The recent rash of natural disasters to hit the United States, including hurricanes in places like Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida, and wild fires in California, have been traumatic not only to the communities they struck, but to the United States as a whole, as Americans from all over traveled, donated, and mourned in support of their fellow countrymen that were in harm’s way.  Unfortunately, disasters of these sort are often unavoidable, but like any dark cloud looming over our heads, a silver lining remains, if you just look hard enough.

In the military, risk is an inherent part of the job, but a great deal of effort is put forth toward mitigating that risk in all the ways possible, using a combination of human and technological assets to limit the ways in which things might go wrong – but how are these risk-averting concepts developed before they can be employed by the next wave of American war fighters?  Well, more often than not, those lessons are learned the hard way; through operations gone wrong, mistakes being made, or the world generally conspiring against you.  Hence the incredible value of what are commonly referred to as “after-action reports,” which offer those both the directly involved and uninvolved alike the opportunity to pour over the circumstances that lead to tragedy, victory, or both, and identify ways to help try to stack the deck in our favor on future operations.

When calamity strikes in the civilian world, the same methodology can be employed to help better prepare for the next time such an event occurs, and by taking an objective step back and looking past the sorrow, most disasters are willing to offer at least some bit of wisdom in exchange for the loss of life and livelihood.  Here are a few tips I learned by experiencing and covering the recent wave of natural disasters to strike the United States.


(AP Photo)

Cell phones will not be reliable after a disaster.

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, my small community in Georgia found itself in a near-total communications blackout.  Power went out, phone lines went down, and the internet was a lost cause – but everyone had expected that.  What people didn’t anticipate, however, was how long cell phone service would be down in the aftermath of the storm.

We tend to think of our cell phones as direct conduits to satellites high above us (in the case of satellite phones, that may be the case) but for the most part, the smart phone in your pocket relies on a series of towers in your area.  Those towers, like just about everything else, rely on a functioning electrical grid to operate, and of course, are susceptible to damage from things like high winds and flying debris.  In our case, we had power back well before our cell phone service was restored, which for families like mine, meant we still had no way to call for help if something were to go wrong for weeks after Irma had already dissipated into vapor.

The same was true for residents of Northern California last month, where wild fires destroyed not only lives and property, but the cell phone infrastructure people relied on to call for help and keep in touch with loved ones.  Cellular phones, despite being wireless, are still beholden to the conditions befalling your community, and cannot be relied on in the event of a disaster.  Remember that most applications require service to work, including radios and GPS navigation.

To mitigate these risks, have a hard-wired home phone, which are often brought back on line sooner than damaged cell phone towers.  CB radios, walkie talkies, and even Ham radios are all valuable assets after a disaster, and depending on your budget, skill level, and interest, each can be considered as another means by which to increase your chances at getting help if you need it following a natural, or man-made, disaster.


(AP Photo)

Know where to go, before you need to go

As disasters closed in, many Americans found themselves facing evacuation orders and advisories over recent months.  Some had to leave their homes so quickly, they didn’t even have an ultimate destination in mind as they left.  Evacuations can be hectic, stressful, and frustrating, as your hurried departure soon gives way to an anxious boredom as you, and everyone else in your community, sit in highway gridlock, each hoping to find hotel rooms, gas, and something to eat just outside the danger zone.

That can quickly turn into a significant problem.  As thousands of people flock into new communities that are unaccustomed to such an influx of visitors, the local infrastructure will struggle to support the increase in traffic and customers.  Hotel rooms will quickly be sold out, gas stations will run dry, and if you were hoping to get into Applebee’s without a two-hour wait, you might want to get back on the highway.  Most towns simply aren’t built to function when a population suddenly doubles within a 24-hour period, and in those instances, having a destination in mind can mean the difference between waiting out your evacuation comfortably, or in line at the Citgo.

Many of us that spent time in the military find that we’ve developed a nationwide (or often worldwide) network of friends and acquaintances we may be able to count on if we’re ever ordered to evacuate our homes.  In the days leading up to a storm’s approach, or as wildfires loom on the horizon, be proactive in establishing a place you and your family can evacuate to if it comes to that.  If you don’t have a network of people you can rely on, booking a hotel early and then canceling if you deem it unnecessary can mean the difference between spending a week sleeping in your car, and spending it in the comparative luxury of a Motel 6.  Remember to keep your budget in mind when securing lodging, as it may be difficult to predict how long it could be before you can return home, if you have a home to return to at all.


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(US Army Photo)

Prepare your feet

While being physically fit will come in handy in just about any emergency situation, simply working out may not be enough to prepare your feet for what could occur after a disaster.  You might go to spin class three times a week and totally dominate in your cardio-kick boxing class, but there’s a difference between the kinds of healthy cardiovascular exercises that type of training offers, and the kind of punishment your feet will take if you find yourself left with no choice but to cover miles of uneven terrain in the shoes you wore to work this morning.

Without access to care, blistered feet can quickly become a significant health hazard, as they limit your ability to cover ground quickly and leave you open to infection.  There is little you can do once disaster strikes to make your feet better equipped to handle making your commute from work to home on foot, the best option is to get out there and go for a walk or run on a regular basis before the storm is upon you.  While going for a few walks each week will certainly improve your overall health, in terms of emergency preparedness, it will also guarantee that you won’t find your feet are the unexpected weak link in an otherwise well put together survival strategy.

Other things you can do to minimize the risk of your feet failing you when you most need them are to keep a pair of comfortable walking shoes (and socks) in your car, in case you find yourself out of gas or stranded on impassable roads, and don’t forget to include a blister care kit in your emergency first aid supplies, and especially in your bug-out or “go” bags.


Feature image courtesy of the Associates Press