Dealing with disaster Part 5 — Catastrophe basics


Editor’s note: This is the final segment of Laura Townsend’s treatise on Dealing with Disaster. She has covered everything from tsunamis to terrorism and strikes with useful tips and suggestions that should get you thinking about these possibilities.

Where In The World Are You?
If the technologies in the previous paragraph have failed, or you otherwise inexplicably find yourself lost — stranded somewhere after an accident, on a mountain or other desolate place — and try to walk out, leave a mark where you started from and Hansel & Gretel it as you make your way.

Local emergency personnel can usually figure out all the outbound possibilities if they have a starting point. Often the safest course, though, is to stay put as those who know you, your tour, or plane has gone astray will come looking for you. Statistics from rescue personnel usually bear out the fact that if you stay in one place, there is almost a 100% probability that you will be found within 24 hours (assuming you notified others of your plans before departing, and therefore someone knows you are lost). They know where they’re going, you don’t, and a fixed target is always easier to find than a moving one.

Always, always, always teach small children to stay put and not hide because they fit in places that are hard to search. “The primary reason you should not move once you realize you are lost is historically people who are lost and continue to move, move further away from where they should be.”

The decision to seek concealed shelter (often for the purpose of staying warm) should be weighed against the risks of encountering denning animals, complicating rescue efforts, and avalanche or other natural threats. Warmth can be provided by fire, or amassed leaves or dirt, among other inventions. Within the immediate area, seek higher, not lower, ground as you will be easier to spot.

Survival specialists plan in terms of the rule of “threes” — you can expect to survive most panic-induced situations for 3 seconds, you can survive without air (or with severe bleeding) for 3 minutes, and without food or water for three days (if kept hydrated most humans can go 30 days without food). Thus, it is essential for you to S.T.O.P. – Sit-Think-Observe-Plan. The will to survive is strong (think often of the loved ones waiting for you), and the brain is your most valuable weapon. Water and heat should be your primarly concerns, take steps to ensure both.

X Marks The Spot
Not to be a pessimist, but in foreign locales, arrange two rendezvous spots when you arrive that everyone can remember and access, as in, ”If there’s an earthquake (or fire, or other event…), look for me in front of the hotel. If the hotel is gone, try to find me in front of the museum two blocks away…”

For younger children you can make this less scary by turning it into a hypothetical adventure game. You can be assured, though, that if something happens, they will remember it. Planning past two spots is a waste of time — any emergency that would render two meeting points moot is full-scale.

If it’s nearby, a good rendezvous spot in any international emergency is YOUR COUNTRY’S EMBASSY! If they can’t deal with the situation, look out. At a minimum they can help you make escape arrangements (although be advised, if you are evacuated, you have to sign a promissory note for the cost of a commercial ticket and repay them).

Remember to be nice – everyone wants everything in an emergency – and they’re probably dealing with their own fears and stresses, plus they usually have to stay behind. (It’s important to note, though, that in instances of anti-American (or other nationality) sentiment, you may wish to stay away from that country’s embassy as most of the violent activity may be directed there, as it did in Iran in 1981).

Preparing tio visit the site of a newly installed water purification project in vietnam

Beware the water, ice, whatever
Even amongst seasoned travelers, the most often encountered travel problem in not mass catastrophe, but ordinary traveler’s dysentery – the so-called Montezuma’s (insert- foreign-idol’s-name-here) Revenge.

There are some additional precautions we have discovered you may wish to take. Never buy water from street vendors or children if you want to be extra cautious. Poverty stricken people often make a living putting local water into cast-off water bottles and re-sealing them.

Don’t forget in that in a lot of third world countries even the hotel tap may not be safe for you – just because the locals drink it doesn’t mean anything – they’ve developed a tolerance. If you start to feel ill, seek attention right away and drink a lot of (safe) fluids — the dehydration is what’s going to dog you. Carry water purification tablets.

Take proper precautions against mosquitoes. We sadly lost a treasured employee last year to malaria. Mosquitoes are true agents of potential death, capable of spreading malaria, dengue fever, Yellow Fever, and a host of undesirable and often deadly maladies. Use spray, netting, covering clothes, do anything it takes. The CDC maintains information on traveler’s topics here.

Old well/water source for village
New water source

Note: These are guidelines — if you have reasonable on-the-ground intelligence that contradicts these tips, please use common sense and follow it. Note: At any time during the series, I invite others to offer their insights and advice.

  • Nigel

    You covered just about everything, but I think the number one precaution is travel and medical insurance from a reputable supplier. I know that some medical plans include out of country medical coverage as do some credit cards provided the trip has been paid for by that credit card. However both of those usually have some sort of limitations and restrictions. Far better is the specialist insurance company.
    The medical & travel insurance I used to sell before I retired earlier this year included trip cancellation and trip interruption as well as having other coverages avaialble and of course medical coverage up to $5,000,000 per person.
    Your travel agent or insurance broker can advise.