24 Essential disaster skills
If you are caught up in a disaster the first person on the scene to deal with the problem, is you. Do you have the essential disaster survival skills needed to stay alive? How you handle the situation will determine how well you and others survive what is being thrown at you.
Depending on the scale of the disaster or the location outside help and emergency services could be 15 minutes to many hours away. Having these basic skills could save the lives of yourself and those around you.
- First aid
- Fire extinguisher use
- Living without electricity
- Water purification
- Personal Hygiene
- Risk Management
- Basic Temporary repairs
- Knot tying
- Improvised shelters
- Bush skills
- Map reading
- Getting found
- Staying out of sight
- Defensive driving
- Off-road driving
- Basic vehicle repairs
- Mature attitude
- Stress management
You could be in an urban situation after a disaster, in a remote area or have been forced to quickly evacuate into the bush to escape the approaching disaster such as tsunami, flood or fire.
Disaster preparation is not just preparing for a specific disaster but having a broad spectrum of knowledge and skills to cover multiple situations before, during and after the disaster. Have a good disaster plan, emergency kit requires having good disaster skills and knowledge to increase your chances of survival.
What skills are needed for a disaster?
1 First Aid
It is essential to have the skills to control bleeding, minimising further injury to the casualties and being able to carry out CPR and basic first aid until the medical officers arrive. Especially so in more remote locations or after a large disaster where emergency services are hours away or spread too thin.
2 Fire extinguisher use
Small fires are easier to control than large fires. Large fires start as small fires. Knowing how to control a burning pot on the stove or small fire quickly will reduce further damage to your home and surrounding properties. As well as knowing how to use them you need to ensure you have the correct fire extinguisher and it’s full and in date.
Swimming is a skill that should be taught at an early age. Kids fall into pools, creeks, dams and bathtubs. If they have the skills to keep their heads out of the water and get to safety, they are less likely to drown. The same goes for adults, out fishing, or walking along the jetty trip and fall in.
Disasters can have flooding elements and you could be swept away or you are trying to walk out through floodwater and it gets too deep. The best policy in flood conditions is to stay out of the water for many reasons. But if you do end up in the water you need to do your best to save yourself.
4 Living without electricity
Having a plan on what your family will do when the electrical grid goes down will help with the everyday survival needs such as clean water and food safety. What essentials do you have in your life that require electricity? I’m not talking about your personal assistant on the bench, I’m talking about breathing machines and food refrigeration.
5 Water purification
Water treatment plants require electricity to purify your tap water. Water mains can be damaged, allowing contaminated water to enter the treated water. Or the disaster is big enough there may be no tap water at all and you need to find water elsewhere.
Knowing how to purify water, having bottled water or the survival tools to purify the water will save you from getting a disease from the untreated water during and after an event.
6 Personal hygiene
We have discussed tap water availability but what does that mean for your personal hygiene? Water may be in short supply, so baths, showers, washing the dog, laundry and so on may be unavailable until the system is up and running again. You will need to think about handwashing with a bucket and cloth or the like.
Sewerage systems need pumps to work and will back up if the power goes down. Floodwaters can enter the mains or they can be broken causing the system to bank up or overflow. Using toilets is no longer available so you will need to look into a camping-style toilet system and not use your everyday toilet until the authorities say the system is working again.
7 Risk Management
Being able to identify hazards on the run or anticipating what hazards there might be during a disaster will help you establish control measures and improve survivability. At first, this might take some practice before a disaster. Research the type of disasters in your area and the hazards that come along with them. What is the local authorities’ advice on dealing with these hazards?
8 Basic temporary repairs
What will you do if a window breaks and rain is getting in? What if a tree branch crashes through your roof? Know your skills and abilities to temporarily deal with it. It can be as simple as some plastic and tape to temporarily stop the water coming in or placing buckets under the drip to stop the whole house from flooding.
Depending on your situation you may not be the best person to deal with it. A branch through the roof may not need removing, you just need to move yourself and your family into a safer area of the house or evacuate them until someone else fixes the problem. Evacuating the damaged area will protect you if the roof was to collapse because the branch was attached to a large tree sitting on the roof.
9 Knot tying
Re-fixing a loose tarpaulin, tying down a load on your trailer or building an improvised shelter all require you to have some knot ability. The more you know the more successful you will be in your task of securing the item.
10 Improvised shelters
Your home has been destroyed, you live in a remote area or have been evacuated into the hills for a tsunami. What are you going to do for shelter in bad weather or if you’re stuck out for the night? Having some basic knowledge of finding or building a shelter will be lifesaving.
Floods can rise quickly without warning; water is coming up through the floor waste in your shower. What will you do? Ring the emergency services, who by now have hundreds of people doing the same thing so you have to wait for hours. By which time the house has sewerage in the hallway and the flood is easing.
If you knew how to make some simple sandbags with household items you could prevent some of the mess, leaving the emergency services to save lives.
Sandbags can have other uses apart from flood control. Building walls for protection in your improvised shelter or self-defence purposes.
12 Bush skills
Ever been camping? Skills like cooking on a campfire, bar-b-que, starting a campfire or setting up an improvised toilet can come in handy in the city after a big disaster. How do you light a fire without a lighter or matches? How do you navigate after a severe earthquake in a big city when all the landmarks look the same (piles of rubble) or after dark when there are no street lights.
13 Map reading
How would you find an alternate route out of the city if the internet was down? Map reading doesn’t come easily to everyone as some can see things in 3D easier than others. Looking at a pile of lines on a piece of paper and then look around you. Can you work out where you are and where you want to go?
If you are evacuating into unknown areas or remote areas with no street signs, how do you find your way? Or at the other end of the spectrum, you have had a car accident in the bush and need emergency services. How do you work out where you are so you can tell the services your location?
Navigation covers the skills need to plan where you are going and ensuring you stay on the correct path. It’s one thing to look at a map and say I want to go there, but how do you ensure you are going in the right direction as you travel, again without the use of a GPS or internet. But you always have your vehicle GPS, well it’s at the bottom of the river with your car after the accident.
15 Getting found
Stuck in a trapped building or last in the bush, you will get found much quicker if you are doing the right things. You want to be seen with fires, lights, signal mirrors or heard with yelling, tapping steel or blowing a car horn. Learn how to make various signals to notify rescuers.
16 Staying out of sight
When the world around you is going crazy, riots, crime waves, post-apocalyptic madness staying out of sight would be a survival skill. It doesn’t just mean hide in the cupboard, but being able to escape the situation without being noticed. Locking yourself in a bunker could end up being your tomb as you have nowhere to run if they find you.
Being able to defend yourself and others during post-disaster troubles is another useful survival skill. Disasters bring out the worst in people with crime, break and enter, riots, and people just panicking. Learn self-defence skills with and without weapons, as your favourite weapon may not be nearby when you are being attacked.
18 Defensive driving
Bad weather, slippery roads, unexpected hazards and road accidents require more advanced driving skills to avoid or minimise the damage to your vehicle and your family. Basic driving training is designed to help you get a driver’s licence and drive under normal conditions. Even then it doesn’t always work with the number of vehicle accidents each day.
19 Off-road driving
Driving on dirt roads, rocky ground, through creeks and mud uses a completely different set of driving skills than cruising down the motorway. It is too easy to lose control of your car and have a life-threatening accident in rough loose dirt.
After a disaster, the main roads may be damaged, flooded or blocked by heavy traffic and accidents. You have looked up the map and there are alternate routes out of the city taking you through bushland and forests, you need to know how to drive in these conditions to reach your destination safely.
20 Basic vehicle repairs
We don’t have to be a mechanic but there are some things we should know. How to change a tyre, check your fluid levels under the bonnet, charge your flat battery, replace windscreen wiper blades and check your tyre pressures. Simple tasks to complete, unless you like sitting on the side of the road for hours waiting for the roadside assistance guy to arrive. Checking your vehicle before going on long drives can spot problems before you leave town.
21 Mature attitude
Disasters bring out the worst in people and being able to keep a calm attitude will have you a step ahead. Check any disaster response procedure, running around screaming is not on the list (don’t take your training from the movies).
Staying calm and working through the problem will greatly increase your chances of surviving. Acting mature when dealing with others will reduce conflict and will help calm the situation down hopefully. People who are panicking or upset will usually respond to some calm leadership.
Step back and see the big picture. Don’t get so focused on one thing you miss seeing all the alternatives that could make the situation easier. Thinking outside the box could get you out of the current problem and make life less stressful. There are rules and procedures for dealing with situations but sometimes they don’t think of everything and you have to make it up as you go.
23 Stress management
Disasters are stressful, but you didn’t need me to tell you that. Think about how you react in stressful situations. Do you shut things out and focus on one thing? Do you just lose it and start yelling or crying? Do you go into denial, close your eyes and try to pretend it is not happening? Each one of us has our way of dealing with stress. You can’t just turn off stress in a disaster so what can you do?
Minimise the impact of the situation on yourself and your family. Don’t go site seeing like a lot of idiots do, this only embeds visions in your head you wish you hadn’t seen. If you don’t need to be there get out, evacuate to your relatives in another town for a few days. You saw a vehicle accident and have pulled over as a witness, there are enough people attending the casualties, go stand on the other side of your car and look at the surrounding countryside instead of the accident scene.
Get help afterwards. Emergency services are trained for disasters but they still need help regularly. Even with the help, they can end up with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Even if you feel the event didn’t affect you talk to someone friends, family, your doctor or a psychologist.
Find your favourite means to destress. Exercise, yoga, music, dancing, spending time with loved ones, walking in the bush, movies and more.
Doing anything alone puts all the work on your shoulders. If you are alone when a disaster hits, who will be saving you? After the event, meet up with your friends, family and neighbours to help each other clean up and get your lives back to normal. Helping others is a means of distracting yourself from your current situation and then they can come to help you.
Working with others shares the workload and gives you someone to talk to who is in the same situation.
Having some very common basic skills will make living through a disaster not as stressful and will improve your chances of survival. Disasters don’t give you a lot of warning, are stressful and set the community back financially and physically but with the right skills, you can minimise the damage and start rebuilding sooner.