5 places to avoid during and after a disaster

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With pending disasters approaching like hurricanes or in the aftermath of a major event like a large earthquake, it’s not unusual to see people rushing grocery stores and supermarkets scrambling to stock up on basic supplies they’ll need to survive.

Though getting supplies is important, going to grocery stores and supermarkets during a disaster is actually a really bad idea. Since preparing for a disaster is not something that most people will do, you can expect these stores to be full of unprepared, desperate people scavenging the remains of the depleted shelves and inventory. This makes these locations a dangerous place to be as you can almost expect chaos and an unruly crowd that is tethering on turning into a mob when even the simplest scuffle could push them over the edge.

However, grocery stores are just one of several places that you’d need to avoid before or after a disaster. In this article, we’ll discuss the places to avoid when disaster strikes and how you can prepare in advance so that you won’t need to go near these locations we’ll cover.

5 places you need to avoid during a disaster

  1. Grocery Stores As already mentioned, going to grocery stores and supermarkets is a bad idea since you can expect a mob of desperate, unprepared people which presents a huge security risk to you.
    1. With so many people trying to get the same basic supplies like food and water, grocery stores won’t have enough stocks to accommodate all of the demand.  With a limited supply of goods, most people will be mentally distressed during a disaster and it won’t come as a surprise to anyone if they become violent and aggressive in trying to get vital supplies. This makes these types of locations probably the most dangerous in these moments.
    2. The sudden surge of people and demand is not the only problem as to why supplies will be scarce. Most, if not all, grocery stores and supermarkets in the U.S. use what we call a just-in-time delivery system in getting the stocks for their respective stores. This type of system basically provides stores with only enough stocks that they will need for a typical day, making them susceptible to sudden demand like during a disaster. This is why even if there is an unexpected disaster, stores simply can not just adjust their stocks and order more at this level of demand since the just-in-time system relies on a delicate and complicated process, making it almost impossible to scale up quickly under these types of unexpected load.
    3. In order to avoid going to grocery stores during a disaster or just prior to it you need to prepare in advance. It’s important that you have a stock of food that are not easy to perish, as well as clean water in your home, even if there isn’t a disaster approaching. The reason for this is that disasters can happen anytime and without warning. So if you’re not prepared, you’ll be scrambling for supplies like everyone else.
      1. When getting food and water, it’s important that you at least have a 2-weeks worth of supplies since you’ll never know how long a disaster will last or when help will arrive.
      2. Make sure that you have separate clean water used for cleaning and another one for drinking.
      3. Also, make sure that your home has ample space to store, at a minimum, 2 week’s worth of food and water.
      4. You should also consider that power might be out, so you might need a small generator to power your refrigerator so food won’t go to waste.
  2. BanksAnother dangerous place to be during a disaster are banks, especially ATM machines. In this cashless age, people are becoming more reliant on using credit or debit cards for their transactions. And why not? They’re more convenient and they beat carrying cash in your wallet. But during a disaster, cashless transactions will be impossible since there will likely be communication and electrical outages. Stores won’t have the capacity to accept credit or debit card payments since the terminals that process the transactions will likely not be functioning. ATM machines won’t be working as well since they require electricity and a line of communication with the bank to function.
    1. One example of this is when Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison decided to cut power to the majority of their customers for several days to prevent the risk of wildfires just recently here in California. Since ATM machines and credit card terminals rely on electricity to function, it was advised that residents affected load up on cash prior to the power outage. There’s a possibility that ATM machines could be affected by the power outage and this caused residents to line up at ATM machines to withdraw as much cash as they could.
    2. Another example is after hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. One of the effects of the strong hurricane was that there was an electrical and communication outage in the country, making many ATM machines useless. Stores and merchants were also unable to process credit or debit card payments during that time, making the country rely on cash-only transactions. This was problematic, especially for those who were unable to load up on cash prior to the disaster. They couldn’t purchase important supplies from stores that were open since they couldn’t use their credit or debit cards. And at the places where ATM machines are functioning, the lines are extremely long. The cash supply on these machines isn’t infinite as well, so not everyone who lined up was able to get the cash they needed.
    3. To avoid having this kind of problem during a disaster, it’s important that you always keep cash on hand. Make sure you prepare an emergency cash supply in your house that you will only access it during a disaster. This will ensure that you’ll have the ability to purchase things in case you need it and you have the means to pay for it.
      1. Make sure that the cash you prepare is broken down in several amounts. Remember, stores likely won’t have enough cash on them to constantly give out change for the payments they receive. Breaking down the amount of money you have into smaller amounts gives you the ability to pay in the exact amount, eliminating the need for change and also shortening the time you spend in the store.    
  3. Drug StoresA huge portion of the country’s population is reliant on prescription medicines. This means that there will be many Americans who will line up at drug stores prior to and after a disaster, as they try to get refills for their prescription medicines.
    1. About 46% of the country’s population takes prescription drugs. That is a huge number, which shows that almost 1 out of 2 Americans are reliant on some form of prescription medication. The problem here is that not many of the people who take prescription drugs prepare or plan ahead in case a disaster strikes.  In addition, most pharmacies only will refill up to a limited amount of the medication forcing patients to return frequently making it very difficult to stock up. A 2018 survey showed that more than half of the population (53%) don’t have any preparation plans in case of an emergency.  The survey showed that 25% of Americans say they can only go without their drugs for 2 to 3 days before any negative health effects are felt. This also shows that when a disaster strikes, there would be many Americans lining up at drug stores trying to get prescription medicines that they need. Though there are already programs in place that allow pharmaceutical companies to respond properly during disasters, it still won’t be uncommon for drug stores to have long lines or run out of inventory, especially if drug stores also use the just-in-time delivery system for their supplies.  Like in point #1, when this happens, expect people to get desperate.
    2. Aside from the long lines and inventory running out, most drug stores that are open during a disaster won’t be able to process any other forms of transactions other than cash. This could be a problem for people who weren’t able to prepare enough cash for their medications. And as mentioned earlier, when people are in a stressful situation, they become mentally distressed, experiencing depression, anxiety, or even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Couple this with the desperation and feelings of having their personal safety and well-being threatened, they could commit violent acts just to get their medication.
    3. One thing that you can do to avoid going to drug stores during an emergency is to stock up on the medicines and other medical supplies and equipment you might need ahead of time.
      1. You need to make sure that you are also prepared to be able to store your medicine, especially if the medicine you’re taking requires being put in the refrigerator.
      2. You need to consider as well how much medicine you are allowed to purchase since there’s a limit for certain prescription medicines. 
    4. Another thing you can do is to consider finding a natural alternative for the medication you are taking, or you will likely take.
  4. High-Density Population AreasIf you live in high-density population areas like apartment buildings, high-rises, and downtown areas, then it is even more important that you are prepared for a disaster. This is because high-density population areas are one of the dangerous places you need to avoid during disasters.
    1. One of the main issues with high-density population areas is that it is filled with a whole lot of people that are probably not prepared to survive beyond a few days at best. And in a disaster situation, people are also going to be one of the biggest threats to your safety and security. The chances of social unrest and crimes in these areas are high, especially if supplies are limited and help is nowhere to be found. In apartments and condominiums, the threat is increased since people live close to one another. It makes it easy for others to try and break into other units to steal supplies. Other apartment units even have multiple families living in one unit, making prepping very difficult. Apartment complexes and condos are also good targets for raiders since they can raid many units in just one building, allowing to possibly get more supplies from people living in the building. This makes security and protection one of the primary concerns if you live in an apartment complex.
    2. Another problem you’d experience in high-density population areas is that it doesn’t provide much space to prepare properly. Apartments and high-rise condos don’t have big spaces, making it a problem for storing supplies and tools.  Most apartments only even have enough space to fit a bed and furniture for the tenant, making prepping for a prolonged period of time difficult. If you’re sharing a unit with multiple families, then prepping is already out of the question unless you trust them enough to prep with you. In these types of environments, you need to be creative when it comes to maximizing the space in your apartment and finding areas where you can store the supplies you prepared for a disaster.  Also, give serious consideration to getting a storage unit nearby where you can put critical supplies as a backup.
    3. Aside from security and storage concerns, another problem with living in a high-density populated area is that the concentration of people in this area makes it more vulnerable to injuries or death when a disaster strikes. The congestion, dense infrastructure, and limited escape routes make it harder for people to survive in this kind of area once a disaster strikes. One example of this is the Haiti earthquake in 2010, where the magnitude 7 earthquake hit a densely populated area, contributing to many deaths and injuries to people.  Also in the aftermath of a major event, keeping up with sanitation will present a lot of challenges and lends itself to the fast proliferation of disease and illness.
    4. Though it is still possible to prepare for a disaster even if you live in high-density populated areas, the best solution is to bug out of these areas, if possible, before a disaster strikes. These types of areas present many risks and dangers and trying to ride out a disaster is not the best idea if you’re living in an overly congested area.
    5. You also need to have a bug out plan in case you live in these types of environments. Have a plan on how you will evacuate the area, where you will go, and how you will get there. Make sure that you have enough supplies prepared for your bug out trip.
  5. Gas Stations – Similar to grocery stores, banks, and drug stores, people will be lining up at gas stations prior to and after a disaster to make sure that their vehicles have a full tank of gas. The main reason for this is that they want to make sure they have enough gas to get out of town in case they need to do so.
    1. The problem is that gas stations in disaster areas quickly run out of fuel. An article showed how quickly gas stations run out of fuel after a disaster has been declared in an area. When an emergency was declared for Hurricane Michael on October 2018, the first day of the declaration resulted in 13% of the total gas stations exhausting their fuel supplies. By the time the hurricane made landfall, about 35% of gas stations were already out of fuel. This trend lasted for 7 days after the emergency was declared. It was even worse during Hurricane Florence in September 2018 and Irma in September 2017. Five days after the emergency was declared, 69% of gas stations in the areas affected by Hurricane Irma are already out of gas. When Hurricane Florence hit, 73% of gas stations were out of fuel. This made it harder for other people to find gas stations to fill their vehicles. If you aren’t prepared, you can find yourself without gas in your vehicle during a disaster, making any bug out plan you have more difficult.
    2. To avoid being in this situation, the best you can do is to prepare ahead of time. One of the things that you can do is to try, as best as you can, to maintain your gas tank above ½ half full all the time. Doing this will give you extra fuel to use when you are looking for gas stations that still have fuel. Making sure you always have ample amounts of fuel in your vehicle also ensures you won’t just get stuck somewhere without fuel when disaster strikes.
    3. Another option you can do is to store as much fuel as you can in your home so you won’t need to go to any gas station to refill your vehicle’s fuel tank.

 

Conclusion

Disasters can happen anytime and anywhere, unannounced and without warning. Most people are caught off guard by these disasters, forcing them to scramble for supplies and other items they will need to help them weather the disaster.

But since many people will likely do the same, going to places like grocery stores, gas stations, drug stores, and banks are not really a good idea since a sudden influx of people can make them a potentially dangerous and hazardous place. To avoid being put in this situation, it is important that you already have a plan in place so you don’t need to scramble for supplies and items.

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