This post was derived from Alison Hudson's Fix.com article on natural disaster preparedness. Alison submitted this version for Real Goods.
Exploring in the great outdoors can come with many risks and unpredictable circumstances: emergency crews can be a long distance away, cell phone coverage is intermittent, and the chance of being caught in a natural disaster is real. But there are steps you can take to avoid natural disasters and stay safe if the worst happens. Ensuring you've got emergency water treatment options, an emergency power source, and first aid supplies is important for any outdoor adventure. But knowledge can be just as important, so keep the tips below in mind in case you ever find yourself caught in a flash flood, lightning storm, earthquake, or avalanche.
Flash floods are an abrupt and powerful phenomenon usually caused by an intense thunderstorm that produces a massive amount of rain in a short period of time. Flash floods are most dangerous along rivers and in canyons - especially narrow slot canyons, where large amounts of water can concentrate quickly and become trapped between high rock walls.
The best way to avoid flash floods is to avoid venturing into susceptible canyons until you've researched their history and read up on the weather patterns in the area. Before hiking into one of these areas, check the weather forecast. If there is even a chance of a thunderstorm, try a different adventure!
If you find yourself in a flash flood situation, height is your best friend. Don't try to run! Instead, try to climb to a higher location. Some canyons have safety features already in place such as ropes or ladders you can use to escape to higher ground, or horns near the fee booth, bathroom, or ranger station that allow you or other hikers to alert others in the vicinity of a flood.
Lightning storms are becoming more prevalent and the risk of being hit by lightning has risen. The best way to avoid finding yourself in a lightning storm is to check the local weather forecast ahead of time and watch the sky throughout your outdoor adventure. Since thunderstorms are more likely to occur in the early afternoon, plan long hikes for earlier in the day. Storms can occur without much notice; if you notice a storm brewing, head to lower ground. And find a safe haven immediately if you notice your hair standing on end or sparks arcing between your fingers and rocks.
But what is a safe haven? It should be a low-elevation spot like a crevice or ravine, or better yet, a cave. If you do get caught in an exposed area, as a last line of defense you can sit or stand on a insulative rubber barrier like a backpack, sleeping pad or even sneakers to help intercept a lightening strike traveling through the ground toward you. If you are with other people, ensure there is space between everyone to prevent a any strike from traveling through the group.
Falling objects are the main cause of earthquake-related injuries and fatalities. But beyond that, different regions can have their own particular dangers. Extensive earthquakes can bring about torrential landslides in mountainous areas, while in waterfront locations there's a danger of a quake setting off a tsunami. The precise time and location of an earthquake is exceptionally hard to anticipate, but certain locales - especially areas above a fault in the earth - are more likely to experience them than others.
If an earthquake occurs, seek open space and avoid rocks and trees that may fall. If the earth shakes, run laterally rather than downhill. If you are in a desolate area by the coast and an earthquake occurs, head upward and stay focused on the sea; tsunamis usually happen after a decrease in water level.
Educate yourself about avalanches using the resources available to you by taking an avalanche course and getting a basic understanding of how they occur and what conditions to recognize. Invest in the safety accessories such as beacons, which can help searchers find you as soon as possible if you do become trapped in snow.
If you get caught in an avalanche, try to "swim" on top of it by kicking your legs and swinging your arms back and forth. Deaths are usually caused by injuries during the slide, but suffocation is an additional hazard. If you find yourself buried under an avalanche, try to form a pocket of air in front of your mouth by digging with your hands or even spitting. With enough space in front of your face, spitting can even help you determine which way is up.
Don't let the fear of natural disasters keep you from enjoying time in the outdoors! But educating yourself about what Mother Nature can throw at you and respecting her potential dangers is a crucial part of any responsible and rewarding outdoor adventure.
Alison wears many hats as an outdoor enthusiast: she's a freelance writer, filmmaker, and field instructor, who recently made a documentary short about Nepal's high-altitude workers.