Cover, and Hold On technique. Drop to your hands and knees. Cover your head and neck. Hold on to your shelter (table or desk) or hold on to your neck.
As we discussed earlier, some people fail because they do the minimum amount of preparation. They prepare just for the main event – the hurricane or the earthquake. But, you really should prepare for several days after the main event. For example, the CDC, FEMA, and the American Red Cross all recommend having enough food and water for at least three days. For water, this means you should have one gallon per person per day for at least three days. The key phrase here is “at least.”
This is where the Waterfull Barrel proves its worth. The Waterfull Barrel holds 30 gallons of sealed drinking water in case of emergencies. 30 gallons is enough for 7 days of freshwater for a family of four and their pets.
Prepare for a Disaster Without Even Thinking About It
Once you connect the Waterfull Barrel to your outdoor faucet, the Barrel keeps the water supply from becoming stagnant through typical home water use. When disaster strikes, you’ll be water ready.
DIY: Make a Weather Predicting Storm Glass
According to Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D., “You may not feel the approach of impending storms, but the weather causes changes in the atmosphere that affect chemical reactions.” Using chemistry, you can make your own storm glass that makes it easy for you to predict the weather. Here is a cool DIY storm glass project for your family from Dr. Helmenstine.
- 2.5 g potassium nitrate
- 2.5 g ammonium chloride
- 33 mL distilled water
- 40 mL ethanol
- 10 g natural camphor
- Dissolve the potassium nitrate and ammonium chloride in the water.
- Dissolve the camphor in the ethanol.
- Add the potassium nitrate and ammonium chloride solution to the camphor solution. You may need to warm the solutions to get them to mix.
- Either place the mixture in a corked test tube or seal it within the glass.
How to Use Your Storm Glass to Predict the Weather
- Clear liquid: bright and clear weather
- Cloudy liquid: cloudy weather, perhaps with precipitation
- Small dots in the liquid: potentially humid or foggy weather
- Cloudy liquid with small stars: thunderstorms or snow, depending on the temperature
- Large flakes scattered throughout the liquid: overcast skies, possibly with rain or snow
- Crystals at the bottom: frost
- Threads near the top: wind
Waterfull Barrel Testimonial: Dennis Mileti
Dennis S. Mileti, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he also served as Chair of the Department of Sociology and as Director of the Natural Hazards Center, reviewed The Waterfull Barrel.
Here is his review: After I retired and moved to the likely epicenter of the next great Southern California Earthquake, I was visited by the people who invented the Waterfull Barrel. They demonstrated it, and I fell in love with it because it makes fresh, clean drinking water available after experiencing a disaster largely without people even thinking about. Once it’s in place, there are no human perceptions to change and drinking water is available when and if needed. I have my barrel outside my kitchen door. I’ve recommended it to almost everyone I know. I recommend it to anyone who reads this and can afford one. I even got creative with mine. I bought a hose nozzle for it that I can use to take a shower with (water is for more than drinking).