The earthquake in Haiti gives rise to questions about emergency preparedness in general for those traveling to third world countries. Although there is little tourism in Haiti, there is a great deal in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola. The Caribbean in general is an active seismic area, and travelers to Caribbean islands put themselves at risk from earthquake, tsunami, flooding and severe tropical storms.
The results of the earthquake in Haiti are predictable. There is no communication and the transportation infrastructure is compromised. No one can get calls in or out of Haiti, and even calls to the Dominican Republic are exceedingly slow. Both cell and landline phone services are either out of service or severely compromised. I expect it will soon become hard to find potable water in Port Au Prince. The environment is dusty, hot and humid, with little safe shelter due to the risk of aftershocks and fire.
What should travelers do to prepare for these risks? The first step is to contemplate them: how many people go on a trip with no thought to the safety and security issues that they commonly consider at home? There is a broad range of issues one should consider prior to travel, including medical care, road safety and crime, to name a few. Specific to natural disaster, we advise clients to prepare for a few contingencies:
Loss of communication: people traveling in the third world should travel with satellite phones. They are the only reliable form of communication following a real emergency. Even cities will have overloaded cell and local circuits, but satellite telephone is a means of keeping in touch on the go.
Clean water: water safety in urban areas is a rare but hugely dangerous issue. When supplies of bottled water either dry up or lose their integrity, travelers risk diseases such as widespread dysentery, particularly cholera. It is therefore useful to pack a water treatment kit to insure that you can convert water from whatever source into drinking water and avoid dangerous dehydration. Use a filter rather than IR purification to minimize risks from inorganic substances that may be in the water.
Lighting: in my earlier career as a Secret Service agent, I found no tool as useful as a good flashlight. Its uses are limitless, but include signaling, evacuation and crime prevention. Travelers should get a good LED flashlight with a clip and carry it on their person or in their handbag.
Air safety: N95 masks protect against a wide variety of problems, but in this case can permit the user to breathe more easily in the midst of dust and other contaminants soiling the air. A smoke mask is also a good idea, and both masks can fit easily into a small luggage compartment or pocket.
This equipment takes up little space and may never be used, but when needed these items can prove essential.