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Different types of disasters


There are many important differences among disasters that will impact the decisions you and your family make and the actions you take. Learn more about disasters that could happen where you live and the appropriate way to respond to them. Knowing what to do during a disaster is an important part of being prepared and may make all the difference when seconds count. Only you can make the difference between being safe or being a casualty in a disaster.


  • Biological Threats - A biological attack is the deliberate release of germs or other biological substances that can make you sick. Many agents must be inhaled, enter through a cut in the skin or be eaten to make you sick. Some biological agents, such as anthrax, do not cause contagious diseases. Others, like the smallpox virus, can result in diseases you can catch from other people.
  • Chemical - A chemical attack or accident is the release of a toxic gas, liquid or solid that can poison people and the environment.
  • Drought - A drought can happen anywhere in the U.S. and last from a few weeks to many years. Droughts are caused from lake of rain, extreme heat and dry air. A drought can cause all kinds of food shortages from vegetables, grains and water. A drought can also affect fuel prices when corn is affected.
  • Earthquakes - While Earthquakes are sometimes believed to only happen on the West Coast, all states and territories throughout the United States are at moderate to high risk from earthquakes. An earthquake is the sudden, rapid shaking of the Earth, caused by the braking and shifting of subterranean rock. Since it is not possible to predict when an earthquake will occur, it is essential that you and your family are prepared ahead of time.
  • Explosions - Explosions do not commonly occur in nature. The most common artificial explosives are chemical explosives.
  • Extreme Heat - A heat wave is an extended period of extreme heat, and is often accompanied by high humidity. These conditions can be dangerous and even life-threatening for humans who don't take the proper precautions.
  • Fires - To protect yourself, it is important to understand the basic characteristics of fire. Fire spreads quickly; there is no time to gather valuables or make a phone call. In just two minutes, a fire can become life-threatening. In five minutes, a residence can be engulfed in flames. Heat and smoke from fire can be more dangerous than the flames. Inhaling the super-hot air can sear your lungs. Fire produces poisonous gases that make you disoriented and drowsy.
  • Floods - Flooding is the most common natural disaster. Flooding can happen in every U.S. state and territory. However, all floods are not alike. Some can develop slowly during an extended period of rain, or in a warming trend following a heavy snow. Others, such as flash floods, can occur quickly, even without any visible signs of rain. Be prepared for flooding no matter where you live, but particularly if you are in a low-lying area, near water or downstream from a dam. Even a very small stream or dry creek bed can overflow and create flooding.
  • Hurricanes - Hurricanes are severe tropical storms that form in the southern Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Scientists can now predict hurricanes, but people who live in coastal communities should plan what they will do if they are told to evacuate.
  • Mudslides - Landslides, also known as mudslides and debris flow, occur in all states, and can be caused by a variety of factors including earthquakes, storms and fires. Landslides can occur quickly, often with little notice, the best way to plan for a mudslide is to stay informed about changes in and around your home that could signal that a Landslides is likely to occur. Look for changes in landscape and water drainage, or new cracks in foundations and sidewalks.
  • Nuclear Threats - A nuclear blast can contaminate the air, water and ground surfaces for miles around. During a nuclear incident, it is important to avoid radioactive material, if possible. While experts may predict at this time that a nuclear attack is less likely than other types, terrorism by its nature is unpredictable.
  • Pandemic - A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. A pandemic occurs when a new virus emerges for which there is little or no immunity in the human population and the virus begins to cause serious illness and then spreads easily person-to-person worldwide. The federal government, states, communities and industry are taking steps to prepare for and respond to a pandemic. If a pandemic occurs, it is likely to be a prolonged and widespread outbreak that could require temporary changes in many areas of society, such as schools, work, transportation and other public services. An informed and prepared public can take appropriate actions to decrease their risk during a pandemic.
  • Power Outages - Blackouts can be caused by many things like hurricanes, severe storms, fires and human error leaving many people without power. Blackouts can happen anywhere, and to anyone, so being prepared is important.
  • Radiation Threats - As with any radiation, you want to try to limit exposure. It is important to avoid breathing radiological dust that may be released in the air.
  • Thunderstorms - In the United States lightning kills injures 100's of people on average, each year. All thunderstorms produce lightning and all have the potential for danger. Those dangers can include tornadoes, strong winds, hail, wildfires and flash flooding, which is responsible for more fatalities than any other thunderstorm-related hazard. Lightning often strikes outside of heavy rain and may occur as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall. Most lightning deaths and injuries occur when people are caught outdoors in the summer months during the afternoon and evening.
  • Tornados - Tornadoes are nature's most violent storms. They can appear suddenly without warning and can be invisible until dust and debris are picked up or a funnel cloud appears. Planning and practicing specifically how and where you take shelter is a matter of survival. Be prepared to act quickly. Keep in mind that while tornadoes are more common in the Midwest, Southeast and Southwest, they can occur in any state and at any time of the year, making advance preparation vitally important.  Fujita Tornado Scale.
  • Tsunamis - Tsunamis, also known as seismic sea waves, are most common along the Pacific coast, but can strike anywhere along the U.S. coastline. Tsunamis are enormous waves caused by an underground disturbance such as an earthquake. They can move hundreds of miles per hour, and hit land with waves topping 100 feet in height.
  • Volcanoes - When pressure builds up within a volcano's molten rock, it has the potential to erupt, sending forth lava flows, poisonous gases and flying rock and ash that can sometimes travel hundreds of miles downwind.
  • Wildfires - If you live where there is an abundance of plants and other vegetation that can easily catch fire, you may be vulnerable to wildfires.
  • Winter Storms - Danger from winter weather varies across the country. That could mean snow or subfreezing temperatures, as well as strong winds or even ice or heavy rain storms. One of the primary concerns is the winter weather's ability to knock out heat, power and communications services to your home or office, sometimes for days at a time.
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