Prepping is simply the mitigation of risk by proaction, specifically by increasing competency in various disciplines (internal), and the acquisition of equipment and provisions which will better equip one to survive the rigors of a perilous situation or emergency (external).
But when you stop to consider all the various threats and situations one could face, it is easy to arrive at a sort of guessing game when it comes to your preparations; what should you prepare for?
Since our time, energy and financial budgets are all limited we would be smart to choose well what we prepare for.
Though much of our preparations can help us in a variety of circumstances, preparing for certain ones will have to be done to the exclusion of something else. Stated another way, it is generally impossible to be prepared for absolutely all eventualities.
That is where risk assessment comes in…
Risk assessment is a skill unto itself, and by honing yours you will be better able to determine what events and other threats are most relevant to your situation, your area and your lifestyle, allowing you to prepare more diligently or with greater effort for what is most likely to occur, and curtailing or even eliminating preparations and thereby wasted effort for events that are so rare as to be an afterthought at best.
In this article I will make a case for risk assessment and management in the context of improving personal readiness and provide you with a list of factors that you should consider when formulating any plan.
Prepare Best and First for the Likely and the Known
While risk assessment might sound like a vaguely cool and interesting title to put on your company business card, and practical use it, it is nothing so esoteric.
Anybody who is not a complete idiot uses risk assessment on a daily basis to make decisions great and small. Some people will go on to later act in defiance of their assessments, but that is a conversation for another time! At its simplest, risk assessment will inform how much caution you put into your actions.
Consider this scenario: Let’s say you are taking a long road trip with your family. This will be a trip in excess of a thousand miles, and the route you have chosen will take you through some fairly remote areas, areas where you could expect little in the way of other traffic and almost certainly no cell phone signal.
This type of journey should not be undertaken lightly. It stands to reason that you will take reasonable precautions in case there is an emergency while you are traveling, especially because you have your loved ones with you.
In preparing for this lengthy road trip would it be wiser to take with you:
A.) plenty of extra firearms, ammunition and body armor for all family members in case your family encounters a roadblock manned by terrorists, bears or terrorist bears;
or B.) extra food, water, some warm blankets, a first aid kit, and a satellite phone in case you have an accident on a remote and little traveled road?
If you answered ‘B’, congratulations! You are not a complete lunatic, and more importantly have just exercised judicious risk assessment in preparing for your lengthy road trip.
The above is of course a fairly clear-cut and indeed mildly ridiculous example, but the reasoning applies to our daily choices all the same, and sometimes the distinctions are not quite as easy as the theoretical I provided above.
Generally speaking, if you learn nothing else from this article learn that defaulting to preparing for the most likely threats and hazards first is almost always a winning strategy, so long as the hazards are significant enough to warrant your attention.
Risk Assessment Considerations
Not all risks are created equal. Depending on where you live, your condition, your unique vulnerabilities, your activities, and a whole host of other factors certain events and threats might increase in likelihood or they might shrink.
A prime consideration for one person might be an afterthought for another. Believe it or not, certain risks might change day-to-day and others might stay more or less consistent.
Learning to identify and correctly prioritize risks and threats as they relate to your activities and lifestyle is inherent to risk management. Below are just a few considerations you should take into account:
- Location: Certain threats and risks are endemic to certain locations. Earthquakes can happen anywhere but they are far more common near major fault lines. Gang violence for organized crime can result in death and mayhem anywhere people are found, but it is overwhelmingly centralized on major population centers. Landslides, mudslides and avalanches are probably not much of a concern in the middle of Oklahoma or northern Texas.
- Climate: Exposure is nature’s single biggest killer, and threats from temperature extremes will increase or decrease according to both climate and season. It is a little easier than you might be thinking to die from hypothermia if you are outside, wet and it is also windy, but it will be a far greater threat in the frozen reaches of North Dakota as compared to sunny Florida. Conversely, heat stroke will probably be near the top of your risk assessment chart if you are in Arizona during summertime, but way down on the list if you are in Maine in the fall.
- Activity: What you are doing is inherent to the risks you will face. Staying in your well-stocked, intact home with a basement shelter while you wait for a monster tornado to pass is quite a bit safer than trying to make it through the same storm while driving down the road. Some activities are inherently risky.
- Conditions: All kinds of conditions can make your job easier or harder. Bugging out on foot over a well-known trail through the forest might be a cinch in the spring and summer, at least until heavy rains that lasted for weeks turn the whole thing into a nightmarish bog. Don’t consider any option a sure thing until you account for the conditions!
- External Threats: Specific external threats are anything that poses a direct danger to life and limb. If you’re trying to survive mass civil unrest the people doing the rioting or agitating might well beat you, rob you or kill you if you fit the profile of people they don’t like, or just live in an area full of “them”. An external threat might not be a person, and could instead be a raging wildfire or a cloud of toxic vapor spreading from an industrial accident.
- Health and Fitness: The overall health of yourself and your dependents is another major factor that you’ll have to account for when performing a risk assessment. If you and your partner are both in tip-top shape and have no one else to worry about you will have more dependable options within a reasonable risk envelope compared to that same couple who is getting flabby, older and out of shape with a couple of small children and elderly parents depending on you. The former couple could easily attempt a bug out on foot. The latter group would probably be crazy to try if they had any other option.
Before you can know what to do, you have to know yourself, know the people depending on you and know the context that you will be surviving in.
Once you understand the interplay of those three factors then you can properly assess the risk of a given situation and work to manage it. That is what this article is all about.
A Quick Word on “The One in a Million”
Before we move on to assessing common disasters and crisis situations in the correct context, I think it would be best to share a couple of quick thoughts on the notion of preparing for events that are so rare, and often so cataclysmic that they are effectively impossible to truly prepare for.
These events could be massive or comparatively small, from the rogue cosmic burst of radiation that microwaves half the Earth to the spectacular, awful misfortune of a satellite falling out of its orbit and smashing into your home. Both are so astronomically unlikely as to be effectively not worth worrying about.
In the case of any massive and truly apocalyptic event like the former example, there is effectively nothing you can do to prepare for the event itself; you will live or more likely die according to the whims of raw chance.
In the case of the latter (assuming you do survive) you will be able to deal with the aftermath with what skills you have learned and preps already prepared for other events, in this case first-aid and likely firefighting skills.
Focusing on the niche and the spectacular is a great way to miss the forest for the trees. Keep your eye on the ball, and prepare for the events that are most likely to affect you. In the next section you will find worthy assessments for a variety of common or at least plausible events.
Risk Assessment and Management for Common Disasters and Events
Below you will find a big list of various events, disasters and legitimate SHTF situations that will have you scrambling to enact your response plans. Some of these are man-made, or at least problems that revolve around the constructs of man while others are natural disasters that occur with or without our input at all.
For each section you’ll find information that pertains to assessing the risk posed by each in totality, along with a list of probable preps and countermeasures that you can employ to improve your chances of a good outcome.
Note that this list is not complete; you should take what you learn on this list and apply it to other threats and events, especially ones that are particular to your life or your area.
With that said, on to the list!
- Endemic To: Economic collapse can occur in any place that has an economy, but nations with higher standards of living are particularly vulnerable.
- Impact: Widespread and wide-ranging. Foreclosures will be rampant and many businesses will shutter permanently. Loss of income and depletion of financial reserves can lead to homelessness, starvation, and loss of social safety net programs.
- Risk Factors: Price of commodities often skyrockets in times of economic collapse. The more money you have in savings the better. If you are working paycheck-to-paycheck, and do not have any legitimate homesteading skills and resources, you are especially vulnerable.
- Special Threat: Low or no-savings, no means to provide food and water on own, dependency on handouts or state-sponsored programs for survival.
An economic collapse is an especially harrowing event for those of us who live in the first world. We take for granted just how good we have it, and though those of us in America might think we are indeed exceptional, we are far from exempt from economic forces.
No matter how an economic collapse occurs, your financial future will from then on be anything but certain- job loss, foreclosure, homelessness, and commercial slow-down will be rampant.
The price of commodities will climb, and people will suddenly be paying even more for basic necessities that were all but taken as granted in nicer days past.
Surviving an economic collapse is best done by having an absolute ton of money on hand, or barring that the skills to live truly independently off the sweat of your own brow.
If you can provide food, water, shelter and heat for your family independent of the systems that make modernity possible you can be comforted that you are likely to survive even if your lifestyle is drastically changed.
This is an event that no one can afford to waive off as beneath worry or notice; any economic collapse that is bad enough will shake the very foundations of a nation and its people, and don’t assume that just because you have a big, fat bank account that you will be able to withdraw it when you need it.
All it takes is the international bankers pulling a few levers and entire economies will enter a flat spin. Even paper money might not be worth anything if the situation is bad enough. This is one potential event where the shit may truly hit the fan.
Potential Response: If you can live like your great-grandparents did you will probably survive an economic collapse just fine. Being able to raise and grow your own food, as well as provide all other survival necessities means that a loss of income and money is less deleterious.
Homesteading is the way, assuming you are not already independently wealthy with plenty of liquid assets.
- Endemic To: Any settlement with refineries, chemical processing plants, factories, etc.
- Impact: Typically localized to area immediately in or near site of accident, though contamination can spread significantly beyond origin if conditions are right.
- Risk Factors: Possibility of large explosion or contamination of air and/or water with poisonous chemicals. Contamination of water and air can quickly lead to inadvertent poisoning. Explosions can kill or injure at surprising distances from the site.
- Special Threat: Anyone who lives very close to site. Any event that is not immediately reported may mean dangerous levels of exposure to harmful chemicals. Some explosion events might happen without much warning.
Industrial accidents can take many forms, though the two we are most concerned with are inadvertent release of hazardous chemicals into the air or local water supplies and fires or other mishaps that can result in titanic explosions when volatile materials are ignited. Both are fairly common occurrences throughout the world.
This is one threat that is particular to the areas that host factories, refineries, forges, processing plants and other such installations.
If you don’t live near any of these areas, or are not visiting any such area you have little to worry about, although tanker trucks and trains carrying these particular chemicals to and fro around the nation run all over the place, so you are never truly, 100% safe from exposure.
Generally, prioritize these events if you live in or near a heavily industrialized area.
Potential Response: Set up emergency notifications regarding any accidents in your area. Respond appropriately as quickly as possible to either of the two eventualities: for explosion risks, either reach minimum safe distance by the fastest possible means or shelter in place.
For contamination of air or water, take steps to eliminate or reduce exposure, either sheltering in place and sealing ingress routes or evacuating depending on proximity. Stop use of public water at once.
- Endemic To: Any residential structure.
- Impact: Local/Isolated.
- Risk Factors: If uncontained, destruction of home and possessions, death. Even if halted before total loss damage and property destruction can be significant. Smoke inhalation is majority killer, as is risk of becoming trapped and burning.
- Special Threat: Anyone without the ability to affect self-rescue is in particular danger from smoke and fire- babies, children, elderly and people with injuries or disabilities that hamper mobility are most vulnerable.
Any home that has ever been built can potentially burn down, and even if the home’s materials are not flammable, the contents surely are. House fires result in thousands of deaths, and billions in property damage worldwide annually and have a variety of causes.
Even if you are a non-smoker, even if you don’t burn candles, even if you don’t have a fireplace a house fire is one of the most likely and devastating events that could possibly befall you.
Just because it is not a “major” disaster does not mean it won’t have a major impact on your life. The speed and surprise with which a house fire can strike makes them highly dangerous, and difficult to combat. This is one event that everybody everywhere needs to be prepared for.
Potential Response: Your preparation efforts should have a dual approach: the first is home fire suppression in the form of smoke detectors and a ready supply of fire extinguishers and other equipment.
With a quick response and a little luck, it is possible to put out a small fire before it turns into a major blaze. The second part of your efforts should focus on a multitude of escape and evacuation plans for every eventuality, during the day and at night.
- Endemic To: Any nation or area with electrical power infrastructure; U.S. power grid particularly vulnerable.
- Impact: Widespread loss of power will affect many technological and electricity dependent systems, causing widespread chaos. Hot areas that lose electrical power will see deaths of elderly and very young from loss of climate control.
- Risk Factors: Any home, structure or device dependent on a steady supply of electrical power is at risk. If generator or alternate power supplies are not viable, loss of capability can cause problems ranging from “annoyance” to “fatal”.
- Special Threat: Anyone dependent on electricity for life support equipment, refrigeration, or climate control must take special care to prepare for blackouts.
Blackouts are another problem that is completely attendant to living in modern society. They are a lot more common than you think, and even regional level blackouts happen fairly regularly decade to decade.
Far beyond the simple inconvenience of losing power for a bit during a thunderstorm, a major blackout can completely cripple the infrastructure of an area by knocking out all the necessary computer systems, databases and other intricate, specialized technology that we rely on.
This, as you might expect, will have far-reaching effects, and the stresses, aggravation and subsequent chaos that results often leads to people acting out and badly in densely populated areas.
If you already live off the grid and supply your own power or even go without electricity as a way of life, a blackout is probably not going to affect you personally. But if you live in the middle of society, particularly in a metropolitan area, you have to be prepared for dealing with the first, second and third order effects of blackouts.
Potential Response: Assemble a blackout preparation kit. Consider establishing your own power supply (generator, solar, hydroelectric, battery banks, etc.).
If you depend on electricity for cooling in a hot climate or require refrigeration for medicine, consider you might need to evacuate to an area that can provide cooling and the storage requirements your condition demands.
- Endemic To: Anywhere you have a large group of angry, upset people, but typical in urban and dense suburban areas.
- Impact: Localized, though popular sentiments and movements cause “outbreaks” of rioting across the nation.
- Risk Factors: Arson, looting, rampant destruction of property, attacks on motorists and pedestrians. Mobs are not known for sound behavior and rational thinking so no one is safe. Running into a mob while travelling in your vehicle is especially dangerous, as is being caught out on foot. Beatings, stabbings and shootings are common, as is an increasing use of chemical and incendiary weapons.
- Special Threat: Anyone who lives, works or travels in an urban area, especially ones that frequently “host” riotous activity should stay on their toes; you are disproportionately likely to encounter rioting in the 21st century.
Riots are becoming an increasingly frequent fixture in the United States and elsewhere in the civilized world.
Riots can flare up for all kinds of reasons, and very rarely are they justified: political dissent and partisanship, cultural clashes and, unbelievably, even the victory or loss sustained by a local professional sports team. All of these things can touch off an agitated and unruly mob, spurring them to violence.
The results always look very much the same, with buildings burned down, windows broken, cars flipped over and innocent passers-by or residence being threatened, beaten or even killed.
These events are most typically encountered in densely populated, urban areas though anywhere you have a mob of people gathering for some purpose there is the potential for a riot.
That being said, if you live in a small rural community or one that is not known for political or cultural agitation you likely have much less to worry about. Even so, be on your guard if you work, travel or play in any larger cities.
Potential Response: Avoid all large gatherings, especially protests, political demonstrations and countercultural movements. Staying clear of large cities during times of agitation is a smart move if possible.
Learn how to escape and evade riots should you encounter them on foot or in a vehicle, and learn how to defend yourself from a crowd using any and all means. Avoidance is always the best policy when facing down a mob of people.
Nuclear Warhead Detonation
- Endemic To: Potentially anywhere.
- Impact: Catastrophic localized damage from blast and heat effects, radius dependent on size of weapon and height of detonation. Entire cities can be wiped out. Regional impact from fallout and EMP effects.
- Risk Factors: Blast and heat effects will obliterate victims and structures near ground zero, kill and wound scores more beyond there. Radioactive fallout will threaten many more in affected area and beyond for some distance beyond site, EMP effects can disable or disrupt all electronics a great distance from impacted area.
- Special Threat: People who live near “high value” targets: large cities, military or industrial installations, nuclear weapon silos, bases or manufacturing centers.
Humanity has been living under the shadow of the nuclear bomb for some decades now, and even though the military threat of a nuclear strike is probably the lowest it has been since their inception, we are far from out of the woods.
Despite disarmament treaties and stockpile reduction initiatives there are still thousands of nuclear warheads out in the world, and the prospect of a strike by a rogue military regime or even terrorists actors is not out of the question.
Understanding the destruction wrought by any nuclear warhead detonation is essentially an academic exercise, as the human mind quails in face of their lethal potential.
People and buildings near the innermost radius of the detonation are simply obliterated. Many more will be killed outright or mortally wounded far beyond that, and even those near the very fringes habits effective range can be severely injured.
Radiation is, of course, a threat beyond the destructive might of the explosion, and nuclear fallout will severely hamper rescue and recovery efforts, completely derail commerce end result in plenty of follow on deaths. EMP effects will also knock out the vast majority of electronics, complicating an already dreadful event.
This is not an end-of-the-world scenario, not necessarily, but you can rest assured that any offensive nuclear detonation in our era means you’ll be able to “see it from here”.
People who live near major population centers, military and industrial installations or near our nation’s own nuclear assets are at the greatest risk, as the comparative rarity, expense and consequences of using such a weapon mean they will only be employed against the most valuable targets.
Potential Response: If you have any warning of an impending nuclear strike, you must seek the best potential cover from both the blast and fallout. If you are well beyond the blast effects, you must take action to avoid any fallout that could reach your location.
Long-term sustainment systems and provisions are a must, and special equipment for protection against and detection of radiation is a good idea. There is little that can protect you from a near strike.
Ultimately if you do not live near a priority target you will most likely be worrying about fallout and third-order effects in the aftermath.
- Endemic To: Can occur anywhere on earth, but most common in American South, and Midwest.
- Impact: Severe localized damage from extreme winds.
- Risk Factors: Capable of forming with little warning. Depending on severity, a tornado can topple trees and damage houses or flatten buildings and launch train cars into the air. Even the most trivial objects can become deadly projectiles during a tornado.
- Special Threat: People who live in “Tornado Alley” or don’t inhabit a sturdy structure, preferably one with a basement or dedicated shelter.
Tornadoes are among the most powerful weather events on Earth, and claim the crown for highest sustained wind speeds produced by storms.
Any tornado is a destructive event, but the most powerful are absolutely devastating, and capable of erasing entire towns right off the map as they carve a furrow of destruction across the landscape.
Tornadoes can occur anywhere, but are most common throughout a particular section of the American West known as Tornado Alley. You’ll have to stay on your toes if you live anywhere in this area, but anywhere unstable weather is brewing you’ll have to keep one ear perked for a tornado warning.
The winds generated by a small tornado are capable of easily felling trees and damaging structures, and as their power grows they can shift or topple entire buildings, and are capable of launching train cars and automobiles into the air as if they were toys.
Beyond these spectacular displays of potency anyone that caught out of shelter when a tornado is nearby risks a gruesome death by laceration or impalement as any object, no matter how trivial, which is carried aloft by a tornado’s winds can inflict substantial injuries.
Perhaps the only saving grace is that these storms, for all their power, generally do not last long and inflict their destruction over a comparatively small area compared to other weather events.
Potential Response: If you live in a tornado prone area, installing or preparing an adequate storm shelter should be priority one.
If this is an impossibility, you must keep in mind the nearest adequate shelter should a tornado watch be announced and then be prepared to reach it. A basic 3-day survival kit should be considered a mandatory part of your tornado preparations.
- Endemic To: Oceans, can affect any coastal area and occasionally far inland.
- Impact: Widespread damage from a combination of flooding, wind and storm surge (storm surge only affects coastal areas). Many are regionally destructive.
- Risk Factors: A triple threat of sustained high winds, torrential rain causing flooding and powerful storm surge. Hurricanes can be positively ruinous, and completely overwhelm disaster response and relief efforts.
- Special Threat: People who live on or near the coast are highly vulnerable, and complacency often results in greatly diminished chances of successful evacuation when the odds turn against you.
Hurricanes are massive, powerful and common storms that can occur in virtually any ocean on earth. When these rotating storm systems reach the shore they result in widespread devastation and flooding, and coastal along with low-lying areas are often especially hard-hit.
While most longtime coastal residents won’t get out of bed for anything but the most powerful of hurricanes heading their way, this is folly as the storms have a reputation for erratic movement and are capable of intensifying in a very short period of time, leaving you and anyone else caught in their path holding on for dear life.
Hurricanes combine the worst effects of both high winds and flooding, sustaining both for many hours or days over a given area. They are also known for spawning tornadoes seemingly at random.
The immense size and reach of hurricanes means they are a regional threat unlike tornadoes (which are localized) and every so often a hurricane can maintain strength as a storm far from the shore, wreaking havoc in places that historically have nothing to fear from them.
Potential Response: Evacuation plan and redundant bug-out locations along with a clearly demarcated moment of departure. If you plan to shelter in place and weather the storm, you’ll need plenty of provisions, materials for repairs and ideally a home on the high ground. Flooding is a major threat.
If you live very near the coast or in a low-lying area don’t even think of sheltering in place.
- Endemic To: Anywhere, but common and powerful near major fault lines.
- Impact: Damage radius and effects are highly variable; can affect a small area minimally or an entire region.
- Risk Factors: Earthquakes might knock down picture frames or buildings and bridges. Shaking will make movement difficult, and topple unstable items. A powerful quake can split the ground open, collapse buildings, break sewer/water mains and more. Aftershocks make evacuation risky and complicate rescue efforts. A truly powerful earthquake will cause catastrophic damage. Routinely causes tsunamis (see below).
- Special Threat: People who live in flimsy or shoddily built structures are at great risk of injury or death in collapse. Falling objects inside and alongside buildings are significant hazards. Broken gas lines and other mishaps will mean fires are common after a major quake.
Earthquakes are a powerful shaking of the ground resulting from instability and friction deep within the bowels of the earth. Earthquakes can occur and be felt almost anywhere, but overwhelmingly the most powerful and cataclysmic earthquakes occur near major fault lines.
There is not much you can do to preempt an earthquake but you can and should get prepared to react one; you will rarely if ever have any worthwhile warning, and once the initial shaking stops you will at least know to be prepared for aftershocks, which are coming and might be nearly as powerful as the originating quake.
If you live in an earthquake-prone area you must be prepared to react at a moment’s notice by seeking the best possible cover; effective movement is nearly impossible during an earthquake of any substantial magnitude, and you will risk more injury or death by trying to do so.
After an earthquake is well and truly finished, you might emerge into a landscape that has been completely shattered, and the widespread disruption of roads and other utilities will greatly hamper rescue efforts.
Potential Response: Pre-plot and have a plan for reaching cover points should an earthquake occur. Move swiftly to a safe, open area well away from buildings and hazards once shaking stops.
Have a packed 3-day kit or bug-out bag that is accessible to help you deal with aftermath. A backup bag or cache is a good idea; a collapsed building might make your survival supplies unreachable.
- Endemic To: Any large body of water, including freshwater lakes; only affect shorelines and areas near shore.
- Impact: Localized or widespread damage and destruction immediately adjacent to coastal areas.
- Risk Factors: Massively powerful surges of water damage or destroy buildings, sweeping along all objects not solidly secured. Will easily drown or crush victims, or drag them to sea when surge recedes. Major flooding remains in aftermath (see below).
- Special Threat: Coastal residents or visitors; anyone caught on ground level when tsunami strikes. Worse if no warning is possible or heard.
A tsunami is a series of powerful waves that rush ashore at high speed, most typically caused by earthquakes occurring on or near the sea floor, but they might also be caused by other massive displacement events like undersea nuclear detonations or even something like a major landslide off of a mountain that strikes a lake.
Tsunamis typically arrive quickly and with little warning, although tsunami-prone communities often do their best to provide early warning systems when earthquakes are detected in the region.
Surviving a tsunami is mostly a matter of getting to the highest and strongest possible shelter. Being caught on ground level anywhere near the shore, and up to one mile in land, means almost certain death.
Tsunamis are not just a mass of water as they also contain every conceivable form of debris including vehicles, shipping containers and refuse from buildings and other sources, meaning it is easy to be crushed or impaled if you are not drowned.
Luckily, this is one natural disaster that cannot hurt you for all its power so long as you do not live on or near the coast. If you are more than a few miles inland from an ocean or major lake, you will have little to fear assuming the earthquake that caused the tsunami did not affect you.
Potential Response: If well away from shore and easy escape is possible, head away from shore in direction of higher ground.
Only other viable option is to seek highest and strongest possible location; climb a sturdy tree if you have to or seek safety atop overpass. Get off the ground! If you do not live on or near the coast you have nothing to worry about.
- Endemic To: Localized to areas adjacent to and near volcanoes; super volcano eruption can be regional or even national event in scale.
- Impact: Localized destruction to regional catastrophe, depending on class of volcano and magnitude.
- Risk Factors: Pyroclastic flows, lava ejection, landslides, lahars, toxic gas contamination. Volcanoes can present a total threat.
- Special Threat: Anyone who lives immediately adjacent to or very near a volcano might have no meaningful time to react to certain threats. If you live in the region also occupied by a “super volcano” you could be facing a rare regional catastrophe if it erupts.
Volcanic eruptions are disasters of mythic proportions throughout human history, and indeed many of them that erupted with cataclysmic fury transcended our understanding of the natural. Far from the popular conception of comparatively mild and sedate Hawaiian volcanoes dribbling lava into a steaming ocean, serious volcanic eruptions are major disasters, not photo ops.
Any significant volcanic eruption can result in a pyroclastic flow, an obliterating mass of hot gas and superheated debris that is responsible for the vast majority of casualties. Beyond that, the ejection of magma and screaming hot rock will start fires far and wide.
Landslides often result from the rumbling and shaking of the eruption, causing further destruction, and often forming a lahar which is a boiling mass of mud, water from melted snow and other debris that travels along route of least resistance as it races downhill.
Beyond these terrifying events you will have to contend with an atmosphere that grows rapidly toxic from mass ejections of various gases and ash. This contaminated air can cause asphyxiation and will also stall internal combustion engines, further complicating your efforts to escape.
Just because you don’t live near the typical smoking peak of an active or semi-active volcano does not mean you are safe; super-volcanoes are the largest and most powerful of their category and they erupt with catastrophic force equaling or exceeding the power of the largest nuclear weapons. These titanic volcanoes are capable of reshaping entire regions.
Potential Response: Listen to directives of authorities; if evacuation orders are issued, heed them! A packed bug-out bag will help to sustain you. There is no effective shelter if you are in the immediate path of a volcanic event. If you are caught near a volcano that shows signs of erupting you must put as much distance between yourself and it as possible.
- Endemic To: Almost anywhere that it can rain, it can flood. Especially common in rainy climates, low lying areas and near rivers and lakes.
- Impact: Localized.
- Risk Factors: Flooding destroys buildings and is a serious drowning hazard for anyone caught in its waters. Moving water can easily sweep adults off their feet and even carry vehicles away.
- Special Threat: Anyone who does not evacuate when conditions permit, or who lives near a river or in an area known for flooding.
Flooding is the most common disaster that occurs on Earth, and is often attendant as a feature of other natural disasters in addition to occurring from such mundane causes as a common thunderstorm, snow melt and more.
Some flooding occurs as a result of mankind’s meddling, in the breaking of dams or the deliberate flooding of certain areas to create reservoirs.
While it is far from the most spectacular event on this list flooding results in billions upon billions of dollars in property damage every year and thousands of deaths.
Rising floodwaters easily drive people out of shelters that they thought were safe and sound, only to be later drowned or carried away in the murky water.
Flash floods or rapidly moving flood waters are especially dangerous as only a few inches of water are required to knock down an adult and not even a foot of moving water is required to move a vehicle.
If you have any doubts about your location’s suitability for shelter during a flood event you must evacuate while evacuation is still possible! Failing to do so could see you quite literally up a creek without a paddle, and rescue all but impossible.
Flood waters also ruin public water utilities, overflow sewage systems and conceal all manner of hazards, making movement difficult, nasty and risky even after they stop rising.
Potential Response: Establish a thorough understanding of your town’s and immediate areas flood risk. Keep a packed bug-out bag ready.
Evacuate when warned of a major flood event before water rises; never attempt to move through flood waters! If you are able to shelter in place be ready for a long stay without power or utilities.
Not every prepper will face the same risks and those who do might have additional disadvantages or even advantages over someone else. Learning how to correctly assess your personal risks in a given scenario is important if you want to maximize your efforts and material preparations to confront specific threats.
Learning to recognize what is important and what is not when it comes to prepping in your own life will help you be more efficient, better prepared, and more confident.
Further reading: WHO’s hazard and vulnerability assessment booklet.
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