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When Disaster Strikes​—Steps That Can Save Lives

When Disaster Strikes​—Steps That Can Save Lives

“A deafening explosion nearly threw me to the floor. Smoke came from the air vents, and our high-rise office erupted in flames.”​—Joshua.

Earthquake . . . hurricane . . . terrorist attack . . . school shooting. Those terms appear in the headlines too often. Of course, it is one thing to read about a disaster; it is another to live through one. What can you do before, during, and after a disaster to improve the likelihood of your survival?


NO ONE is immune to disaster. Preparation is your most important key to survival. But what does preparation involve?

  • Prepare mentally. Acknowledge the fact that disasters happen and that you and your loved ones are potentially at risk. It is too late to prepare after disaster strikes.

  • Learn about disasters that can happen in your area. Know where shelters are. Consider whether the construction of your home and its location are as safe as possible. Remove fire hazards. Install smoke detectors, and change their batteries at least once a year, if not more often.

  • Prepare emergency supplies. Power, water, phone, and transportation services can fail. If you own a car, try to keep the fuel tank at least half full, and always have food, water, and an emergency kit in your home.​—See the box “ Do You Have What You Need?

    Preparation is your most important key to survival

  • Have access to the phone numbers of friends, both near and far.

  • Make and rehearse an escape plan. Know the nearest exits in your building, as well as the emergency plan of your children’s school. Set up family meeting places​—such as a school or a library—​one nearby and another outside your neighborhood. Authorities recommend that you practice walking with your family to those meeting points.

  • Plan to help others, including the elderly and the infirm.


“When fire broke out, most people didn’t panic​—they delayed,” relates Joshua, quoted at the outset. “Some turned off a computer or filled a water bottle. One man said, ‘Maybe we should just wait.’” Despite the hesitancy of others, Joshua shouted: “We need to get out of here now!” At that, his coworkers snapped out of denial and followed him down the stairs. “If anyone falls, pick him up and keep moving,” Joshua kept calling out. “We’re all going to make it!”

  • In a fire. Stay close to the floor, and move quickly to the nearest exit. Smoke makes it hard to see, and most fire deaths are caused by smoke inhalation. Leave behind personal items. Seconds can make the difference between life and death.

  • In an earthquake. Get under sturdy furniture or next to an inside wall. Expect aftershocks, and get outside and away from buildings as soon as you can. Trained rescuers may not arrive for hours, so try to rescue others if you can.

  • In a tsunami. If the water suddenly rushes away from the shore, move quickly to higher ground. Expect more and larger waves.

  • In a tornado or a hurricane. Go to a storm shelter without delay.

  • In a flood. Stay out of flooded buildings. Avoid wading in or driving through water. Floodwater can contain sewage and conceal dangers, including debris, open manholes, and downed power lines.

  • Did you know? Two feet [0.6 m] of moving water can carry a car away. Most deaths in a flood result when people try to drive through moving water.

  • If the authorities order evacuation, leave immediately! Let friends know where you are, or they may risk their lives looking for you.

    If authorities order evacuation, leave immediately!

  • Did you know? Text messaging may be more reliable than telephone voice service.

  • If the authorities direct residents to remain at home or shelter in place, stay inside. In case of an outdoor chemical, biological, or nuclear accident or attack, stay indoors, turn off ventilation, and seal all doors and windows. In a nuclear event, go to the lowest internal part of your building to reduce exposure to radiation. Listen to local TV or radio news. Stay indoors until authorities announce that the threat has passed.


To avoid disease and danger, consider the following recommendations:

  • Stay with friends, if possible, rather than in a camp.

  • Keep your living space sanitary.

  • Use personal protective equipment when cleaning up debris. If possible, wear gloves, sturdy shoes, a hard hat, and a dust mask. Beware of electrical wires and hidden embers.

  • Keep your daily routine as normal as possible. Your children need to see that you are calm and hopeful. Do school lessons, play, and worship as a family. Do not dwell on news coverage of the tragedy, and do not take out your anxiety or frustration on family members. Accept help, and help others.

    After the disaster, keep your routine as normal as possible

  • Acknowledge that disasters cause loss. Government and other relief efforts focus on helping people to survive, not on replacing everything that was lost. To survive, we need clean water, food, clothing, and shelter from the weather.​—1 Timothy 6:7, 8.

  • Recognize and address emotional injury. This often surfaces after the initial shock has passed. Symptoms include anxiety, depression, and mood swings, as well as difficulty thinking, working, and sleeping. Talk to caring friends.

Although Joshua survived the fire in his workplace, many of his acquaintances did not. He received assistance from Christian elders and mental-health professionals. “They assured me that my grief was part of a natural healing process and that it would pass,” Joshua says. “After six months, the nightmares lessened. Other symptoms have lasted longer.”

Disasters assault our very sense of justice. In response, some people mistakenly blame God. Many, like Joshua, experience “survivor’s guilt.” “I still wonder if I could have saved more people,” he says. “I am comforted by my belief that God will soon bring complete justice to the earth and will right all wrongs. In the meantime, I cherish each day of life and do what I reasonably can to preserve it.”​—Revelation 21:4, 5. *

^ par. 33 For more information about God’s promises for the future and why he has permitted suffering, see the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? It is available for download at