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June 16, 2010 / Dave Gorham

Travelers, Be Prepared for Natural Disasters

Natural disasters can happen anytime, anywhere and it’s always best to be prepared no matter what. As we enter the prime travel season, people are packing their suitcases and getting ready for a relaxing vacation away from home. However, one thing you definitely don’t need to leave home without is a disaster plan. Far too often we’re hearing more and more about earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding, landslides, volcanic eruptions etc. that are occurring on almost a daily basis these days. Of course, some of us aren’t always prepared for these kinds of things, especially when all you’re thinking about is your trip. Don’t get caught up in thinking it will never happen to you or you don’t have time to gather a few key pieces of information before you leave. Remember, it’s always best to have a contingency plan any time you travel so you can be prepared for anything and everything. I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying its better to be safe than sorry.


The tsunami after the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake. Image: Wikipedia

The first thing you want to do is to make sure you have the phone numbers of your travel agent, travel insurance provider, relatives and others who may be able to help you in case a disaster occurs. If you’re traveling internationally, it’s always good to know how to make an international call because it’s quite different than just dialing from state to state. The State Department also urges Americans to register their itineraries before leaving. This can be done for free at https://travelregistration.state.gov. Also, if you are traveling internationally, it’s good to make a note of the local phone numbers and addresses for U.S. embassies and consulates in the places where you will be traveling.

The State Department also says you should:

• Make sure you have a signed, valid passport and a visa, if required, and fill in the emergency information page of your passport.

• Leave copies of your itinerary, passport data page and visas with family or friends.

• Ask your health insurer if your policy applies overseas, and if it covers emergency expenses such as medical evacuation. If it does not, consider supplemental insurance.

• Familiarize yourself with local conditions and laws.

For additional information you can also check out Lawyers.com, which is an online database of lawyers and legal information. It advises travelers to carry some extra cash with them that is only for emergencies, keep cell phones fully charged, take along a few extra days’ worth of any needed prescription medicine, keep your most important items passport, medicine and cash together in a small bag that you can grab in a hurry, and keep someone back home informed every time you move to a new locale.

If you are caught in a disaster, Lawyers.com advises:

• If you’re in your hotel, stay there if the building and area are safe. If it isn’t safe, grab your small bag of important items and get out immediately.

• If you’re out on the street, go someplace safe and away from the immediate danger.

• If you can’t reach the embassy or if it’s been destroyed, look for local law enforcement, medical personnel or Red Cross personnel for instructions on where to go.

• Don’t be surprised if cell phone, internet and telephone communications are disrupted. Texting often works when voice calls don’t.

More post-disaster advice comes from International SOS:

• During a blackout, only use a flashlight for emergency lighting not candles, etc.

• Be aware that routes may be blocked by debris or subject to closure by the authorities with no notice.

• Reconfirm your flight as airports may have been affected and might still be closed.

The U.S. State Department provides assistance 24 hours a day, seven days a week to U.S. citizens in crisis abroad. Call 1-888-407-4747 if calling from the United States or Canada, or 00-1-202-501-4444 if calling from overseas.

And always consider the “panic factor” of other people when planning for your next step after a disaster. Once you’re safe and have internet access you can put yourself on the Red Cross’ “Safe and Well” list at https://disastersafe.redcross.org/.

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