Expat Guide to Local Emergency Disaster Prep

by | Feb 11, 2022 | Global | 1 comment

It is important for expats to be prepared for an emergency disaster, many of them natural occurrences, conducive to a host country’s geographical topography (surface area of land, mountains, lakes, ocean, etc.), and the climate zones in which they’re located.

A little research goes a long way toward being prepared for the inevitable earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, ice storms, tornados, typhoons, flooding, or the ravenous bug bites suffered after tropical storms (as pictured).

Emergency Disaster: Earthquakes

Coming from earthquake-active Southern California where I was born during a major quake (magnitude 7 or higher), we lived through many other moderate-to-severe quakes, including one only month after moving to Baja, MX, in 2010.

Major Quake in Chiapas, MX, magnitude 8.4, September 2017. GlobalIncidentMap.com
Major Quake in Chiapas, MX, magnitude 8.4, September 2017. GlobalIncidentMap.com

I was taught at a young age to be mentally ready and physically prepared, with water, food, and supplies BEFORE an emergency disaster strikes, many of which are location-specific and reoccurring, such as those listed for California and Baja, Mexico, on a “List of Notable & Major California Earthquakes“.

We were even assured that there were never earthquakes in Belize prior to moving to the Western Caribbean in 2015. Yet within the 6 years, we have experienced several major and severe quakes and long-lasting aftershocks.


Major Quake on Honduras Coast of Caribbean, magnitude 7.8, January 2018. GlobalIncidentMap.com
Major Quake on Honduras Coast of the Caribbean, magnitude 7.8, January 2018. GlobalIncidentMap.com

The first one was 300 miles north of us in Southern Mexico, just months after arriving in Belize.

Add two very severe quakes between September 2017 and January 2018; one in Chiapas, MX, registering 8.4, and the other off the Honduran coast of the Caribbean, right below us, registering a magnitude 7.8 on the Richter Scale (though both were downgraded by the USGS).

We felt them both rock our raised farmhouse in the middle of the night! Earthquake maps courtesy of Global Incident Maps.

Emergency Disaster: Volcanoes

Although Hawaiian volcanoes generally give warnings of impending eruptions as Kilauea did on the Big Island of Hawaii, allowing for safe evacuations before erupting around April/May 2018, not all are that gracious. In October 2018, just before a major election in Guatemala to decide if they should annex the lower section of Belize into their country, Volcán de Fuego erupted with a powerful explosion and with no warning, right next to Guatemala City. Unfortunately, lives were lost, and the election was suspended indefinitely.

Emergency Disaster: Hurricanes

Red ant bites covering my son's feet, after storms & hurricane. By Cheri Majors
Red ant bites covering my son’s feet, after storms & hurricane. By Cheri Majors

Many disasters have warning signals. Some even hours in advance. But hurricanes offer the luxury of several days to prepare.

Experiencing our first hurricane and flooding within a year of moving to Belize, we had an entire weekend to stock up, board up and make preparations for what turned into a category 2 hurricane.

It was pointed straight at us, plowing across the Caribbean Ocean right up onto dry land, and throughout our mountainous-jungle farmlands, tearing down miles of harvest-ready cornfields, uprooting trees, and flinging other debris.

Emergency Disaster: Tsunami Flooding

Wherever you go, you will need to know what the location-specific disasters are, have food and water put away, and know how to reach your nearest emergency shelter if the need arises. Many beach communities worldwide have pictorial signs showing a gigantic wave overtaking a running stick figure, and it displays an arrow pointing toward the closest shelter from tsunami or hurricane waves and/or flooding. Whether living near the ocean, rivers, mountains, or desert regions, flooding can happen almost anywhere.

Emergency Disaster: Supplies You Need

My son & I, the Morning After - Surviving our 1st Hurricane in Belize, 2016. By Cheri Majors
My son & I, the Morning After – Surviving our 1st Hurricane in Belize, 2016. By Cheri Majors

Wherever your family has chosen to live, every geographic area is subject to local emergencies, which you must be prepared to encounter, especially when traveling with children.

I listed below the most important items you will need during an emergency to be stored at home along with a travel backpack in the trunk of your auto, packed with the same items.

I based supplies listed upon the recognized fact that humans can live 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, 3 minutes without oxygen; “The 333 Rule for Survival” (as found on Google).

1. Breathable Air

Official oxygen masks (but only if you believe there’s a potential threat of nuclear fallout – not the ineffective COVID masks, according to OSHA), as the abundance of oxygenated air is usually enough to dilute most outdoor contaminants. If a medical oxygen tank or device is required as a patient, you’ll probably travel with one and would have it with you at all times, anyway.

2. Filtered Water

At least one case of filtered, non-fluoridated, bottled water per person should be sufficient in an emergency. Also, having a gravity-fed water filter is a good idea for your home abroad due to varying degrees of water quality, which may differ from what your family is used to.

3. Food & Medicine Storage

Dried, packaged, and fresh foods (fresh-grown produce in patio pots – optional) for the entire family, including baby food and/or pet food, as necessary. Medical prescriptions, glasses, and supplies as needed.

4. Cash Changed into Host Country Currency

Plus a little gold and/or silver, if you’re comfortable carrying it around.

5. Batteries and Electronics Charger

Make sure electronic devices stay charged and have enough batteries for flashlights, tap-lights, etc. Candles, matches, or lighters would also be handy.

May your travels be safe, and your new life abroad be free-from-worry because you’ve prepared for emergencies. These few tips and minimal supplies will give you the confidence needed to tackle any emergency that may come your way, allowing you and your family to proceed enthusiastically with new, fun expat adventures!

Let us know what serious situation you have experienced abroad, how prepared you were when facing the emergency disaster, and how you handled it!

by: Cheri Majors, M.S.