Natural Disasters and Environmental Hazards

Hurricanes / Typhoons

  • Travelers should notify family and friends of their whereabouts and keep in close contact with their tour operator, hotel staff, and local officials for evacuation instructions.
  • Know where to go. If you are ordered to evacuate, know the local hurricane evacuation route(s) to take and have a plan for where you can stay.
  • If you are not in an area that is advised to evacuate and you decide to stay in your residence, plan for adequate supplies in case you lose power and water for several days and you are not able to leave due to flooding, landslides, or blocked roads.
  • Keep an emergency supplies kit:
    • Water
    • Non-perishable food
    • Battery-powered radio
    • Flashlight(s) with extra batteries
    • First aid kit
    • Cell phone charger
  • If flooding occurs:
    • Do not cross flood waters as debris or swift moving currents can be under the surface.
    • Do not play in flood waters as they carry contaminants and things that may be harmful to health.
    • Avoid the use of low-level parking garages, subways, and elevators.


Earthquakes are an everyday occurrence below the earth’s surface and occur thousands of times per year. Major earthquakes are less common but are known to cause devastation and causalities.

Preparing for earthquakes involves learning what people should do before, during, and after an earthquake:

  • If you are planning a trip to an area known to have major earthquakes, have an earthquake readiness plan.
  • Locate a place in each room of the house that you can go to in case of an earthquake. It should be a spot where nothing is likely to fall on you.
  • Pay attention to signs at your university or place of work that indicate what to do in the event of an earthquake.
  • Consider keeping a supply of canned food, an up-to-date first aid kit, 3 gallons (11.4 liters) of water per person, dust masks, goggles, and a working battery-operated radio and flashlight.
  • Have emergency supplies in stock.
  • Know how to turn off your gas and water mains (if applicable).

If Shaking Begins

  • Drop down, take cover under a desk or table, and hold on.
  • Stay indoors until the shaking stops and it's safe to exit.
  • Stay away from bookcases or furniture that can fall on you, including mirrors and pictures hanging on walls.
  • Stay away from windows. In a high-rise building, the fire alarms and sprinklers can go off during a quake.
  • If you are in bed, hold on and stay there, protecting your head with a pillow.
  • If you are outdoors, find a clear spot away from buildings, trees, and power lines. Drop to the ground.
  • If you are in a car, slow down and drive to a clear place. Stay in the car until the shaking stops.

After the Earthquake

  • Check for injuries and attend to them if needed. Depending on the extent of your injuries, call local emergency services or On Call International.
  • Check for damage. If your building is badly damaged, you should leave it until it has been inspected by a safety professional. Check with local authorities for a safe shelter.
  • If you smell or hear a gas leak, alert individuals around you and get outside. Report the leak to the fire department/emergency services personnel. Do not use any electrical appliances, because a tiny spark could ignite the gas.
  • If the power is out, unplug major appliances to prevent possible damage when the power is turned back on. If you see sparks, frayed wires, or smell hot insulation, you should evacuate the area and call local authorities immediately. Monitor emails as UT Austin tracks natural disasters and will reach out to those in affected regions. Respond as soon as possible if required. Communicate with those who know you are traveling; communication is key in an emergency situation.

Dust Storms / Sandstorms

While dust storms and sandstorms differ from each other, they both produce hazardous conditions for both transportation and human health.

  • Pay attention to dust storm warnings and alerts.
  • Stay inside. Keep all doors and windows shut.
  • If possible, stay in an air-conditioned room.
  • During a storm, minimize the use of contact lenses – they can lead to dryness and irritation, especially in a dust storm.
  • If possible, do not drive during the dust/sand storm as these storms can cause extremely limited visibility. If driving when the storm starts and visibility is limited, pull over to a safe location.


Flooding may happen with only a few inches of water, or it may cover a house to the rooftop. There are many causes of floods, including heavy rain or a large amount of snow melting, coastal storms and storm surge, waterway overflow from being blocked with debris or ice, or overflow of levees, dams, or waste water systems. Flooding can occur slowly over many days or happen very quickly with little or no warning (called flash floods). (

  • Stay out of floodwaters and do not attempt to cross any flooded roads or pedestrian walkways.
    • “Turn around, don’t drown.” If in a vehicle, do not drive over a flooded road.
    • The water may be deeper than it appears and can hide many hazards (i.e. sharp objects, washed out road surfaces, electrical wires, chemicals, etc.) (National Weather Service)
  • Practice electrical safety. Do not go into any room where water covers the electrical outlets or where cords are submerged. If you see sparks or hear any noises like popping, crackling, or snapping, get out. Stay out of water that may have electricity in it. (National Weather Service)
  • Obey evacuation orders. If given evacuation orders or evacuation seems necessary, turn off utilities and close the gas valve, if you know how and if it is safe to do so.
  • Get to higher ground if possible.
  • Do not drink floodwater or use it to wash dishes, brush teeth, or wash/prepare food. (CDC)
  • Throw out any food or water that may have come in contact with floodwater.

Mudslides / Landslides

Landslides are caused by disturbances in the natural stability of a slope. They can accompany heavy rains, droughts, earthquakes, or volcanic eruptions. Mudslides develop when water rapidly accumulates in the ground and results in a surge of water-saturated rock, earth, and debris. Mudslides usually start on steep slopes and can be activated by natural disasters. Areas where wildfires or human modification of the land have destroyed vegetation on slopes are particularly vulnerable to landslides during and after heavy rains. (CDC)

  • If you suspect imminent danger, evacuate immediately. Inform your neighbors (if you can) and contact local fire and/or police departments.
  • Listen for unusual sounds that might indicate moving debris, such as trees cracking or boulders knocking together. (American Red Cross)
  • Watch for flooding. Floods sometimes follow landslides and debris flows because they may both be started by the same event (typically heavy rainfall).

Smog / Air Pollution

Air pollution is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (umbrella term for several progressive lung diseases, including emphysema), and lung cancer, increases the risks for acute respiratory infections, and exacerbates asthma. (The World Health Organization)

In addition to smog causing health problems, it can cause road accidents because of limited visibility.

Generally, when outdoor air is polluted, indoor air quality is presumed to be better. Hence, during times of poor outdoor air quality, it is advisable to:

  • Reduce or avoid outdoor physical activities altogether. Young children, older adults, and people with underlying health issues, such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma, should be especially vigilant about minimizing exposure.
  • Keep doors and windows closed.
  • Use an air conditioner on ‘recirculate’ if possible.
  • When going outdoors, consider wearing a particulate respirator (N95 mask). Consult your doctor for an individual recommendation, particularly if you have any underlying health conditions.
  • If driving or traveling in a vehicle, make sure the driver uses extreme caution and keeps the low beam headlights on.