Earthquake Preparedness

‘The Big One’ is coming and half the west coast is going to end up in the Pacific. We hear that on the news every time an earthquake happens anywhere. Since there seem to be more and more quakes, what can you do to stay safe when the earth shakes?

Earthquakes have always been part of my life, including earthquake drills in school. And air-raid drills. We were a paranoid bunch during the cold war. We spent a lot of time under desks.

One of my first memories was waking up in the morning during a quake. It was early in the morning on a weekday, so I was still in bed while my mom was putting on her makeup for work. I remember watching her hang onto the door frame for dear life as the floor rolled and tipped and bottles and bandaids rained out of the medicine cabinet behind her.

Under a Table, Not a Doorway

The common wisdom used to be to stand in a doorway, but now the experts say don’t. They say doorways aren’t any stronger than the rest of the structure, so getting under a table for protection is a better plan.  Find a cave and get in the fetal position, otherwise known as ‘Stop, Drop, and Cover’.

Drop, Cover, and Hold On in case of earthquake

Watching this 15 minute eyewitness video mix will give you an idea of what a real quake is like. This was filmed during the monster quake in Northern Japan. That’s the one that resulted in the Fukushima nuclear disaster. This isn’t for freakout value, but to help you prepare your home and know what to do and not do during a quake.

Notice in particular how dangerous it is to have heavy things on shelves. I can’t help but think of how many of us have display shelves with dishes on them, and cringe. Secure fragile chandeliers, attach bookshelves to the wall, and attach mirrors and wall art securely.

When we lived in Alaska, strong earthquakes were pretty common. It didn’t faze the locals. People out for breakfast would just pause, watch the restaurant lamps swing, and listen to dishes rattle for a minute before continuing to nosh their bacon. No coffee was spilled. Things were earthquake-proof because earthquakes happened a lot. The chandeliers weren’t fragile and didn’t break. No heavy potted plants above diners, and pictures were securely fastened, top and bottom.

The diners didn’t jump up and run outside, and neither should you.

Why You Don’t Run Outside

Live power lines can pop and fall on or near you. Gas lines break. Brick facades, attached chimneys and signage can fall off buildings and crush people. Windows break and glass rains down on the street. Look up and around as you go about your daily routine. Watch for these hazards and think through what you would do and where you would go, just in case.

Safe Driving

If you’re driving stop as quickly and safely as possible. Stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires. Once it’s over be cautious and avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that the earthquake may have damaged.

Here’s why:

Cypress freeway overpass collapsed from 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake

Most of the infrastructure and freeway systems in use right now are old, so be careful. I usually don’t notice earthquakes while driving, even up to a 5 or more unless sitting at a light. Even then I usually look around for big trucks or a blasting stereo. Then you notice the street lights bobbing around when there’s no wind … Oh. Ok.

Personal Safety Tips

If you need to move, try to stay low. Crawl on your hands and knees if necessary. You’ll not only make a smaller target, but you’ll also be less likely to fall.

Don’t get in the elevator, take the stairs.

Don’t light matches or turn on the lights afterward, as the spark may ignite gas from broken gas lines.

If you’re handicapped or hurt and on an upper floor, hang a towel out the window to let someone know you’re up there and need help.

If you do get trapped, try not to kick up dust. Tap on a pipe, blow a whistle to get people’s attention, and just try to stay calm. Try to text or call someone telling them where you are. If 911 or a local number won’t work, call someone out of state. For some reason that sometimes works.

Pretty much there’s some sort of risk wherever you are. Make it your business to know yours.

If you live in a coastal area, be aware of the risk of tsunami, and head for high ground right away if the sirens go off. If you are in a coastal area and you are not familiar with the way the ocean works, be aware that if the tide suddenly starts ebbing way out, get out of there NOW. The 2004 quake and tsunami in Indonesia killed well over a quarter of a million people, many of whom died from ignorance. When the water ebbed they went out to explore, and were washed away when the tsunami hit.

If you live downstream from large hydroelectric dams, be aware of the risk they pose also.

Finding an affordable place to live can be really tough, but look at the structure of the building as well as it’s surroundings. People die in earthquakes because the buildings they are in collapse. They simply shake apart because they aren’t properly anchored to their foundations. If you’re looking to buy a home or build one, this is an interesting article on the subject.

Finally, The Red Cross website has plenty more practical tips.

Have you ever been in a quake? What do you worry about, or want other people to know? I’d love to hear it.


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