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  • 2016: A Year in Review

    2016_amatrice_earthquake A Year In Review Amatrice, a town in Italy, destroyed by the earthquake. Photo: Leggi il Firenzepost

    Raise your hand if you’re glad 2016 is about over. The year was so tumultuous that a magnitude 6.2 earthquake that killed at least 299 people in central Italy didn’t even make most U.S. news organizations’ lists of important events. (Neither did a magnitude-6.6  earthquake on October 30 that destroyed more towns in the same area.) In this Year in Review, we look at some of the more devastating events that happened in 2016.

    Disaster declarations began early in the year.

    On January 5, the governor of Michigan declared a state of emergency in Flint, Mich., because of lead-contaminated water. It was a man-made disaster. In 2014, the city manager decided to switch the city’s water supply to the Flint River. The more-corrosive water was not correctly treated and caused lead to leach out of thousands of miles of old pipes. After a year of cleanup, many Flint residents still can’t use tap water.

    A massive winter storm hit eleven eastern states beginning January 22. It dumped more than 30 inches of snow on seven states, caused six tornadoes, affected 103 million people and killed 55. Damage estimates range from $500 million to $3 billion.

    A seemingly-mild virus carried by a tiny mosquito next took over global headlines. The World Health Organization declared the Zika virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on February 1. In most people, Zika causes few to no symptoms – maybe a mild rash or fever. However, in pregnant women, Zika can cause microcephaly other brain defects in their unborn children.  The first U.S. death from Zika was announced April 1, and the virus spread to Florida in July.

    March brought the first of many terrorist attacks this year in a reminder to be vigilant even in seemingly safe places. On the 22nd, two suicide bombers attacked the Brussels, Belgium airport and a third attacked a Brussels Metro station. Thirty-five people were killed, including the three bombers, and at least 300 were injured. More terror attacks brought violence to France, Germany and many other nations.

    On April 3, the Panama Papers were released. More than 11 million documents showed, first, how the wealthy hide their money from taxes, and second, sent a reminder to protect your own information. Yahoo in July and December announced two more security breaches of 500 million and a billion accounts.

    Leaving Fort McMurray A Year In Review Wildfires raged in Fort McMurray, Alberta.

    In May, 88,000 people fled a wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. The fire caused the largest evacuation in Alberta history and destroyed about 2,400 buildings. It might be Canada’s costliest disaster.

    In June, voters in the United Kingdom surprised everyone by voting to leave the European Union. Brexit roiled financial markets and served as a reminder that individual financial preparation is especially vital in a global economy.

    Even last year’s El Nino was not enough to break California’s staggering drought. Wildfires raged through the parched state in June and July. The Erskine fire alone killed two people and destroyed 285 homes. In all, the 2016 fire season saw almost 7,000 fires in California burn more than 565,000 acres and kill seven people.

    A July 30 flash flood in Maryland was only a harbinger of flooding to come. Massive storms across southern Louisiana in early August dumped more rain than Hurricane Katrina. Floods killed 13 people and caused $10-15 billion in damage. It was the worst disaster since Hurricane Sandy.

    And, oh, yes, there was a pretty big earthquake in Italy. In certain parts of the world, you expect certain things. You expect earthquakes in Italy and California. You expect tornadoes in Oklahoma. You expect hurricanes in Florida. Oh, wait. Hurricane Hermine, which made landfall in Florida September 2, was the first hurricane to hit the state in 11 years. It was a spitball compared with Hurricane Matthew, a category 5 monster that, in October, killed up to 1,600 people in Haiti and more throughout the Caribbean before making its final landfall in South Carolina. Damage is estimated at more than $10.5 billion.

    In November, some tiny country somewhere rejected a divisive mainstream candidate for a divisive outsider in its presidential election. Who knows what effect President-elect Donald Trump will have? Best be prepared for anything.

    Finally, December. And a Christmas winter storm that blasted through the central U.S.

    And don’t forget Super Typhoon Nock-ten, which slammed the Philippines the same day. Or the magnitude 7.6 earthquake in southern Chile that threatened a tsunami.

    May next year be a bit more peaceful for you, your family, and the world.


    Disaster_Blog_Banner A Year In Reveiw

  • Natural Disaster Seasons are Scheduled Year-Round

    When isn’t there a warning of some imminent natural disaster? It seems like some sort of devastation or disaster is scheduled each month, ready to knock us off our feet. Knowing when each disaster is more likely to strike can help us be better prepared, and with better preparedness comes greater safety.

    The following is a list of natural disasters the United States can expect on a yearly basis, along with applicable dates in which they are “scheduled.”


    Tornado season disaster seasonTornado Season: March – July

    Technically, tornado season differs for various regions. For example, the Southern States are in peak tornado season from March to May, whereas the Northern Plains and Midwest experience their tornado season around June and July. Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that tornadoes can occur during any time and any month.

    To learn more about tornadoes, click here.


    Hurricane season disaster seasonHurricane Season: June – November

    Half the year is taken up with the Atlantic hurricane season, beginning June 1 and continuing through November 30, according to NOAA. Just like any of these scheduled disasters, some may arrive earlier than June or even after hurricane season has long since ended.

    To learn more about hurricanes, click here.


    Fire Season: October – January

    Fire Approaching House (NY Times) disaster season fire seasonFire season is a fickle thing. It depends on outside factors, such as recent precipitation and heat. But, October is generally the start of fire season and, depending on which part of the country you reside, could last through January.

    California, while still following these same guidelines, tends to be in the danger zone year round. “Where there’s drought, there’s fire,” says Slate. California has been in a state of drought for many years, making fires a likely threat.


    Earthquake Season: January – December

    Christchurch, New Zealand - March 12, 2011 disaster season earthquake season

    If you thought you had at least February off from any imminent disaster, this will come as bad news. Earthquakes happen every month of the year, in every state, and can happen at any time of the day or night. As of yet, earthquakes are unable to be predicted.


    There is no day or month that is immune from natural disasters. Because of this, being constantly prepared is vital. Sure, some natural disasters can be better predicted during certain seasons, making it easier to prepare, but remember, these disaster seasons aren’t always followed exactly. Hurricanes can come before or after hurricane season, tornadoes can form outside of tornado season, and fires can certainly happen year round. Also, there are other disasters, such as earthquakes, that simply can’t be predicted. Combined with blizzards and severe thunderstorms, there’s a full year of scheduled disasters waiting to strike.

    Fortunately, getting the basics can be quick and easy. Make sure you have what you need before disaster strikes. Prepare today for tomorrow’s emergencies.


    Disaster_Blog_Banner disaster season

  • The Burning Man Festival as an Emergency Situation Example

    Burning Man 01


    Burning Man Traffice - via Slate Traffic at Burning Man - via Slate

    Every year, the week before Labor Day, Black Rock City becomes the sixth largest city in Nevada. This ephemeral city, which exists solely for the Burning Man arts festival, deals with the same issues of any 70,000-person city: traffic control and traffic jams, water and sanitation, power, health care and law enforcement. It has a large central coffee house, neighborhoods and postal service, many art installations, a wooden temple and loads of bars and entertainment venues, some of which are mobile. And of course it has its namesake: a giant, wooden statue of a man that’s destroyed by fire every year.

    Its temporary residents have problems people in no other midsize city face except during a disaster. At the end of the festival, the city must disappear like it never existed. Its residents must provide their own necessities: homes, food, water, sanitation and power. In fact, the only things available to buy are coffee drinks and ice. Internet and phone service is minimal to nonexistent. The city provides portable toilets but not showers. The nearest supermarket and gas station are nine miles away and jammed. There are no trash cans. All trash – even cigarette butts and wash water – must be stored and removed at the end of the week. Every bit of infrastructure is trucked in on the narrow highway beforehand and trucked out afterward if it’s not deliberately burned during the week. (Even debris from burned installations must be removed and the ground raked over.)

    Burning Man as seen from above Burning Man as seen from above

    Access to this town 120 miles from Reno, Nev. is possible by a two-lane highway or a temporary airport. Its residents face the extreme weather conditions of the desert: temperatures that range from less than 40 degrees at night to more than 100 degrees during the day, bone-dry, shade-free landscape and windstorms of alkali silt that block the sun and hinder breathing. The alkali dust causes playa foot, a chemical burn on the skin that can cause infection, according to attendee Bee Joli Shah, writing in Allure.

    “The first thing you have to know about Burning Man is it is all about survival, both as a 70,000 person community, and as an individual. That might sound a little scary, okay, it might sound a lot scary,” wrote former attendee Jennifer Maas for Hollywood Life.

    They’ve made it work for 30 years by practicing 10 principles codified in 2004. These principles are helpful in any emergency situation and include Radical Self-reliance, Participation, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility and Gifting.

    “The Black Rock Desert is trying its best to kill you. As ‘Radical Self-Reliance’ is one of Burning Man’s core principles, it is YOUR responsibility to see to it that it doesn’t.” the Burning Man web site said.

    Check out this list of required items for Burning Man participants. Notice how closely it resembles lists of supplies for 72-hour kits. Dust masks and goggles are necessary, as is some first aid training. Those are also useful in any disaster situation.

    This year, six people were injured, and one was airlifted out, when their theme camp collapsed. More common injuries include infection, playa foot, heat illness and substance abuse.

    A really good guide for Burning Man attendees is also useful for emergency preparedness, telling, among other things, how to set up ad hoc power systems and manage water.

    Former attendees recommend wet wipes and vinegar for cleaning, because the vinegar’s acidity can cut the alkalinity of the dust. Vinegar is a good cleaning and preserving agent for an emergency too.

    burning man-exodus-2-line - via Burners Burning Man Exodus traffic - via Burners

    Burning Man organizers tell attendees to fill up with gas in larger towns and make sure their tank is mostly full before they arrive, so they won’t have to fill up during the long wait to leave. This year, attendees had to wait up to nine hours in their cars after law enforcement stopped traffic to search for a missing 17-year-old girl. Even during normal departure times, called “Exodus,” people wait six to eight hours just to leave the area, according to event organizers. Organizers have a plan that entails moving groups in hour-plus intervals and turning vehicles off during the wait period.

    “Fill up on gas frequently and consider bringing a small gas can. There are very few gas stations on the 90-mile stretch between Fernley and Black Rock City,” attendee Melanie Curtin wrote for Inc.

    The Federal Emergency Management also recommends keeping a car’s gas tank full in case of any emergency evacuation.

    A major part of Burning Man is gifting, providing gifts to anyone, without thought of recompense or the size of the gift. Participants are also encouraged to volunteer and work together. In a disaster, people who have the things they need will be able to help others.

    Burning Man attendees must be prepared, or they can be turned away, according to Maas.

    “Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise, and rely on his or her inner resources,” the organization’s web site says. “You are responsible for your own survival, safety, comfort, and well-being, and for Leaving No Trace.”

    That can be true in any place, in any life event.


    Disaster_Blog_Banner - Burning Man

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