So just what exactly is it that disaster survival preppers are so worried about? Those of you who follow the news have already witnessed some massive geological disasters taking place around the world just within our own lifetimes. Some even seem to be occurring somewhere in the world on a fairly regular basis. What follows are a few examples of the natural disasters that have taken place across our planet within just the past couple hundred years or so.
Earthquakes and Tsunamis
In recent years there have been powerful earthquakes and their resulting tsunamis (like the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of 2004 and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan) which have killed hundreds of thousands of people and resulted in complete and widespread devastation of the economies and infrastructures of several countries, causing shortages of food, clean water, and necessary sanitation to contain the spread of disease.
These are just two examples within the last ten years alone, but earthquakes and tsunamis have struck all over the planet throughout it’s history with varying levels of destruction.
Another example of a geological natural disaster would be volcanic eruptions. I find that we don’t normally think much about volcanic eruptions because large eruptions occur much more rarely than most other natural disasters.
This being said, when these massive eruptions do take place they often result in the loss of tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of human lives as well as the poisoning of our atmosphere and our natural resources. The last two such eruptions occurred in Iceland (Laki) in 1783 and then in Indonesia (Tambora) in 1815.
So why prepare for an event like this when it’s been so long since an eruption of this scale has actually happened? There is currently such an eruption brewing in Iceland. Katla, a very large and very active volcano in southern Iceland, has already experienced 20 documented eruptions with an average of one eruption every 60 to 80 years.
By it’s historical schedule, the next eruption is well overdue and ominous signs of an upcoming eruption have already been observed at Katla. Scientists can’t seem to agree on when the eruption will occur, though they seem to agree it will be soon, but most have no trouble agreeing that the eruption will be massive. It may even be on the scale of the Laki eruption (also in Iceland) of 1783, which resulted in millions of deaths worldwide and changed global weather for years.
Meteorological disasters would include things like hurricanes (cyclones), tornadoes, and blizzards. There have been 53 hurricanes and tropical storms that have each caused damage of a billion dollars or more to property and infrastructure just since 1965. One notable example would be Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall in August of 2005.
Katrina alone resulted in 1,833 confirmed deaths and 125 billion dollars in damage from high winds and storm surge flooding. Flooding from Katrina reached up to 12 miles inland in some places and lingered for weeks, leaving trapped residents without food, shelter, or drinkable water, stranded in a polluted mix of floodwater, raw sewage, bacteria, toxic chemicals, and crude oil. Roughly 3 million people were left without electricity, some for many days. Several bridges and most major roadways in the area were damaged or destroyed. Almost every building within half a mile of the coast was completely destroyed.
The real fun began shortly after the hurricane ended, when some remaining residents began looting stores and homes. Most were stealing food and clean water, but some were just stealing whatever they could get their hands on. There were also several incidents of assault, murder, rape, and carjacking in the aftermath of Katrina. Several shootings took place, some even involving police misconduct. People were still dying many days after the storm from the violence, as well as from thirst and exhaustion. It took weeks before law and order was eventually restored to all of the roughly 90,000 square miles that had been declared federal disaster areas. Government agencies were blasted for a lack of leadership and extreme mismanagement due to what many saw as a delayed response in providing aid following the disaster.
Tornadoes can cause the same type of wind damage as hurricanes, except that the winds are generally much stronger, but much more localized. They also don’t usually last for very long. Because of these factors, the area of destruction is usually much smaller.
Large storm systems can however spawn multiple tornadoes, sometimes dozens of them, leading to a much more widespread area of devastation. With global warming and the resulting changing weather patterns, some scientists are predicting an increase in the number and frequency of these large, dangerous storm systems and in the number and destructive power of the tornadoes produced by them.
Snow is not something that is normally feared or even considered dangerous, but when it comes in the form of a massive blizzard, snow can be deadly serious for the unprepared. A deadly blizzard hit the northeastern U.S. in 1888 with snowfall amounts reaching 60 inches in some areas. High winds from the storm resulted in snowdrifts measuring up to 52 feet in depth (higher than the roofs of three story homes), resulting in many residents being trapped in their buried homes for up to a week.
Travel by train or by road was impossible with roads and tracks being buried under the deep snowdrifts for over a week in some places. Police and fire stations were completely buried as well, resulting in roughly $25 million in property losses from fires alone following the blizzard. Over 400 people died from the storm.
In 1972, a week-long blizzard dumped more than 10 feet of snow over northwestern and central Iran and up to 26 feet of snow over southern Iran. Several entire villages were completely buried, with no survivors. The death toll topped 4,000, making this the deadliest blizzard in history.
A 1993 blizzard, often called “the storm of the century”, was so large that it at one point stretched from Canada to South America. It blasted over 26 U.S. states and most of eastern Canada with icy temperatures, heavy snowfall, and hurricane force winds gusting as high as 110 miles per hour. Highway travel was shut down in many states and airports were closed from Canada all the way down to Georgia, stranding thousands of passengers. A total of 318 people lost their lives during this blizzard, which saw snowfall totals as high as 3.5 feet and snowdrifts reaching 35 feet. Just in the U.S., over 10 million homes lost power, some remaining without electricity for as much as 3 weeks.
Man Made Disasters
Now let’s discuss a few of the man made disasters that any of us could be presented with at any given time with little or no warning whatsoever.
Man-made disasters can be intentional, such as a nuclear, electromagnetic pulse (EMP), or cyber-attack, or they can be unintentional, such as a governmental or economic collapse. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the possibility arose of former Soviet nuclear weapons being offered for sale on the black market. No nuclear warheads have been “officially” reported as missing, but there have been rumors of some smaller bombs the size of suitcases, which may be unaccounted for. Concerns also exist with the security of smaller nuclear weapons in several nations that more recently became nuclear capable and have relatively unstable governments, such as North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan.
These smaller nuclear bombs are in the range of 10 to 100 kilotons, meaning that they explode with the power of 10,000 to 100,000 tons of TNT. For reference, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were in the 10 to 20 kiloton range and caused hundreds of thousands of deaths over the following days, weeks, months, and even years. Everything within several hundred meters of the explosions was instantly vaporized by temperatures that reached up to 500 million degrees, which is roughly comparable to the temperature at the center of the Sun.
Outside the centralized blast area, most of the casualties were caused by burns from the extreme heat of the blast or the subsequent fires that broke out, trauma from the flying remnants of collapsed buildings during the shockwave, and exposure to high levels of damaging radiation. Over the days, weeks, and years following a nuclear blast, the death toll continues to rise from radioactive fallout. The vaporized debris from the blast is contaminated by radioactivity and travels on the winds, falling slowly from the sky.
This lethal radioactive fallout can cause an area of several hundreds of kilometers or miles from the original blast area to remain contaminated and completely uninhabitable for tens or even hundreds of years. The fallout particles cover the ground and enter the water supply and are inhaled in the air and eaten in the form of contaminated crops, causing many more casualties.
Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)
Another result of a nuclear detonation is the formation of intense electromagnetic currents and fields, also referred to as an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP for short. This pulse can be felt for very large distances.
The EMP from a large nuclear detonation would expose a huge area of the electrical grid to voltage surges, frying wiring, chips, and microprocessors. This would disable communications systems and electrical power for up to a thousand miles away from the actual site of the blast, disabling all vital services and cutting off all communication. Restoring the damaged grid and rebuilding the disabled communication systems needed to regain vital services in the area would take a long of time and massive amounts of money, that is if the infrastructure required to complete those repairs even still existed after a nuclear blast.
EMPs are a very efficient way of crippling numerous systems that our modern societies have become so very reliant upon for every aspect of our lives. There are over 200,000 miles of high-voltage lines in North America alone, supplying 1,800 utility providers with the electricity for the lights, air conditioners, heating systems, and refrigerators in our homes, as well as for essential businesses, hospitals and police stations.
The North American power grid is so vulnerable, that overgrown tree branches and a sagging power line caused a 2 day blackout in 2003, stretching from Michigan to Massachusetts, that shut down 100 power plants and left 55 million people without electricity, resulting in a cost of over 6 billion dollars. The damage to the grid from an EMP could take months to repair and cost hundreds of times as much in losses. EMPs can also be caused by other types of explosions, as well as solar flares and storms.
Most people think of cyber attacks as a single hacker creating a virus to crash your home PC or steal your personal information, but cyber attacks can also come in the form of coordinated attacks by computer hackers aimed at disrupting or crashing the systems that control vital energy, communication, transportation, water, and financial institutions, and if used effectively could cripple the critical infrastructures of entire nations. There has been a ten-fold increase in the number of successful attacks on infrastructure control systems since the year 2000.
The US government even admits that the North American power grid is susceptible to cyber attack. According to national security officials, both Russia and China infiltrated the electrical grid in the United States in 2009, leaving behind software that could be used to disrupt the system, though China has denied any involvement. If not discovered, this software had the ability to pinpoint the busiest sections of the grid and shut them down, disabling countless critical systems and causing mass hysteria.
These same types of attacks could be carried out on other types of energy supply as well, such as oil and natural gas, effectively stopping their computer-controlled supply and delivery.
Financial infrastructures are another area that could be greatly affected by cyber attacks and would be a prime target. There is a constant flow of “virtual” money being exchanged between institutions and a cyber attack could reroute and steal large amounts of money, possibly leading to the financial collapse of many companies and leaving many people destitute and jobless. The average daily volume of these computerized non-cash transactions in the US alone is about $3 trillion. Disrupting that volume of money for even one day could cause devastating effects on financial markets and on our economy as a whole.
Communications systems such as voice and IP networks are combining, with everything being run through the internet to provide for ever-increasing speed and storage demands. The potential exists to shut down physical facilities and disrupt these networks. This would effectively isolate people from one another and disrupt the communication of critical information, causing panic in the population.
Cyber terrorists could also target computer-controlled transportation systems. Railroad switches, airplane flight and air traffic control software, and conventional highway traffic controllers could all be viable, costly, and disruptive targets. In fact, it was recently reported that ground to air communications are actually not even encrypted. How much effort would it really take for a skilled hacker or team of hackers to interrupt and change instructions to airline flights, or even update or disrupt critical flight systems and software while the planes are in the air? It’s a scary thought isn’t it?
Water infrastructure would be one of the most critical infrastructure targets, and is known to be one of the greatest security risks of all of the computer-controlled systems. The potential exists for massive amounts of water to be unleashed into unprotected areas, resulting in huge losses of life and devastating amounts of damage to property and infrastructure. Waste removal systems could be compromised as well. The estimated cost to replace such critical water systems could run into the hundreds of billions of dollars.
Just so that no one thinks I am some sort of egocentric American who believes the United States is always in the right in these situations, I want to remind everyone that the US and its allies are definitely not just passive victims here. Either the US government, the Israeli government, or the two working together are credited with the creation and deployment of the Stuxnet worm (2010), the purpose of which was to cripple Iran’s nuclear plants. The Flame virus, apparently originating from the same source, was designed to infect the computers in Iran’s oil ministry as well as multiple targets in Syria, the West Bank, and Sudan.
Governmental or Economic Collapse
The last type of man made disaster that I would like to mention is governmental or economic collapse. Throughout history, there have been many societies and formal nations that have experienced being on the brink of or even all out collapse of government or economy or both. This generally throws the region into turmoil and causes violence, crime, and shortages of vital products and services. Though this situation seems to be somewhat commonplace in parts of the world, the US has always had a false sense of security in this area, even though the Great Depression should have been a bit of a reminder.
Being considered a global super power can cause a country to become a bit too cocky, and I believe this has been the case with America. Recent financial events should however be waking us up from this daydream. Our government has financially overextended itself and we seem to be perpetually on the verge of a complete government shutdown. It seems that every few months we see a new round of news reports on the “Fiscal Cliff” and how the government is working into the eleventh hour to come up with a way to temporarily avoid financial disaster. Unfortunately the financial stability of many of the European nations isn’t much better, so don’t expect aid to come pouring in from overseas if a financial collapse were to happen.
Any idea how much of the American population and how many American businesses rely on the government for all or at least part of their income? It’s staggering to think of what would happen if the US government was forced to suddenly slam it’s wallet shut. The time is now to start shifting away from reliance on others for our survival and in the direction of self-reliance. It seems like that might be a good mindset for the government to adopt as well.
So Why Be A Prepper ?
Now I know I have thrown a lot of different grim scenarios at you in this no doubt wayyyy to long post, but I don’t want you to come away thinking that I am the same type of “extreme doomsday prepper” that is portrayed on the National Geographic Channel. I’m not guaranteeing that any of these events is actually going to occur, nor am I claiming to predict which event is most likely to occur or when. I am also not trying to sell you any product to completely prepare yourself for the impending doom. I am simply a realistic rational person who understands that the high number of possible disasters, coupled with the fact that they can mostly be prepared for in the same basic ways, makes the idea of disaster survival prepping pretty much a no-brainer.
Disaster preparedness is needed to maximize the safety and limit the impact on your life and the lives of your loved ones from a loss of access to vital supplies and services following a disaster. With any or all of the various systems down, or even just not operating at their usual levels, everyday life as we know it would become much more difficult and dangerous. Without infrastructure like roads bridges and highways, you can’t travel from dangerous regions to safer ones and help can’t reach you. Without that same infrastructure, food and vital supplies are blocked from reaching you as well. Without access to electricity, fuel, and supplies, the homes, hospitals, police stations, grocery stores, retail stores, pharmacies, water treatment, and waste removal facilities that are still standing will all become cold, dark, useless buildings. Getting the picture yet?
Looting may begin, as it always seems to do in these situations, and the few police officers that still give a damn about any families besides their own will be seriously overwhelmed trying to keep up with everything. We may find ourselves basically all on our own. That’s when you will want to be one of the few “crazy” preppers who actually prepared for the needs and the safety of their families just in case.
I’m preparing. Are you?
If you would like to read in more detail about several of the different types of natural and man-made disasters mentioned above, or if you would like check out my reviews of available gear and training, check out my other pages in the menu at the top of the page or click on the corresponding pictures within this page.