Preparing for Land Slides and Debris Flow

Landslides can happen virtually anywhere - with a myriad of causes. Landslides can happen during earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and even storms. Landslides are when rock, debris, and earth move quickly and is essentially an avalanche - without the snow.

Experience: Arizona Debris Flow

Years ago we were traveling to Yuma Arizona to visit family. We were caught in a strong thunderstorm that produced flood waters. Before long, we were stopped on the highway at a drainage crossing that had interupted traffic.

Eventually, we were able to resume our travels as the water flow subsided. As we made our way to Yuma we saw vehicles that weren't so lucky. We saw a few buried in mud up to the roof of the car. The mud and debris had flowed with the water and washed away the cars. As the water receeded, the dirt was left behind and it was set much like concrete.

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History Lesson

In 1928, the St. Francis Dam, near Los Angeles, burst and caused the worst landslide in U.S history, which killed roughly 500 people. It was a dark day in US history, and thankfully we’ve come a long way as far as landslide safety goes.

Preparing for Land Slides and Debris Flow

Since landslides can come hand in hand with many other disasters, it’s important to be ready to spring into action at any time. Try to avoid stressing yourself while preparing -- remember that all you can do is your very best.

Take the time to assess your area’s risk, and plan accordingly. Make sure to share your evacuation and general emergency plan with your family before a landslide happens. Try to answer any questions your children may have about landslides and staying safe without frightening them any further.

It’s recommended that you begin your prep by assembling an emergency kit filled with our recommendations, and keep it with your other emergency supplies. Keep your emergency supplies somewhere accessible.

You should also learn how to recognize warning signs that signal when a landslide is about to happen.

Landslide warning signs

There are quite a few different signs that warn of landslides - and knowing all of them can potentially save your life.

Keep your eyes and ears open, and stay alert to watch for the following signs.

  • Listen for rushing water, sudden mud, and other unusual sounds -- especially during heavy rainfall and storms
  • Distant rumbling that increases in volume may be due to an incoming landslide
  • Moving utility poles, boulders, trees, fences, k-rails, and the like may also be a very telling sign that a landslide is happening
  • You are also at risk if you live in a burn area -- sign up for an emergency alert system and keep yourself up to date

Meanwhile, there are equally-important signs that can be found in your own home and on your property. Look out for the following signs.

  • New cracks that may appear in tile, brick, plaster, and foundations
  • Changes in your landscape that include land movement, progressively leaning trees, small slides, flows, and changes in storm-water drainage patterns on slopes
  • Fences, trees, and retaining walls may move
  • Doors or windows that begin to jam or stick suddenly
  • Outside walls, stairs, and walks that begin to pull away from your home
  • Slowly developing cracks that suddenly appear in the street, your driveway, or the ground
  • Water beginning to break through the ground in new places

If you notice anything that seems off, or you feel uneasy, listen to and trust your gut. Tune in to your local news channel or emergency broadcast system to check for warnings and evacuation orders.

Landslide Preparedness Plan – Activity List

Now that you know the warning signs, it’s time to figure out a plan for when a landslide hits.

We encourage you to speak to your family about how to stay safe, and what to do during a disaster -- this includes sharing your preparedness plan.

  • Listen to emergency broadcast systems and pay attention to updates during emergencies
  • Stay awake and aware during storms that could potentially cause landslides
  • Avoid areas that will put you at greater risk, such as river valleys and low-lying areas
  • Keep an eye on water flow if you live by a channel or stream -- increased or suddenly murky water
  • ow could be signs that a landslide is imminent.
  • Take out an insurance policy on your house and belongings
  • Consider investing in tracking collars for your pets
  • Have an emergency evacuation route in mind just in case evacuation is needed
  • Keep an emergency bag full of the right supplies where it can be accessed easily

If you need to evacuate, do not waste time grabbing things you won’t need -- keep go-bags ready, and never leave a pet behind.

You can even apply your skills to the immediate aftermath of the landslide. Remember to always keep your wits about you when returning from evacuation or venturing out for the first time.

  • Stay alert, and look out for additional landslides, and avoid the main slide area
  • Watch for flooding, as they can occasionally follow landslides
  • Do not let your pets or children wander unattended until authorities have deemed the area safe
  • Listen to a radio or other broadcast for updates
  • Search for trapped or injured people that may have been caught in the slide, and direct rescuers to their exact location
  • Report damaged railways and roadways as well as broken utility lines to professionals
  • Have trained professionals check your home’s chimney, foundation, and land for damage

You can use supplies in your emergency kit to aid you in the aftermath. That’s why it’s so important to pack the right supplies before disaster strikes.

Emergency Gear to Prepare for Land Slides and Debris Flow

The gear you'll need to survive. The gear you'll need for evacuation is exactly the same as what you might need when you're staying home to weather out the storm.

  1. 72-hour kit or go Bag - your individual kit should have clothing, gear and supplies for 3-10 days minium
  2. Food Storage - Take a long food from your long term food storage

An empty go-bag will do absolutely nothing for you -- it’s crucial to stock up on everything and anything you might need. Start with your family’s most crucial needs first, and work your way down the list.

Remember that hoarding is not advisable, nor is it helpful. Overstocking on some supplies may leave your home overcrowded, and take away from others who don’t have much money or time to prepare. Take only what you need.

  • Non-perishable food items
  • A can opener
  • Enough water for each member of your household -- including pets
  • Reusable water bottles
  • Flashlights
  • A battery-powered radio
  • A fully-charged power bank for mobile phones
  • Phone chargers
  • Batteries
  • Infant care supplies
  • Pads and tampons
  • Any medications you or your family may take
  • Pet care supplies
  • Cash
  • Comfort items for you and your children
  • First-aid kit
  • Whistle
  • Flash drive with photocopies of important documents, such as birth certificates and insurance papers
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