The frequency of natural disasters is increasing each year due to global warming, urbanization, and population density. In 1970, there were only 78 reported disasters worldwide, while in 2004, there were nearly 350. Over 200 million people are affected by disasters each year. Depending on where you live, you may be at risk of experiencing particular disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, wildfires, or winter storms. Your college will have a plan of action to follow in case disaster strikes, and will make students aware of how they should react or prepare. In extreme cases, schools will inform students when and how they should evacuate.


Preparing for Natural Disasters

Often, students can sign up to receive text messages from their schools that will alert them of dangerous weather patterns in the area. These texts will usually notify students about where to go and what to do to stay safe during the emergency. Colleges also send out mass emails to students in such cases. Students with cell phones may also elect to receive Wireless Emergency Alerts. The National Weather Service sends these alerts when there is a tsunami, tornado, flash flood, hurricane, typhoon, dust storm, or extreme wind warning. This can be helpful to students who live in areas without sirens in place, as the phone will sound and action can be taken immediately.

Students should also consider creating an emergency kit, especially if they live in areas that are prone to any type of natural disaster. Each kit should include:

  • At least three gallons of drinking water per person
  • At least three days’ worth of nonperishable food (and a can opener if necessary)
  • A battery-powered radio with extra batteries
  • A flashlight with extra batteries
  • A first aid kit
  • A whistle to attract attention
  • Maps of the surrounding area
  • A dust mask to filter the air during wildfires, earthquakes, or landslides
  • Cash

Depending on your location and the type of natural disaster you may be subject to, it may also be wise to include a complete change of clothing, extra warm clothes, sleeping bags, matches, and/or a fire extinguisher. If you take prescription medication or have a severe allergy, consider including extra medication or an Epipen. The emergency kit should be kept in an easily accessible place in your dorm room or apartment. If you also spend time in your car, consider making two kits, just so you don’t get caught off guard when you’re driving.

It is always wise to get renter’s or homeowner’s insurance, but it is especially wise if you live in an area that often experiences natural disasters. When shopping for policies (particularly if you own your home), ask about specific types of insurance, like flood or earthquake. These are usually not included in a basic insurance policy. If you don’t have disaster-specific insurance, you could be liable for the entire cost of any repairs. For more information for how to prepare for various natural disasters, consider exploring Ready.gov, a government website dedicated to delivering information about emergencies, both natural and man-made, to the general public.

After a Natural Disaster

Once the threat of a natural disaster or storm has passed, there are several things that will need to be done immediately. First and foremost, you want to make sure that you are okay. If you’re injured, buried, or trapped, you will want to call for help. If you have access to your emergency kit, now is the time to use the whistle. If you still have access to a phone, call 9-1-1. If neither of those options is feasible, bang on a pipe or wall so that first responders will hear you. If you can get out, do so, but don’t try to move if you are severely injured. Slight injuries are more manageable and can be treated with appropriate first aid, either self-administered or otherwise. Once you are safe and secure, check in with your family to let them know you’re okay and make them aware of the situation.

If you evacuated, you should only return home after you’ve been given the all clear. Be extra careful when driving on roads that were formerly flooded. If there is still flowing water, turn around and find an alternative route. If the road has washed out, turn around. Avoid walking or driving through standing water, as downed power lines may have electrified it. If you see any downed utility lines while walking or driving, stay away from them, and call the utility company to report them as well. Taking unnecessary risks to get home can have tragic results. It’s much better to have to walk or drive a little bit out of the way than to put yourself in danger.

Going into a damaged building can also pose unique risks. If you are connected to a gas line, smell for gas; it may smell like garlic or rotten eggs. If the smell is present, and especially if you hear a hissing sound, get out of the building and call the gas company. Gas is highly flammable and can be explosive. If there is a water leak, it will likely be obvious. If you have access to a water shutoff valve, go ahead and turn the water off before calling your water company. After your home or apartment has been deemed safe or the utility companies have sealed leaks, you can re-enter and begin cleanup. If you have renter’s insurance (which you should), take photos of the damage so that you can file a claim.

If your home is not habitable after a natural disaster, your school may provide alternate housing. This likely will depend on the severity of the storm, however, and you shouldn’t rely on being handed housing. If the school itself is damaged, the institution will make alternative arrangements and keep you aware of if, where, and when you should be going to class. Staying with friends, family, or at a Red Cross shelter in the meantime will provide you a place to rest your head and recover from the disaster.

Page last updated: 11/2016