What to do in case of a natural disaster?

10/03/2020

What is a natural disaster? How to prepare to face it? What to do in the different stages of a cyclone, flood, earthquake, frost or fire? What is a temporary shelter? These are topics that are addressed below, including a list of essential emergency supplies.

"What to do in case of a disaster" is a simple guide to explain the main measures to be taken regarding civil protection issues. Image: Pixabay
"What to do in case of a disaster" is a simple guide to explain the main measures to be taken regarding civil protection issues. Image: Pixabay

Being well informed implies knowing how to act with certainty in the face of disasters and makes it possible to acquire the equipment and provisions that can help save lives well in advance. To this end, it is essential to know the indications of those responsible for the National Civil Protection System who, in coordination with the State and Municipal Civil Protection units, help to ensure that the operational programs of each state are timely and effective.

What is a disaster?

A disaster is defined as an event concentrated in time and space, in which the population, or part of it, suffers severe damage and incurs losses for its members, so that the social structure is disrupted and the fulfillment of essential activities of society is prevented, affecting the vital functioning of society.

Why prepare for a natural disaster?

Every year, the country is affected by numerous disasters, some of which make national news and others, although not as widespread, also affect many towns and communities.

Each disaster usually has long-lasting effects and an unfortunate balance in terms of loss of life. In addition to the emotional toll, it leaves on the people who suffer it, the damage to property, services and the ecology amounts to billions of pesos.

The most frequent problem with respect to individual or community behavior in the face of disasters is the lack of preparation to face them in their three basic moments: before, during and after.

Before

Because generally, people do not consider the possibility that some disaster may occur or affect them, which is why they do not prepare themselves physically or psychologically to face it. This is the prevention stage.

During

Because in many cases, the fear and confusion of the moment do not allow the person to make the best decision to act accordingly and protect their life and that of their family.

After

Because the vision of disorder and imbalance that can occur around them, coupled with their emotional and physical wear and tear, can lead a person to perform actions to their detriment, such as drinking contaminated water, lighting fires without making sure there are no gas leaks, and so many other activities that could lead to new disasters.

Preparing for a natural disaster

Individuals, families, and communities who have prepared themselves can act effectively to protect themselves and, if possible, participate in community prevention and relief efforts. It is based on the principle that information is the basis for being prepared to face disasters, which involves two aspects:

a) Mental preparation (knowing what to do).

b) Physical preparation (equipment and supplies).

VOLCANIC ERUPTION

Volcano

A volcano is an opening in the earth where magma comes out, which is a molten rock formed inside. Volcanoes usually take the form of a hill or mountain, because of the accumulation of lava layers and ashes around the opening. The ash emitted by volcanoes is made up of rock fragments the size of sand and gravel, which are pulverized during volcanic explosions. Volcanoes are called dormant when they have been inactive for thousands of years or have erupted only once; and active when they have stages of activity interrupted by varying periods of rest.

Volcanic explosivity index (vei)

The size of a volcanic eruption cannot easily be measured with a scale like that used for earthquakes. To measure how "big" an eruption is, it is necessary to describe the volume of fragments emitted, the height of the eruptive column, the explosive energy, and the distance traveled by the ballistics. The scale is open and varies from 0, for non-explosive eruptions like those of volcanoes in Hawaii, or 7, for the largest recorded explosions. For example, the St. Helens eruption has a VEI of 5.

Volcano Warning Light

It is the mechanism of the National Protection System that maintains information on the different levels of danger presented by volcanic activity. The green color indicates that you can develop the activities with normality. The yellow color means that you must be alert and aware of what the authorities and the news tell you and above all follow the indications they give you. The red color is the alarm signal and indicates that the population should be located in safe places.

What to do before, during and after a volcanic eruption

Volcanoes always represent a risk and therefore, preventively, we must know the dangers that can present the volcano nearest to us. However, it is rare for a volcano to become active without warning. In Mexico, there are more than 2,000 volcanoes. Of these, only a little more than ten are considered active or dangerous. 

The most common personal accidents due to volcanic activity are a consequence of:

A partial or total collapse of fragile roofs (tile, sheet, plywood, canvas, cardboard or wood), due to the weight of the accumulation of ash.

A partial or total collapse of houses due to hot ash flows (pyroclastic flows).

Partial or total collapses of houses in gullies where there is a flow of mud, resulting from the mixture of ash with rain or from the melting of snow or ice.

Vehicle collisions due to lack of visibility and slippery floors due to the presence of ash.

Injuries from falling rock fragments (ballistic).

Lung diseases due to inhalation of ash

A person can lessen the dangers to which they and their family are exposed by learning what to do in the event of a volcanic eruption.

How to prepare

Go to the Civil Protection unit or local authorities for instructions on:

If the area where you live may be affected by volcanic activity.

What are the protective measures you should take in your home or workplace in case of a volcanic eruption?

How you can collaborate with the relief brigades if you are interested in training to participate in this situation.

Have a battery-powered radio, flashlight and personal documents on hand

What to do when the signal is green, a normal situation?

Stay informed.

Know the evacuation routes and where the meeting places established by the authorities are, to facilitate your possible transfer to safe places, as well as the temporary shelter or refuge that you are entitled to.

Attend the training courses offered by the Civil Protection unit and above all participate in the exercises and simulations that take place in your community.

Remember that constructions in ravines and riverbanks are more prone to damage, since generally, the flows of volcanic materials take those channels.

Try to build in the highest areas and that your house has strong roofs and preferably sloping.

Have a flashlight with spare batteries, a portable radio, a small first aid kit, drinking water and basic documents at hand.

Don't get carried away by false rumors from unauthorized people.

If you observe any change in the volcano, such as new fumaroles, thermal springs, changes in the composition of the water, ashes or landslides, report it to the authorities.

What to do when the light is yellow, alert situation?

Be alert and watch what the authorities and the news tell you.

Prepare a card for each member of your family with their name and address.

If your home has gas, electricity and water services, make sure you know how they are shut off.

If you can, store food and drinking water, any medicines you or someone in your family is taking, as well as your most important documents such as property deeds, birth or marriage certificates, passbooks, etc.

Try to have a battery-powered radio, flashlight and the keys to your house on hand.

Cover food and water tanks to avoid contamination from falling ashes.

If you have livestock or any kind of animals, ask the Civil Protection unit what you should do with them.

What to do when the light is red, alarm situation?

Stay calm, gather your family, put an ID on them.

Make sure that doors and windows are closed and place a white sheet or cloth towards the street, to indicate that it is an evacuated home.

Go immediately to the meeting points, take only the essential items.

If you can evacuate by your own means, do not hesitate to do so and go to the temporary shelter that corresponds to you.

When you arrive at the temporary shelter, register and go to the place indicated.

If you require medical attention, go to the nearest Health System facility.

At the temporary shelter, cooperate in whatever is asked of you. Keep in touch with the authorities, they will tell you the rules to follow during your stay.

If you cannot locate the meeting center or the means of transportation to evacuate are not available, move away from the volcano, walking through the high parts to a safe place.

Don't get carried away by false rumors of unauthorized people. Returning to normal

Only the authorities can tell you when it will be safe to return to your home.

Before entering your home, check the condition of your house, in case you have doubts, consult with the emergency services, if the roof has ash, remove it immediately, taking care that it does not go to the drainage.

Do not use electricity or gas until you are sure that the facilities are clean and in good condition.

Do not eat or drink anything that you suspect is contaminated, if in doubt consult the appropriate authorities.

Be alert to the color of the traffic light and follow the recommendations of the local Civil Protection committee.

Carry out your daily activities with your family.

What to do in case of an ashfall?

Protect your eyes, nose, and mouth, if you need to go outside. Avoid exercising.

Close doors and windows and seal the cracks and vents with damp cloths to limit the entry of dust into houses and buildings. Shake ashes with dusters so that they do not scratch surfaces.

Cover vats and other containers to keep them from getting dirty and cover equipment and cars to keep them from getting damaged and scratched.

Continuously remove ashes to prevent them from accumulating on lightweight roofs (sheet, cardboard, plywood, canvas, tile and the like), because they can be caused to fall due to excess weight, as happens with hail. Moreover, if the ashes get wet, they will increase in weight as if they were a cement slab, so we should not try to remove them with water.

Cover all the drains and collect the ashes in sacks and plastic bags to prevent them from going down the drain.

Try to keep as few cars as possible; be careful and patient because traffic can become slow when the floor becomes slippery.

Hurricanes and floods cause 40% of natural disaster damage in Mexico

Hurricanes and floods accounted for 40% of the damages resulting from natural disasters during 2018 in the country, revealed the Mexican Association of Insurance Institutions (AMIS).

This type of risk refers to hurricanes, floods, rains, hailstorms, and mudslides, which are rising due to climate change, among others. Despite this, in Mexico, only 6.5% of homes are insured at the initiative of their owners, 5% of microenterprises, 15% of small companies and about half of the medium and large companies.

In 2018 five catastrophic events occurred in Mexico: hurricanes Bud and Carlotta that happened in June, in addition to Willa in October; the tropical depression 19-E in September and tropical storm Vicente in October.

For the 2019 hurricane season, which began in mid-May in the Pacific Ocean and June 1 in the Atlantic, it is expected the impact near 33 hydro-meteorological events in the country, according to the National Water Commission (Conagua). Of these, 14 would be tropical storms and the rest hurricanes, from category 1 to 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

It is important to mention that there is still the false perception that strong natural disasters are sporadic; however, there are smaller events that have generated large losses and both the citizens and the uninsured local governments have to cover the cost of the damages.

In the face of these natural events, AMIS recommends identifying all the risks to which one is exposed and requesting the advice of a specialist in insurance (agent); Ask all the doubts and especially the scope of the coverage at the time of contracting the insurance.

It also suggests evaluating that the protection acquired (sum insured) is adequate to the risks that are to be covered; be clear when the coverage applies and when not (exclusions) and assess the amount of the deductible and co-insurance (amount with which the user contributes to cover the loss), among others.

"In spite of the unfortunate losses and the risk that these phenomena represent, low levels of insurance are still observed, especially in medium and small businesses located in vulnerable areas, such as coasts," said the Director General of the Association, Recaredo Arias.

During 2018, catastrophic damages caused by natural disasters cost 11,386 million pesos to the insurance sector, of which 4,633 million pesos corresponded to hydro-meteorological risks. Last year compensation was paid for 4,633 million pesos for these phenomena, while in 2017 the amount was 4.56 million, an increase of 14 percent. Damage premiums including hydrometeorological risks totaled 10,865 million pesos in 2018, while in 2017 the figure was slightly higher, with 10,870 million.

By Mexicanist Source: National Communications Centre, Ministry of the Interior