Natural Disasters and Extreme Weather Topics

hurricane swaying palm trees, flooding with road closed sign, firefighter equipment

Natural disasters can cause great damage on the environment, property, wildlife and human health. These events may include earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, landslides, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, and extreme temperatures. Natural disasters generally constitute an emergency since they require immediate intervention due to their high impact on human health and safety; they affect the normal functioning of working infrastructure, interrupting normal day activities and representing a risk for residents and workers in affected areas.

Emergency response and recovery workers may be at risk of exposure to multiple health hazards associated with the occurrence of an event. These hazards can include physical, chemical, ergonomic, biologic, radiologic, psychological, and behavioral health hazards. Therefore, it is imperative to implement appropriate measures to assure the health and safety of emergency responders, including the implementation of a disaster management plan that prepares responders before an emergency, informs them about how to act during an emergency and provides guidance on how to perform the necessary activities after a particular event.

This webpage provides information and recommendations for emergency response and recovery workers regarding safety and health hazards associated with natural disasters. The information provided guides workers through disaster and safety management resources aiming to inform involved personnel about potential hazards and situations they may face during a response

Management of activities before, during and after an emergency is a difficult task. Different components must be considered to account for all the potential hazards that can be faced. The preparation of a comprehensive plan is vital to ensure the correct management of resources, consecution of activities and protection of responders. During the elaboration of a disaster management plan, potential hazards can be identified which helps to establish the necessary measures to prevent, control and mitigate those hazards. Such measures can include but are not limited to the establishment of a system to manage personnel during an emergency, provide training to face a particular hazard, define the use of personal protective equipment, and install guidelines and mechanisms to be used in case of an emergency, among others.

The following link redirects to the disaster site management topic page which includes general information on Disaster Site Management. The site provides a series of reports on emergency responders’ safety management in disaster and terrorism response. The different reports cover topics such as rubble and debris, dust and smoke, heat, anthrax, stress, types and use of protective equipment, hazard assessment, risk communications, site management, structural collapse, fire, and explosions. The disaster management page also offers information on other hazards such as asbestos, carbon monoxide, confined spaces chemical and structural hazards and provides guidance on identifying and handling human remains. Other possible hazardous substances and situations such as chemical and structural hazards are also included in the website to ensure the health and safety of workers.

NIOSH Emergency Response Disaster Site Management

A main component of disaster management is safety. Safety management makes reference to all the possible strategies that can be implemented to assure the safety of workers while performing their jobs. The purpose of safety management is to prevent hazards and reduce potential harmful incidents that can occur in the workplace. The strategies implemented can include safety prevention measures such as the use of personal protective equipment or the establishment of health and safety policies. NIOSH and RAND produced four reports in a series detailing previous emergency responses associated to terrorist attacks.

The first three reports provide recommendations and the need for research, training and other strategic approaches to help protect emergency responders in terrorist attacks. These reports describe the lessons learned from previous terrorist attacks, while making an emphasis in preparedness, suggesting the implementation of training and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The fourth report is a technical source for emergency response following large structural collapse events. From the experience with collapsed buildings, the report provides examples of documented health effects, varying from evidence of respiratory and biological hazards to chemical and physical hazards. The report explains the need of establishing PPE guidelines and offers advice for its use and compatibility, and provides guidance on how to set safe exposure limits.
Each individual report can be accessed using the following links:

Protecting Emergency Responders Safety Management in Disaster and Terrorism Response

Natural disasters such as Tornado, Hurricanes, Earthquakes, Wildfires and extreme cold occur with a higher frequency and have the potential to affect emergency response and recovery workers. NIOSH has a specific topic page for each of these emergencies.

Tornado Cleanup and Response

Tornados are columns of air that extend from the sky to the ground rotating with great speed and power. These extreme winds create different physical hazards during and after the event. Clean up activities might present a major challenge for responders who might be in risk of injury due to the alterations the tornado may have left. The tornado topic page informs emergency response and recovery workers on the hazards they may face during and after a tornado and provides advice on how to prevent injury and protect themselves from potential hazards.

Storm, Flood, and Hurricane Response

Hurricanes and storms involve the presence of high winds and heavy rain that may lead to flooding. These phenomena bring with themselves a lot of hazards that may include but are not limited to infectious diseases, electrocution, falls, chemical exposures, physical hazards, poisoning, stress, and biological hazards. This Topic page provides resources for emergency response and recovery workers on how to prevent and protect themselves from hazards associated to storm, flood and hurricane response.

Extreme Cold

Emergency response and recovery workers may be exposed to extreme cold due to the weather, the nature of their jobs or the characteristics proper of a particular location. Extreme cold is a hazard that may lead to adverse health effects. The cold stress topic page describes the types of illnesses that may result from exposure to extreme cold, and provides recommendations for employers and workers on how to protect themselves, avoid and prevent cold stress.

Earthquake Cleanup and Response Resources

Earthquakes are associated to multiple hazards that represent a risk for emergency responders and recovery workers. During cleanup activities hazards may include physical, chemical and biological hazards. Challenges faced by responders include how to manage the disaster, how to protect themselves from insects, poisoning, contaminated water and food, injury, animals, how to handle human remains, and which protective equipment is available and should be used, among others. This topic page offers resources to inform workers on disaster management, use of protective equipment, management of traumatic incident stress and provides health and safety recommendations to protect themselves in case of an earthquake.

Fighting Wildfires & Fire Cleanup

During and after wildfires, emergency response and recovery workers are in risk of exposure to hazards such as smoke inhalation, extreme heat, falls, burns, injury, irritation, and death. This topic page contains publications and reports, that are part of the fire fighter fatality investigation and prevention program (FFFIPP), addressing common adverse health consequences for workers during and after fires, including rhabdomyolysis, hyperthermia, sudden cardiac death, and injuries. The page also provides advice on related topics such as carbon monoxide, heat stress, and respirators.

The following web page from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contains general information on preparedness, response and recovery after hurricanes, flooding, drought, extreme heat, tornados, snow and ice, volcanoes, and wildfires. The recommendations cover general preparedness and response tips for homeowners, communities, schools, and facilities.

EPA Natural Disasters and Weather Emergencies