Dealing with Disaster

In 2017, Hurricane Irma affected residents and travelers alike throughout the Caribbean and Southeastern U.S.

In 2017 we had stark reminders that disasters, both natural and manmade, can occur anywhere. Divers and travelers, however, are not easily dissuaded from venturing out into the world — nor should we be. But as we prepare to travel, we should consider the possibility of a disaster situation.

The dive community does a good job of promoting a culture of safety and encouraging preparedness for emergencies, but risk is a reality of what we do. Whether your favorite dive destination is subject to social turmoil, seismic activity or serious storms, disaster preparedness should be a part of your pretrip planning. Avoiding a disaster in the first place is always the ideal solution, but storms' paths can defy expectations, and social strife can arise unexpectedly.

Imagine you are at your next dive destination when disaster strikes. You know to look for safe shelter and basic supplies, but what are your next steps?
Slow Down
When a catastrophe unfolds and you feel like you need to act immediately, the best thing you can do is often nothing at all. As long as you are out of immediate danger, just stop, take a few deep breaths, and consider your situation. Intense experiences have a way of making rational thought difficult. Taking a moment to pause and calm down will reduce the influence of adrenaline and allow you to look at your situation with a clear head. Your options will be easier to understand and compare.

Panic invariably leads to mistakes; ensuring that your response plan is well thought out, safe and realistic should be your No. 1 priority, barring any immediate threats to your safety. This does not mean you should sit tight and plan the perfect theoretical evacuation while a hurricane bears down on your beachfront cottage; it means that when it is safe and appropriate to do so, you should stop everything and weigh your options before you commit. First, focus on addressing the fundamentals, then work on securing communication channels, making evacuation plans and contacting emergency services, if necessary.
Stay in Contact
It is easy to forget how connected we are accustomed to being until that connectivity is taken away. When cell-phone, Internet and radio communication networks go down, our ability to broadcast our situation and our ability to understand the environment beyond our immediate vicinity goes with it. In situations like these, it is important to use whatever means possible to listen for situational updates and reach out for help from the safety of your shelter. Whether this means using your phone to call for help from your hotel or using a flashlight to signal passing vessels from a disabled liveaboard, it is important to let someone know who you are and where you are so emergency services can triage and plan for your evacuation.

Local authorities will broadcast situational updates when possible and notify you when it is safe to leave your shelter. It is generally best to remain in place until they do so. There is a caveat to this: In some places you must verify the source of the information, especially if it is not coming to you firsthand. Rumors and misinformation are common in the wake of disasters, and this is particularly true in regions with active social unrest or political conflict. If you find yourself in such a place, your local consulate may be your best source of reliable information and fact checking. When traveling internationally, include in your emergency plan the phone number for your country's embassy or nearest consulate.
Travel Support
Consider that you have done everything right: You have supplies, shelter and open communication channels, and any immediate danger you were facing has passed. All that is left is evacuation, but you and your 10,000 closest friends are all trying to fly out at the same time or get on the next boat off the island. Or maybe there is no transportation coming to your location for days or weeks. If you do not have the means to charter or pilot your own aircraft or rescue vessel or have access to your own evacuation team, it is worth having some sort of travel assistance available to you. Travel insurance is a common solution for traveling divers, and whether you source your coverage from DAN® or elsewhere, finding a plan that provides evacuation benefits at a reasonable cost could mean the difference between getting off an island now and waiting until next week.

A recent boom in adventure travel has fostered a thriving emergency-evacuation-services industry, and services previously available only to privately funded expeditions are beginning to be accessible to traveling divers. Organizations offering such services have made several high-profile evacuations in the past few years, including rescues from Mt. Everest, the Antarctic and numerous remote island destinations.

Travel insurance is not the only way to provide for evacuation in an emergency, but it is one way to ensure you have a ride home after a catastrophe. If travel insurance is not available or it is too late to sign up and you are already in dire straits, you will have to be your own advocate with local transportation services. Reach out to your local consulate for assistance, be vocal with local emergency services, and contact nearby transportation hubs such as airports or harbors; organized evacuation efforts for the general public may already be under way.

As always, DAN is available to help. In addition to offering travel assistance benefits and trip insurance, we can discuss emergency action plans, provide information about local resources and more. Call us at +1 (919) 684-2948.

© Alert Diver — Q1 Winter 2018