It can seem as though we face frequent crises in the world today. Whether political uncertainty, or the possibility of irreversible climate change, it certainly feels like disaster is right around the corner. Perhaps the worst part about this is not the concept that something could go terribly wrong — we’re used to that — but that we might be powerless to respond.
The good news is this isn’t necessarily the case. Innovators in STEM fields around the globe are working to provide tools to prepare for and react to disaster effectively. Space agencies, including NASA and ESA, are instrumental in these efforts — whether those threats come directly from space, or more effectively examined from there.
Our minds each respond differently in the face of emergencies and disasters. But there are also steps we can take to ensure each natural disaster needn’t necessarily be a personal one too. Our ability to prepare effectively can help us navigate post-disaster challenges and overcome adversity. We’ll take a look at a few areas in which space agencies are making technological strides, and how you can bolster your own disaster plan.
Solar Weather Disruption
Coronal mass ejections from our sun cause solar storms on a regular basis. On one hand, these are responsible for beautiful auroras. On the other hand, a sufficiently large solar storm has the potential to knock out all our electrical and communications systems. We live at a time of peak dependence; we rely on tech for everything from basic infrastructure to emergency services coordination. The results of such a storm could be catastrophic.
This is why space weather forecasting is so important. As we become increasingly vulnerable due to technological dependence, we need tools that help us prepare and respond accordingly. NASA’s Living with a Star program is undertaking a series of missions — including launching probes to orbit the Sun — in order to monitor the behavior of the Sun, and better understand how this can affect us here on Earth. NASA will be sharing the forecasting data gained in this program with the wider scientific community for operational use in preventing disaster.
Your personal preparations for a serious solar storm are generally focused on being self-sufficient. Investing in a generator can be a useful step, as the power grids are likely to be down for a significant period. Obtain a hand-crank radio for emergency communication. Ensure you have hard copies of all essential documents because you won’t have access to your hard drive or the cloud.
It may be a perpetual trope of disaster movies, but the possibility of a strike from an astronomical object is worthy of consideration. A true apocalyptic slam is unlikely in the near future, but smaller impact events still have the potential to have disastrous consequences. The Tunguska event of 1908 knocked down more than 80 million trees with an explosion of a magnitude that would have destroyed a large metropolitan area. It’s a terrifying possibility.
NASA’s Sentry program is one of the most vital tools we have in monitoring astronomical objects and assessing when the next large impact could occur. The project observes Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) and computes the possibility of an impact over the next 100 years. Objects that are a cause for concern are monitored on a daily basis, and thus far several near misses have been predicted years in advance.
For an event such as what occurred in Tunguska, your personal preparations can match those for an explosion. If you are unable to build a bunker yourself, it is important to make advance plans as to where you can quickly seek underground shelter. Put together a survival bag in case you have to evacuate swiftly. This should have emergency food, medication, and communication devices. It may also be wise to invest in a good metal detector, as uncovering meteorite rock could be a valuable source of income to help pay for post-impact damage repairs.
Earthquakes are a common feature in many areas of the globe. For many of us, the most we can expect is a slight tremor every now and then. However, there are citizens of major cities who live with the knowledge that the earthquakes they experience have the potential to result in devastating consequences. In fact, a major earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 or higher is predicted to hit the San Andreas fault. Known as “the Big One”, simulations suggest that 270,000 people will be displaced from their homes, with 50,000 in need of ER care.
While seismology provides useful data about earthquakes, it cannot provide us with forecasts that allow us to make advance preparations. However, NASA is developing satellite technology that can recognize the gradual stress build up around fault lines, and provide earthquake warnings days or even weeks in advance. The agency is exploring a variety of techniques, from monitoring minute changes in crust movement, to analyzing infrared signatures that occur prior to an event.
During an unpredictable earthquake, your first response should be to drop to the ground, take cover, and hold on to something that will prevent you from being thrown around. You should also invest in a crank radio so that you can receive information about where to go for safety and assistance. However, it’s also worth noting that looting and civil unrest can occur during earthquakes. This means there may also be a run on banks, resulting in closures. Storing emergency cash, and even making bitcoin investments, can be valuable steps to ensuring you and your family have access to finances during a disaster.
It is a fact of our existence on this planet that natural disasters will occasionally occur. Whether you get to feel the tremors from a rare impact event or experience a relatively common earthquake, these disasters have the potential to cause serious disruption. Between utilizing tools designed by scientific agencies, and making our own personal preparations, we can improve our chances of survival.