How to Prepare for an Avalanche or Landslide

Preparing for an emergency is crucial to your safety, especially in the event of an avalanche or landslide. These natural disasters can strike at a moment’s notice, causing substantial property damage.

They also have the potential to bury people, animals and homes for prolonged periods of time. If you live in an area prone to avalanches or landslides, it is especially important to understand what they are and how to prepare for one.

The sections below contain information on how to reinforce your home ahead of an impending landslide or avalanche, as well as procedures for safely evacuating. You may not be able to predict an avalanche or landslide, so preparing ahead of time is extremely important.

What is an avalanche or landslide?

An avalanche is a mass of snow, ice and rocks that breaks loose from its surface and slides downhill. Most avalanches occur naturally, caused by snow storms, rain, wildlife events and even earthquakes. Explosives can also trigger smaller avalanches that are less dangerous. In some cases, avalanches are caused by human error.

Individuals navigating snowy slopes, riding snowmobiles or conducting other mountain activities can accidentally set off a landslide. Small slides are usually harmless, but extreme avalanches cause structural damage, power outages, injury and death. Large-scale avalanches are notorious for destroying entire towns and forests. Scientists know an avalanche is likely to occur when there is more than a foot of fresh snowfall.

A landslide is a mass of moving earth, mud and debris that slides down a slope. Like an avalanche, a landslide results in structural damage as well as death and injuries. Gravity, rain and runoff naturally cause landslides. The mud formed by melting snow or rain becomes a river, also known as a “slurry.”

Landslides travel for many miles beyond their point of origin, picking up vehicles, boulders and other heavy objects in their path. Bigger landslides are caused by hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and other major storms. Both landslides and avalanches occur with little to no warning, though officials can predict them based on other circumstantial evidence.

Pack Avalanche or Landslide Emergency Kits

A landslide or avalanche can trap you in your home for multiple days on end. To ensure your family’s safety, prepare an emergency kit with all the essentials to sustain you. After assembling the kits, check them annually to ensure everything functions.

Prepare for either natural disaster with at least one gallon of water per person per day for a minimum of three days. Use plastic containers and extra bottles you have around the house to store as much clean water as possible.

Collect at least three days’ worth of non-perishable food items. Viable options include dried fruits, nuts, crackers and chips. Stock up on canned foods like tuna, soup, chili and beans.

In addition, you can buy meals ready to eat (MRE) and freeze-dried food, which are calorically dense and require no preparation. You may be stuck inside for a few days, so keep a variety of foods in your kit. Spice mixes can shake up your meals if you grow tired of repetitive flavors.

Universal emergency kit supplies include flashlights and headlamps, hand-crank or battery-operated radios and extra batteries. A solar-powered cell phone charger and power bank keeps you connected if the power goes out.

Moreover, you should have a lighter or matches, a whistle, multitool, first-aid kit and walkie talkies. Cookware, utensils, cleaning supplies, hygiene products, extra blankets and tools are essentials as well. Gather all of your medications and special documents and store them in a water-proof container. Lastly, keep a map of your area and a compass handy.

Reinforce Your Home for an Avalanche or Landslide

To avoid the devastating effects of a landslide or avalanche, refrain from building a home in a disaster-prone area. Avoid the bottoms of steep slopes and erosion valleys. Before choosing to build or buy, have a professional assess the property.

To prepare your home, affix gas and water connections with flexible pipe fittings, which are less likely to break. If you have time, cover the windows with shutters to keep snow or mud from overtaking the interior of the home. If you do not own your home, ask your landlord what steps have been taken to protect the property against landslides or avalanches.

Related Article: How to Prepare for a Disaster as a Renter

Defend your home from debris by building a sturdy concrete retaining wall along the perimeter of the home. This serves to stop or slow the onslaught of snow, sluff and debris associated with landslides and avalanches. If your home is on top of a hill, build the retaining wall closer to the base of the hill. In addition, build channels that direct the flow of mud away from your property. Another option is to build a set of deflection walls, which redirect the flow of mud, snow and debris. However, note that deflection walls may cause the flow to damage your neighbor’s property.

Preparing for an Avalanche or Landslide

If you live in an area that is susceptible to landslides or avalanches, you must recognize the signs of an oncoming disaster. Before a disaster strikes, map out all possible exit routes to reach safer locations. Use the map to determine all points from which a landslide may approach your home.

After you have developed a list of evacuation routes, make a step-by-step plan with your family. Assign everyone a task, such as quickly gathering food materials, collecting supplies or turning off the main controls to gas, water or electricity. Once you have assigned everyone a role, hold a mock emergency drill and set a time limit to complete preparations. If you did not meet your goal time, run the drill again with a few modifications.

Every day, you should listen to newscasts for updates regarding avalanches or approaching landslides. In some cases, landslides can be triggered by nearby earthquakes. Be on the lookout for signs of an impending landslide or avalanche. Common warning signs include:

  • Changes in the landscape, such as trees beginning to lean.
  • Changes in water flow.
  • Outside walkways or stairs pulling away from the structure.
  • Cracks developing in the earth or on roadways.
  • The sounds of trees cracking or boulders hitting each other.
  • Pavement, mud, rocks and debris rolling downhill.

If your home has a second-story room without windows, gather all your emergency supplies in there. Keep water purification tablets and a fire extinguisher on hand.

Moreover, keep your warm clothes nearby and make sure everyone has a whistle. If a large-scale avalanche or landslide is slated to hit your home, hunker down in the second-story room and interlock arms while in the fetal position.

In the event that you are outside during a landslide or avalanche, move away from the path in which it travels. If the landslide or avalanche catches up with you, get on your knees and protect your head.

Alternatively, if you are inside your home during a landslide or avalanche, do not go to sleep. Move to the highest floor of your home and call the authorities.

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