Worst Case Scenario
January 22, 2010
You and some friends are walking through the local market, checking out exotic produce and roasted insects on skewers. Just as you’ve psyched yourself up to try that green spiky melon, you feel the ground start to shake, or a funnel cloud takes shape in the distance, or a riot suddenly breaks out.
Fortunately, most students studying or traveling abroad never face these dangers — but hypothetical can easily become reality. As Jonna Knappenberger ’09 and Landon Yarrington M.A. ’09 Ph.D ’15 recently found out during the earthquake in Haiti, it is a good idea to have a back up plan when traveling abroad.
During natural disasters or political or social turmoil abroad, embassies work with the U.S. State Department to bring Americans home. During last week’s earthquake in Haiti, for example, the government helped evacuate hundreds of Americans.
The College of William and Mary can provide some help to students traveling abroad; College administrators sent ID photos of students trapped there to the State Department to help prove they were American citizens.
Taking precautions for emergencies, however, can help make emergencies and evacuations simpler and safer.
First, before leaving the country, leave copies of important documents — passport, driver’s license, credit card and bank account numbers — with family members or other trusted people, as the State Department recommends. You should carry these documents — or copies — on you at all times while abroad.
Once you arrive in a foreign nation, find out where the nearest American embassy or consulate is located, as well as the nearest hospital and police station. If you don’t already speak the local language, learn important phrases that could help in an emergency.
Keep a small emergency first aid kit on hand, and decide what few objects you would take with you during an evacuation. Appropriate items include a few changes of clothing, medication, legal paperwork and some food and water. Remember, you may have to carry what you bring for quite some distance.
Keeping your family and others traveling with you advised of your location and plans is critical to helping them find you in an emergency.
Communities near volcanoes will have emergency plans. Make sure you know what they are.
Prepare for the various dangers that can accompany eruptions: mudflows, flash floods, landslides, rock falls, earthquakes, ash, acid rain and even tsunamis.
Have a plan to meet up with members of your group in a safe and remote area; eruptions can happen at any time which could separate you from your group.
Keep disater supplies on hand, especially a flashlight (with extra batteries), a first aid kit, some food and water, medicine and a dust mask. Goggles are also a good idea.
If you are trapped inside, close all windows and doors. If you are outside, try to seek shelter. In the event of a rockfall, curl up into a ball to protect your head. Areas near streams or rivers are prime spots for mudflows.
During ashfall, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, goggles and use a dust mask or damp cloth to help breathe. Keep cars turned off — the ash in the air will clog the engine.
Landslides, sometimes referred to as mudslides or debris flows, usually occur in areas where they have occured in the past, so find out if the area you are traveling to has a history of landslides before you visit.
Heavily saturated ground is very susceptible to mudflows. If you suspect danger, evacuate immediately and alert the authorities and others in the area of the danger.
Signs of an imminent landslide include trees cracking, boulders knocking together and a sudden increase in water flow in nearby streams.
Stay awake during severe storms; many landslide deaths occur while people are sleeping.
When a hurricane is coming, restock on disaster supplies, bring in loose items from outside, board up windows with plywood, and evacuate if officials advise it.
Supplies should include at least three gallons of water per person, non-perishable food, a flashlight, a battery-powered radio, a first aid kit, medications, personal hygiene items, important documents, a cell phone, cash, blankets, a map and rain gear.
More rainfall can lead to flooding, even after the storm has ended.
If you evacuate, do not return until officials say it is safe to do so.
Avoid tap water while traveling until you are positive that it is not contaminated.
Know safe areas for you to go to during a tornado, preferably including a basement, storm cellar or interior room on the bottom floor with no windows.
Signs of an oncoming tornado include dark, greenish clouds, a cloud of debris, large hail, a funnel cloud and a roaring noise.
If you are inside when the shaking begins, drop to the floor, find cover and hold on. If you are in bed, try to get under the bed, curl up and protect your head with a pillow.
Standing in doorways for protection during an earthquake is a myth — they’re no more sturdy than any other part of most houses. Instead, seek shelter under a sturdy piece of furniture that can protect you from falling objects.
Stay away from windows, which can easily shatter. Wait to leave the building until the shaking stops; use stairs, never elevators.
If you are outside, find a clear spot and drop to the ground. Stay away from buildings, trees, power lines, lampposts or other structures.
If you are driving, pull over and stop. Stay away from bridges and overpasses.
Be alert for falling rocks or landslides, both during and after an earthquake. Aftershocks are to be expected, anytime from minutes to months after the main quake. Many earthquakes also generate tsunamis, so watch for signs and move away from oceans and beaches.
Check yourself for injuries and help other injured and trapped people. Check the radio for information and instructions. Put out small fires, the most common hazard after earthquakes. Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines, and do not enter damaged buildings.
Tsunamis are large ocean waves formed by underwater earthquakes. Contrary to popular belief, tsunamis do not create surface waves; instead, the water appears as a rapidly moving surge onshore.
One sign a tsunami is approaching is a sudden rise or fall in coastal waters.
If you are in an area prone to tsunamis, plan an evacuation route to get to at least 100 feet above sea level or two miles inland. Keep an emergency supplies kit handy.
After a coastal earthquake or when a tsunami warning is sounded, evacuate the area immediately. After a tsunami, be careful reentering buildings. They may have been damaged by the wave.