Just two weeks into 2020, and the world hasn’t let us forget that we’re always at risk for deadly and damaging disasters. On January 7th and 11th, Puerto Rico was struck by 6.4- and 6.0-magnitude earthquakes, respectively. And since September 2019, Australians have been battling unprecedented countrywide wildfires.
Whether disasters be manmade or naturally occuring, the reality is that they can and will happen--and in this new year, we’re seeing no signs of them slowing down. Understanding the risks, impacts, and ways to prepare will give you the necessary edge to survive should an emergency occur in your area.
In this Survival Scout, we’re going to take a closer look at what’s exactly happening in Puerto Rico and Australia. From days/weeks without electricity and essential services to polluted water and air quality, there’s plenty of short- and long-term impacts on humans.
And since it’s a new year, there’s no better time to brush up on key preparedness tactics relating to these disasters and others. At the end of the post, I list five we should all keep in mind and act on sooner rather than later...
#1: Shaken to Its Core: The Puerto Rico Earthquakes
Puerto Rico, the Carribean U.S. territory that’s still dealing with the aftermath and damage of major 2017 hurricanes, was struck by two major earthquakes on January 7th and 11th. The first on January 7th measured 6.4 magnitude, killed at least one person, destroyed homes, and left most of the island of over 3,000,000 people without power. Citizens have been impacted in various ways, such as…
- A loss of power: Though most of the lines and poles rebuilt after Hurricane Maria stayed intact during the earthquake, aging power plants on the island didn’t fare so well. The facility that produces the most electricity may not return to service for up to a year, which is worrisome for residents with hurricane season starting up in several months. And after the 6.4-magnitude quake struck, one of the worst hit areas known as Guayanilla was estimated to not have power for at least two weeks.
- Damage to buildings & infrastructure: Hundreds of buildings collapsed or experienced significant damage during and after the earthquakes. Despite muggy weather and occasional rain, many citizens have been sleeping outside as they worry about additional quakes and aftershocks. The Associated Press spoke with 27-year-old local resident Alexandra Colberg, who “moved out of her deeply cracked home in the nearby town of Guánica with her husband and four children, packing their mattresses, a refrigerator, a set of curtains and their clothes into two pickup trucks.” They’ve been living out of their trucks and on the street ever since. Additionally, citizens have resorted to cooking food on barbeque grills and traveling around the damaged city streets by bicycle.
- A lack of running water: Three days after the 6.4-magnitude quake struck the island, some 300,000 households remained without running water. This is a devastating impact on the population, as humans can only survive for up to three to four days without water. It’s one of the reasons Puerto Rico’s governor, Wanda Vásquez, declared a state of emergency and activated the territory’s National Guard.
The last time a quake close to these magnitudes hit the island was October 1918, when a 7.3 quake caused a tsunami, killing 116 people. However, though over a century had passed before this year’s quakes hit, the Caribbean islands are generally prone to quakes. This is because the North American plate is being driven below the Caribbean plate in some parts of the area, and the two plates are also rubbing each other sideways. Those living in or around this U.S. territory, and other earthquake-prone areas, such as the West Coast and Alaska, should remain vigilant and prepared.
#2: A Country in Flames: The Australian Wildfires
The drought-stricken country of Australia has been battling wildfires for five months. 17.9 million acres have been burned, which is eight times the area of the devastating wildfires in California in 2018. The situation paints a bleak picture of what can happen when a whole country is ablaze. For example...
- According to the BBC, the fires have made breathing the air in Sydney daily as bad as smoking 37 cigarettes.
- The lives and health of citizens across the country are not only at risk for the short-term risks of wildfires--the long-term effects could prove damaging as well. For example, scientists suspect that, down the road, rains will wash charred debris into rivers, dams, and the ocean, contaminating the drinking supplies of major cities, such as Sydney.
- According to one article, "Residents in Australian towns ravaged by the bushfires have gone into 'panic stations' following 'apocalyptic' blazes that left 50,000 families without power and entire towns with a contaminated water supply. Desperate locals and tourists were clearing shelves in supermarkets and filling up their fuel..."
These two incidences are by far not the only crises the world is experiencing in the new year (there’s Iran, Hong Kong, Venezuela, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and more), but they paint a pretty good picture of the short- and long-term effects of large-scale disasters. Let’s take a moment to review five key ways to prepare and protect yourself and your family...
Ways to Prepare and Protect Yourself
#1: Have a backup water supply and gravity-filtration system:
In the case of earthquakes, hurricanes, and water contamination situations such as E.coli incidences and diesel spills, it’s advisable to stock up on several gallons of water. One gallon per person per day with a minimum of three days is recommended, but it’s best to aim to have a supply that lasts about two weeks. Additionally, even if you do have running water, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be clean and safe to drink at all times--which is why investing in a backup filtration system such as the Alexapure is also a smart move.
#2: Stock up on nonperishable food supplies:
Water’s more important than food when it comes to short-term survival, but you still need to eat to retain your strength and overall wellness. With supermarkets closed indefinitely or the food supply chain compromised, it’s best to have a supply of nonperishable food at home, and potentially your own garden.
#3: Have an evacuation plan in mind:
Understanding which routes in your area will help you reach safety, whether faced with wildfires, hurricanes, or earthquakes, will be key in ensuring your and your family’s safety. Additionally, make sure you have a go bag already packed and placed in your car, at work, and/or at home. Your go bag or BOB (bug-out bag) should include a wide range of helpful items such as a tent, portable water filter, first aid kit, bottled water and nonperishable food, radio, and more.
#4: Use technology to communicate:
According to a Florida resident with family in Puerto Rico, “We have been able to communicate and that is important for us, compared to what happened after Hurricane Maria when we had no communication.” Many families stay in touch using Whatsapp. However, you’ll need to be able to charge your devices without power. A solar-powered charger is a huge lifesaver in this regard.
#5: Remain aware: Practicing awareness, whether it means signing up for emergency alerts or remaining cautious while traveling or in large crowds, will provide an extra layer of safety, potentially even before a disaster has hit.
Take the necessary steps to stock up and prepare now--whether you live in areas at risk or plan to visit one in the future.
Be safe and stay alert, friends.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply