What to do should a natural disaster strike while on holiday

By | Category: travel, Travel tips & opinions

Volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis can occur without warning in many popular holiday destinations. Here three experts share some tips on what to do should an unexpected natural disaster occur while you’re on your hols, exclusively with CD-Traveller readers


Earthquakes occur when stress builds up at weak points deep in the earth’s crust, eventually this stress is released with great energy generating earthquakes.

* If you’re in a building, DON’T RUN! Running out a building can be more hazardous (especially in areas with loosely enforced building codes).

* Stay calm, and follow the standard DROP COVER and HOLD procedure. DROP COVER and HOLD simply means DROP to the floor, take COVER under a desk, table or even a chair, then hang onto it so that the piece of furniture protects you from falling debris, HOLD this position until the ground shaking ceases and it’s safe to move. The idea is to protect yourself from falling fixtures (e.g. lights) and heavier pieces of furniture (e.g., bookshelves, heavy appliances). Stay away from windows, doors and walls.

* If you’re outdoors in a crowded public place, stay calm and move out into the open, away from power lines and buildings.

* Again when you check in at your hotel, don’t be afraid to ask the hotel staff about earthquake evacuation procedures and earthquake preparedness tips.



A volcano is an opening in the earth’s crust that from which magma erupts to the earth’s surface.  Volcanic eruptions can often strike without warning, but in most cases, volcanoes announce their upcoming activity with some pre-cursory activity.  Precursory activity ranges from swarms of small earthquakes to the occasional venting of steam from a volcanoes summit, and usually provides ample warning to stay away from a volcanic zone if you’re holidaying near an active volcano.

* If you feel dozens of closely spaced, small, volcanic tremors or one-two- larger earthquakes and you’re near a volcano, stay calm and move away with all deliberate haste. Try to get to low-lying areas, upwind of the volcano, and away from valleys/rivers.  Follow all official local authority advice regarding hazards associated with volcanic eruptions, e.g. mudflows, flash floods, earth tremors, ash fall.

* Volcanic ash is not poisonous but can have an impact on your respiratory system, so if you are in area where there is ash fall, stay indoors and close all windows and doors until local authorities advise it’s safe to move outside.
* Again, when you arrive at your destination, check local information sources (TV/radio/print media) to see if there are any reports of imminent volcanic activity. Your hotel staff should also be able to advise you about volcano eruption evacuation procedures and preparedness.


Tsunamis are a series of giant waves usually caused by underwater disturbances such as earthquakes, landslides and volcanic eruptions.  Tsunami waves can move extremely fast in the open ocean and crash into land with waves of 100 feet or higher.  Once a major earthquake occurs, the first tsunami waves can reach the shore within a few minutes.

* If you feel a severe ground shaking (or mild shaking that lasts 20 seconds or more), or hear an alarm, as soon as it’s safe to move, do so.

* Don’t wait for a warning siren or signal, just move inland away from the coastal area.

* Try to move to elevations of 50 feet or more, or approximately half a mile inland if the area is flat.

* Experts suggest that if there is a multi-storey building (e.g. a hotel) nearby, then that can be a good place to seek shelter. If you move fast, you should survive!

* Walking is better than jumping in a car and driving off because you can keep moving even if traffic jams develop. How fast a tsunami reaches you all depends on where you are.  Tsunami waves travel faster in shallow waters, so at the edges of major continents or continental islands (e.g. Japan and Indonesia) you will have at least 25 minutes before the waves arrive.  However, if you’re on a volcanic island (e.g. Hawaii) where there is deep ocean offshore a tsunami wave can arrive in as little as six minutes!

What exactly does a tsunami warning sound like?

* Local authorities are usually responsible for all tsunami warnings so warnings can be sporadic and highly variable.  Some places have sirens; other areas ring church bells, some places simply have someone riding a bike along a beach using a megaphone to warn people! Sirens are actually unusual except in developed areas.

* Hawaii and Japan have sires almost everywhere in coastal regions, but in other countries such as Thailand, Indonesia & Western USA sirens only exist in scattered locations. The sirens themselves are also all different: Hawaii’s sirens have a wailing tone while Japan’s issue a verbal message. If you hear a siren or another alarm that sounds out of place, ask a local to confirm or check local TV/radio.

What else can I do?

* If an alarm sounds and you’ve moved inland, the next best thing would be to consult someone in authority for further information as to how to proceed. If it’s possible you can also seek information from local TV/radio sources. If authorities require you to evacuate an area, leave promptly.  Many tourist destinations also have tsunami evacuation routes posted on billboards or on information cards in hotel rooms, it’s always worth checking these when you arrive at your destination.  When you check in at your hotel, don’t be afraid to ask the hotel staff about evacuation procedures and warning sirens.

* Prior to travelling, you can also check online sources for further information and also to decide which (if any) maybe worth checking during the event .


Dr Kirti Sharma
Dr Kiri Sharma has over 10 year’s academic research experience in Geoscience, specialising in volcanology and igneous petrology. She completed her PhD in volcanology in 2006. Kirti graduated from Manchester University with a BSc in Geology, the University of Hawaii with an MS in Geology and Volcanology and subsequently gained her PhD in Volcanology from the Open University.   Kirti’s doctoral research was a seminal work on volcanic degassing and volcanology of two major European historic eruptions.

Dr Gerard Fryer
Dr Fryer is a geophysicist with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC) where he currently works on developing tsunami warning systems. He is also an associate geophysicist at the University of Hawaii.

Cathrene Rowell
Having earned a BA in European Business with French from Nottingham Trent University, an intensive Diplôme in Export Area Management (EPTCE) from Group IMEA, Besancon (France) and a certificate in the Principles of Marketing Research from the University of Georgia, Cathrene is now following her passion for geosciences and is currently studying for a BSc at the Open University and is hoping to extend her studies and attain a doctorate in geosciences. Cathrene is a Candidate Fellow at The Geological Society.

UPDATE (19th April 2012) A “thank you” to Paul Sheppard who pointed out a mistake in the volcano advice. We should have advised readers to get “upwind” rather than “down wind” as the article originally stated. This advice has now been corrected in the volcano section above.

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