This week, our attention has turned to several natural disasters in the United States and abroad, such as Hurrican Florence in the Carolines and a super typhoon slamming the Philippines.
The reality is that no matter where you go and how caution you exercise, natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricans, floods, and other storms can and will occur. An emergency can leave us in dire circumstances -- and even be life-threatening.
Luckily, Costa Rica is pretty sheltered from the massive storms that blow through the Carribean and other natural calamties, but even flooding during the rainy season can turn deadly if you're not aware and cautious.
So, I wanted to give you a little general Natural Disaster 101 today:
In Case of Emergency
Natural disasters, blackouts, theft, or sudden medical issues are unnerving enough, but they can be positively frightening if they occur while on vacation or living abroad. Far from home, in a foreign country, an emergency can leave us in dire circumstances -- and even be life-threatening.
Here are 13 general tips how to prepare and deal with natural disasters:
1. Email yourself vital information.
Before you leave home, put any pertinent user names and passwords, pin numbers, social security number, passport information, etc. together on one document. Email it to yourself (on a secure email) that you can log in from anywhere to access.
2. Make sure other people have your itinerary.
Enlist someone to be your safety net back in your home, and make sure they have copies of your vital information. Provide them with your detailed travel itinerary and have a few planned check-in points where they are expecting an email from you, letting them know all is well.
3. Register with the U.S. embassy.
It's a great idea to register with the local United States embassy when you visit another country, called the Smart Travel Enrollment Program (STEP) especially in developing countries or out of popular tourist areas.
4. Give your hotel or apartment information to your contact back home.
Consider your hotel your "safe house" and always let them know if you are going on tours or day trips and with whom. Provide the hotels' phone number, email address, etc. to your contact person back home.
5. Stock up.
If a bad storm or hurricane is expected, get to the local market as soon as possible and stock up on flashlights, batteries, canned goods and an opener, big containers of clean water, a first aid kit, candles and a lighter or matches, etc.
If you drive a vehicle, make sure your spare tire is good, you have rope, some boards to get out of mud, and flares, etc.
6. Hit the bank machine.
If trouble is in the air, visit the ATM and take out a bunch of cash in U.S. dollars and local currency. In the event of a power outage or system failure, the ATMs may not work or just be out of money.
7. Earthquake safety.
Experiencing an earthquake is one of the most frightening things you can imagine. And unfortunately, they happen quite frequently in many countries and parts of the world. Amazingly, there are over 13,000 earthquakes of 4.0 magnitude or higher every year in the world - including some in Costa Rica! Stay indoors in a solid building and turn off all gas and electric immediately.
8. Know where the police station and hospital are.
It doesn't hurt to scope out the local emergency services when you first get in town, especially if you have medical conditions. You might even want to visit the hospital just so they have your records and information on file and know your blood type!
9. Organize any medications.
Make sure you document any important medical information like blood type, medical conditions and allergies. Keep a copy on your person and one at the hotel. Keep your medications well organized and have a few dosages-- enough for 24 hours-- in your day bag in case of emergency. It also doesn't hurt to travel with a few basic medical supplies like Aspirin, Neosporin, butterfly Band-Aids, etc.
10. Check local and international news.
In case of emergency (like a typhoon, protests, coup attempt, etc.) pay attention to what the locals do, as they've probably dealt with those situations before. But also watch international news and research global Internet stories so your information is well rounded.
11. Have an "Oh, sh*t!" bag ready.
Of course I use much stronger language (but it may be a family vacation you're on). Keep one backpack or day bag stuffed with everything you would need if you had to make a quick exit or evacuate in case of catastrophe.
12. Book several flights in case of evacuation.
In case you need to fly out, such as in the event of a bad earthquake or hurricane, etc., the airlines are going to be swamped and many flights might get canceled. Go on a booking website immediately and book several flights over the next few days. As long as you book them with travel insurance (and some might be canceled) you can always get some or all of your money back, but the most important thing is just to get to safety!
13. Err on the side of caution.
The good news is that nothing out of the ordinary happens to 99.999% of vacationers, but in case there is an issue, play it safe. Don't try to be a hero, don't put yourself or your family in danger, and please don't think it's a good time to be macho. It's much better to be overly cautious and get through the situation unscathed, alive and well to go on vacation again.
Stay safe and pura vida!
The official expat,
For more great and helpful advice on moving to Costa Rica or just visiting, check out the Official Expat's Moving to Costa Rica Handbook.