7 tips for what to do when disaster strikes

It’s been a rough year for those in Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Cyclones, bush fires, earthquakes and tsunamis have wreaked havoc across Oceania and Asia, taking lives, homes and businesses with it. Our condolences to all those living across these nations and those with family, friends or acquaintances there. We sincerely hope VIP Backpackers were and are not caught up in the troubles.

Given the recent spate of disasters we thought it might be a useful topic to discuss some steps you could consider if you were caught up in something like this.

It’s certainly not outside the realms of possibility. Tourists were stuck in Cairns during Cyclone Yasi, were travelling throughout Queensland during the floods, were staying in our Base backpackers in Christchurch’s cathedral square and there are bound to be many in Japan too in our Tokyo, Narita or Kyoto locations.

This is by no mean’s a complete disaster reaction plan but might give you some idea of what to do:

1. Safety first
The first priority for you is to ensure your safety. What is the threat and how severe? If in doubt treat it seriously. Seek local advice and follow their example. We should all know by now that earthquakes near the sea produce tsunamis so get to high ground immediately. Do NOT go down to the sea to check.

If you are in an earthquake evacuate buildings immediately by using the staircase (not the lift which may stop if electricity to the building is cut). If you can’t get out then find somewhere to brace like under a desk, in a doorway etc. During flood, or threat of flood, get to high ground as soon as you can. If there are strong winds or storms seek shelter in the most protected part of a house or building. If there is an evacuation centre that you can access, consider sheltering there during the worst part of the crisis – it is believed many lives were saved in North Queensland this year because people sheltered together in these centres.

2. Get medical or other help
Once the threat has passed you should make sure you receive treatment for any cuts or injuries you have sustained no matter how minor.The risk of infection after these disasters is high so ensure adequate hygiene, food and water consumption and rest. Keep an eye on your health, cuts and injuries in the aftermath of the disaster.

3. Register with authorities
If there has been a major disaster you need to let authorities know immediately that you are okay so they can tick you off their lists and move on to more serious cases/concerns.

4. Contact home
Let friends and relatives at home know you are okay. Send a text message if landline and Internet connections are down. If you have contacted authorities hopefully this message will be relayed home or vice versa but it is helpful to do both.There were recent reports from Japan about hoax websites confirming deaths that caused unnecessary grief for families elsewhere. Make contact and ensure this kind of thing doesn’t happen.

5. Stay calm
At all times try to stay calm and rational. This can be very difficult given the trauma. If you need to cry or debrief do so, there’s nothing wrong with it and everyone goes through a lot in these situations.

Things can happen slowly during relief efforts particularly if the scale of the disaster is enormous or the region is remote. Electricity, water, food and fuel may be in short supply or may be out for some time. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help.

6. Seek shelter
If you have already followed the steps above you’ve probably visited an evacuation shelter. Ensure you have somewhere to stay/sleep/eat.

7. Assist
Only if you are uninjured, well and of use to authorities and those around, by all means volunteer to help. During the Queensland floods volunteers were an integral part of the cleanup after the waters had receded. However do be aware when your presence is not particularly helpful and withdraw. Some people were actually arrested in Christchurch for their rescue efforts as they were unnecessarily endangering the lives of others.

7. Post disaster
People can suffer from trauma long after a disaster. This can manifest through sleep disorders, relationship difficulties, concentration/thinking problems and over or under emotion. Make sure you talk out your concerns with someone or contact organisations that may be able to help you.

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Hope you’re enjoying the VIP Backpacker’s Travel Blog. There’ll be an update added every other Friday, so keep tuning in to keep your travel dreams alive! If there are any travel topics you want covered feel free to contact me, Jo, at blog@vipbackpackers.com

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