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22 Disaster Survival Skills for Emergency Preparedness

Read this guide to learn the disaster survival skills you need to help you cope with various dangerous situations and survival scenarios related to disasters.

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Disaster survival is not always the doomsday picture that many imagine: societal collapse, every person for themselves, cities in ruin and lone survivors hiding out in the wilderness.

Natural disasters sweep this planet and are common in many parts of the world, and they can be over in just a few hours or days.

They can be particularly devastating, however, and many people lose their lives each year as a result.

Read this guide to learn all the disaster survival skills you need to help you cope with various dangerous situations and survival scenarios related to disasters.

What does a “disaster scenario” look like?

This article refers to a multitude of natural disasters: floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, volcanoes, wildfires and so on.

There is a reasonable level of preparedness to be attained if you live in an area with any threat – however small – of a natural disaster.

These disasters pose a serious threat to your home and the safety of your family. In most cases, they can be ridden out in a dedicated survival shelter, bug out location or safe place, but some extreme cases may require you to evacuate your home town entirely.

In this article you will learn how to prepare for disaster survival, what to do during a natural disaster and why survival skills are important.

The key to disaster survival is to be prepared and act quickly, as you may find yourself with very little warning.

With our disaster survival guide you should be one step ahead!    

Disaster survival tips: before a disaster

Be well informed

It is likely that you already know of any threats from natural disasters, if you or your family has lived in your home town for a while.

However, if you are considering moving to a new location, then do your research about the area you are moving to and see if there is anything to be aware of.

The USA is known to being home to many “disaster” hotspots, given that it is so large and hosts many types of terrain.

For other countries where internet resources might not be as abundant, speaking to locals before you immigrate is always a great idea.

If you choose to reside somewhere prone to disasters – then the responsibility is on you to keep you and your loved ones safe by learning emergency survival skills!

Family disaster plan checklist
Having a disaster survival plan ready for you and your family will increase your chances of survival in the chaos and panic of a calamity.

Stock up on supplies

Whatever the disaster, it is likely that you will need a good stock of supplies and disaster survival gear in your safe hideout or Bug Out Bag, so that you can survive for a few days without the comforts of home.

At the very least, you need to make sure you have “the top three” survival supplies: food, water and shelter. There are various ways to stock up when doing disaster survival planning.

Do your research and make a plan which works best for you and your family.

Read our tips on stockpiling here: How to stockpile food for emergencies.

Do emergency drills

This is often a step that people omit from their preparation, but hosting an emergency drill is an important stage in disaster survival.

It will iron out any kinks in your evacuation plan, highlight things you have forgotten and identify areas where you are spending too long and losing time.

It is wise to do drills during the day and night to cover a range of scenarios. Your family may roll their eyes at this but when that inevitable disaster does strike – you’ll be their hero!

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Disaster survival tips: during a disaster

Bugging in vs bugging out?

The hardest decision that many families must make during a disaster is to know whether to stay at home in their safe space (bug in) or abandon their property and seek safer ground (bug out).

In some scenarios – such as earthquakes or tornadoes – it is almost always advised to stay at home, as you simply cannot outrun these disasters, the warning is simply too short.

However, many other disaster scenarios will force you to make a decision one way or another, knowing that lives are at stake.

Each scenario is so specific that there is no general rule, but the best advice is to take a moment to calm yourself, stay level headed and think it through.

If you have time to leave the house then you have time to take 30 seconds to make a thorough decision; not one made out of panic.

Essential survival gear to pack in case of a disaster bug out

Try to keep spirits up

It might seem like an obvious thing to say, but keeping everyone’s spirits high if you are locked in a bunker or driving away from a danger is imperative, especially if you are with children.

Focusing on the danger outside and speaking in panicked tones can be hugely unsettling for some people. If you are able to do so, take minds of the issue by playing cards, reading together or playing games to pass the time.

Maintaining a sense of normality whilst you wait out the danger can help to soothe nerves and create a safe space, so that people don’t act irrationally or from fear.

Turn off electricity

House fires can start if your electrical sockets come in to contact with water, metal or other substances.

Floods, tornadoes and earthquakes are especially known for causing damage to electrical outlets, due to water contact and falling debris.

Electrical fires can often start small and go unnoticed for a while – especially if you are taking cover in another part of the house.

Always turn your household power off at the source before you leave to eliminate this risk - unless you have zero time and need to leave the house immediately!

You don’t want to return from a traumatic three days in your emergency bunker to find that your house burned down and it could have been avoided.

Disaster survival tips: after the disaster

Treat any wounds immediately

As soon as you have been given an ‘all clear’, attend to any medical emergencies which may have unfortunately arisen.

A first aid kit should be at the top of any home stockpile, Bug Out Bag list, or natural disaster survival kit – now is the time to use it!

Cell service may not be immediately available, so you will likely need to treat wounds yourself.

Adrenaline during disaster situations can often help to keep your mind focused and up to the challenge during stress like this – so try your best to remain calm and soothe the patient.

Ideally, if you live in a high-risk area then you should be First Aid trained for open wounds, broken bones and head injuries. These are some of the most essential survival skills you can have.

Stay alert for further warnings

One of the most common traps during disasters is to rush back outdoors or to assume that danger has passed for good.

There can often be a “second wave” of danger, such as a flash flood following sustained rain, secondary tornado or secondary tremors from an earthquake.

If you have the ability to tune into an emergency warning system via radio, then wait for the ‘ALL CLEAR’ alert before you head out. Otherwise stay in your safe space and proceed as if you are still under emergency lockdown.

Repair damage and replenish supplies

It is likely that you will want to breathe a big sigh of relief once the disaster is over, but it is imperative to repair any damage to your safe house and re-stock your emergency stores as soon as possible.

A natural disaster can strike at any moment, and often they come in groups which may only be a few hours or days apart.

Try as best you can to assess any resources you have used up and anything that needs fixing, and get to work.

13 Essential Survival Skills for Any Disaster

1. Radio communications

Cellular communications will very likely cut out during any sort of natural disaster. They rely on physical radio towers and lines which can often be wiped out in the chaos.

Learning how to use and even build a simple FM radio is one of the basic disaster survival skills. It will ensure that you can stay updated with the goings on of the outside world.

If you live in an area prone to natural disasters, your town will likely have a dedicated broadcast frequency for you to tune into in such an event – commit it to memory!

Remember that radios require power. If you don’t have the option of a back-up generator, then choose one which can run off batteries and make sure you have a good number of spares in your shelter or bag.

Simple radios aren’t actually that hard to build. If you have ever had even the slightest interest in electronics then at least learn the basics of radio communications; you never know when that will come in handy.

Amateur emergency ham radio

2. How to source and purify water

The most valuable resource in any survival situation is water.

Without it, you cannot survive more than three days and the debilitating effects of dehydration will kick in long before then.

Natural disasters can often cut off water supplies to your house, which is why having back-up options is imperative.

A good bug out location should be filled with large bottles of water, and several methods for purifying water in case you have to source it from elsewhere.

Locate your nearest source of water and only when it is safe to come out of your survival shelter venture to see if you can tap into that water source.

Read our advice on the many ways to purify water here: How to Purify Water

3. How to apply a tourniquet

Properly applying a tourniquet is one of the essential survival techniques in disasters.

Most people will have basic first aid skills and can treat minor wounds as you would at home, but few readily know how to apply a tourniquet and stop serious bleeding, as we rely on paramedics and hospitals to do this for us.

Falling debris, concealed edges and many other hazards are common in a range of disaster scenarios.

If a person sustains a critical injury, then they may have just minutes to live unless the bleeding can be stopped.

You can buy dedicated materials for your first aid kit to use as a tourniquet, but if you find yourself without then you can fashion one as a last-resort.

Check out this video from the Mayo Clinic on how to apply a tourniquet in an emergency.

Paracord is an excellent and versatile material for first aid, learn how to use it as a tourniquet in our ultimate guide: How to use Paracord for Survival.

4. First Aid for a range of disaster scenarios

It is possible that you will find yourself up against a variety of injuries following a disaster, either on yourself or a family member, or a total stranger.

You will likely not have the option of getting to a hospital or calling for a paramedic, and may find yourself in a situation where you are the most medically trained.

Build a proper First Aid kit to keep in your shelter or bag, and know how to treat the most common yet serious injuries. Open wounds, head injuries, broken bones and more – it might save someone’s life some day!

Read our ultimate First Aid checklist here: Survival First Aid Kit Checklist

5. How to build an emergency shelter

Another of the “top three” essential survival items – shelter. Hopefully, you will have access to a dedicated shelter where you can ride out whatever disaster comes your way.

However, there are some circumstances under which you may be forced to leave this area as it becomes unsafe. Examples might be during a flood, volcano or wildfire.

Ideally, you will have a shelter like a tent or tarp packed into a Bug Out Bag – but you may not have had enough notice or been at home when disaster struck.

In the first few days of a natural disaster, it can be very difficult for emergency services to reach to as they are overwhelmed with calls and the destruction that has happened.

Having the knowledge and few tools to build even a simple shelter from natural materials can be the difference between life and death for you and your family – it will keep out rain, wind and allow a space for you to keep warm and get some rest. 

Illustration of survival shelters made out of natural materials as part of disaster survival skills training
If your home is badly damaged following a disaster, or you're forced to bug out, being able to build a simple survival shelter could literally save your life!

6. How to make a fire

As with a shelter, this is only really relevant in a scenario where you have been forced out of your hometown and completely isolated for a few days.

Making a basic fire is one of the most important emergency survival skills. It will allow you to keep warm, make food, and keep up the spirits of those around you – especially important if you have young children.

As with any open fire, you must adhere to proper campfire rules to ensure it does not get out of control. Don’t add wildfire to your list of worries!

Never leave them unattended, and always ensure that they have been put out properly before you go to sleep or leave the area.

7. Home shelter reinforcements

There are many ways in which you can reinforce your home to withstand a disaster if you don’t have a dedicated survival shelter available, or cannot get there.

The advice differs depending on the scenario, for example: reinforced rooms with no external walls can be used to survive a tornado, covering all windows and doors with heavy blankets can protect from volcanic ash, sealing up all doors and low windows on the bottom floor of your house can prevent floodwater seeping in – plus many more.

Make sure that you have a ready-to-go stash of reinforcements depending on your location, and that your whole family knows where to find them and what to do in an emergency.

For further advice on reinforcing your home to withstand a disaster, read our article on surviving a tornado here: How to Survive a Tornado.

How to survive a tornado in an underground shelter.
The best possible tornado protection would be an underground shelter.

8. How to read nature’s signs

You don’t always have to rely on media broadcasting to warn you of an imminent disaster.

Nature often shows her own warning signs that you can read in order to get yourself to safety.

Learn what a storm looks like before a tornado forms; or the foggy haze and smoke smell that accompanies wildfires; or the sudden very-low tide as a tsunami forms offshore.

9. DIY respiratory masks

In the case of wildfires or a volcano, heavy smoke, dust or ash particles can often kill more people than the disasters themselves.

Our lungs cannot withstand prolonged exposure to such substances, and it can be only a few minutes before you pass out or even choke.

Part of your emergency preparedness skills should be knowing how to make a simple face mask, and the best materials to use for it.

It would be advisable to stock up on properly tested and certified masks (like the N95 mask) in case of emergency, but there are also several ways to make a DIY mask out of fabrics and household materials which won’t be as good; yet certainly better than nothing.

Check out this tutorial for a DIY gas-mask style protector: DIY Gas Mask

10. Learn basic plumbing and electrics

In the aftermath of a natural disaster, it can be weeks before infrastructure is repaired or before repairman can come to your house to fix plumbing and electrical issues.

Disaster survival skills for the urban environment like basic plumbing and electrical skills may help you to fix at least some of these problems yourself, whether it is replacing a bust pipe, clearing blockages, changing fuses or rewiring simple sockets.

Your family will be grateful the sooner they have access to running water and electricity again!

11. DIY flood barriers

If you start to endure a period of prolonged rain, it may be that a flood is imminent.

Prepare to set up a physical barrier around your house if you feel your property is on a flood-plain or close to sea-level (even if you are not close to the sea!).

Sand bags, concrete bags, wooden beams and many more things can be used as a physical perimeter around your house to limit the damage.

12. Learn how to make a float

This is obviously most applicable in a flood scenario, but it may come in handy if you are forced out of your home on food an encounter a body of water which you have to cross.

Simple floats are much safer than attempting to wade through water, due to strong currents and hidden debris which may cause injury. They are especially useful for small children who would be more susceptible to the cold water.

Buoyant household items such as old plastic drinks bottles, packing styrofoam and more can be lashed together with paracord or another strong material to create a simple floating platform.

13. Packing and re-packing a Bug Out Bag

Yes, bag packing is on the list of essential survival skills!

Ideally, your chosen Bug Out bag for such an occasion should always be packed and ready to go near the door.

There is always merit in packing, unpacking and re-packing it many times to familiarize yourself with the contents and learn them like the back of your hand.

You want to know exactly where everything is so that you can access it immediately (think how imperative this is for First Aid equipment), and not waste time digging around in your bag.

Disaster survival checklist

  • Prepping before a disaster
    • Be well informed
    • Stock up on supplies
    • Do emergency drills
  • Survival skills during disasters
    • Bugging in vs bugging out?
    • Try to keep spirits up
    • Turn off electricity
  • Disaster survival tips after a disaster
    • Treat any wounds immediately
    • Stay alert for further warnings
    • Repair damage and replenish supplies
  • 13 Essential survival skills for any disaster
    • Radio communications skills
    • How to source and purify water
    • How to apply a tourniquet
    • First aid for disaster scenarios
    • How to build an emergency shelter
    • How to make a fire
    • Home shelter reinforcements
    • How to read nature’s signs
    • DIY respiratory masks
    • Learn basic plumbing and electrics
    • DIY flood barriers
    • Learn how to make a float
    • Packing and re-packing a Bug Out Bag

Disaster Survival Skills Conclusions

It's difficult to take into account all the potential disaster scenarios that could put your life in danger.

However, in this guide we've tried to sum up the most important disaster survival skills that could come in handy in any situation, no matter how dangerous!

As always, it's up to you to practice everything you've learned and to stay prepared!

We have a dedicated section of our website dedicated to disaster survival, where we detail survival for a range of possible natural disasters.

Have a read here: Emergency Preparedness and Natural Disaster Survival.

This wraps up our guide on the best disaster survival skills for emergency preparedness.

Make sure you check out our other survival skill guides by navigating with the side menu.

Otherwise, you can jump straight to our next survival skill guide: Wilderness Survival Skills.

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Hi, I'm Russ!

I've been prepping for a long time, but 2020 convinced me that I need to take it to the next level.

This website started as a way to keep me going forward on the path to being better prepared.

Now, I’m turning it into a complete blueprint for anyone else looking to do the same!
Russell M. Morgan
Telson Survival

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