ICTR in the News: How to Prepare for a Hurricane Barging in on Your Vacation

The following article contains commentary from ICTR researcher Lauren Sauer, an Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Johns Hopkins, and a scientific advisor to the Red Cross on issues related to disasters and preparedness.

What to do if your trip of a lifetime gets interrupted by a natural hazard.

Hurricane Lane in the Pacific

Hurricane Lane in the Pacific as seen by astronaut Ricky Arnold above the ISS. NASA/Ricky Arnold

Millions of tourists visit Hawaii every year, longing to visit the famed beaches and stunning tropical landscapes. But this week, the islands are expecting another visitor; Hurricane Lane, a category 4 storm making a rare trip toward the Hawaiian islands.

There are currently about 270,000 tourists on the islands, bracing along with locals as attractions, parks, and beaches close ahead of the coming storm. The storm will be hazardous for anyone—the island isn’t set up to receive such weather—but travelers may feel especially lost about how to handle the danger away from home.

If you are in Hawaii, the Hawaii Tourism Authority has a page with useful links related to Lane’s approach.

But how can travellers prepare for an event like this? Whether its a hurricane in Hawaii, earthquakes in Indonesia or wildfires in California or Greece these hazards have the potential to ruin far more than just your vacation. Here are some things you can do to stay safe if a disaster strikes during your trip.

Listen to local authorities

“The best reaction is to follow the guidance of local emergency officials,” Lauren Sauer says.

Sauer is an Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Johns Hopkins, and a scientific advisor to the Red Cross on issues related to disasters and preparedness. In some cases you might be asked to evacuate, in others you might be asked to shelter-in-place and stock up on food and water, but it all depends on the situation.

Governor David Ige is currently advising residents and visitors to shelter in place during the storm, and make sure they have access to a 14 day supply of food and water. If you’re staying at a hotel, you should check with the front desk to see how they plan to get through the event, and what you should do to prepare.

Plan Ahead

Unless you’re driving to your vacation destination, you’re probably not going to be able to pack a whole emergency kit in your carry-on.

“A lot of things travelers can do happen before they leave, while preparing for their trip,” Sauer says. Knowing what hazards exist in the area you’re traveling to is a good start, but you can also prepare for the unexpected by adding a few things to your to-do list as you pack.

Here are some of the things she recommends travelers do before their trip:

  • If you rely on medications, stop by the pharmacy and pick up a few extra days’ worth. This will help if local pharmacies close in the wake of a disaster, and could also be helpful in the event of any kind of travel delay. Also keep copies of your prescriptions with you. Depending on where you travel, you may need a paper copy to get a refill, or provide documentation that prove you need the medication you have on you (of particular concern for patients whose pain medication might be restricted in different jurisdictions.)
  • For that matter, make sure you have extra copies of your travel documents with you, and store them in a separate place from original copies of your passport, driver’s license, tickets, etc.
  • Turn on emergency alerts for the area you’re traveling to on your phone. “People might turn them off at home, because they’re loud or annoying, but when you’re traveling to a new place, you’re not watching the news at night and you’re not looking at the weather. Those emergency alerts can be really helpful on your phone in real time, especially if you don’t know the environment very well,” Sauer says.
  • Cash. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, computer systems, ATMs, and credit card machines were down, and insurance information was inaccessible. “Having the cash to pay for things like out-of-pocket costs for your prescriptions is really important,” Sauer says.
  • “Portable batteries and extra flashlights are really inexpensive and can be helpful in those first 24-48 hours,” Sauer says. That’s particularly key if you’re relying on your phone for information and alerts when the power goes out. You’ll want some way to keep your phone charged up, and you don’t want to drain your battery using the device as a flashlight.
  • Your packing list will vary by your destination and the seasons, but one thing that always makes sense is a basic first aid kit. “You can get a really good first aid kit about the size of a wallet,” Sauer says. “It’s really good to have in your bag even if you’re not in an emergency.”
  • Maps are your friend. Download a map of the area you’re going to for easy reference even when you’re not connected to the internet. Take a second before your trip to identify local hospitals, embassies, or consulates. And if you prefer paper, pick up a free map at the local tourism office the first day of your trip.
  • Sauer also recommends that people keep some food bars (think Larabars or Luna bars) with them as an easy source of nutrition in the wake of a disaster. This is especially crucial for people with food allergies or dietary restrictions; the first food available might not be food you can eat.

You might not need all of those precautions—and if all goes well, you won’t need any of them at all. “Your hope is that you bring it home with you,” Sauer says.

Register

If you’re going abroad, Sauer recommends registering your trip with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). It’s free, and it will let the local embassy know that you’re in the country—and help them keep an eye out for you. “If, for example, there’s a tsunami in Indonesia, they will know who’s traveling abroad and who may need to be repatriated,” Sauer says.

STEP also allows you to sign up for specific travel and security updates for the places you’re traveling to, and will keep you up to date on things like road closures, emergency curfews, and other important information. “If you’re abroad and you’re a U.S. Citizen, it will also keep you up to date on how to get home,” Sauer says.

Both the State Department and Red Cross have websites or apps that can help keep you informed during a disaster.

Source: https://www.popsci.com/disaster-preparedness-vacation#page-3