The latest blockbuster movie is San Andreas, a movie about a massive earthquake in California (the “Big One”). Computer-generated devastation is pretty impressive, but you can bet it’s not as impressive as seeing it happen to your own neighborhood.
Although you get warnings for hurricanes, tornadoes, and even floods, you won’t get much warning of an impending earthquake. How, then, can you protect yourself and your loved ones if you’re near the epicenter of one? Planning ahead will give you the best chance of keeping you family intact, even if everything else falls apart.
Important Things To Know
A good start is checking out some of the information available at www.fema.gov, which lists advice on how to prepare for various natural disasters. Absorb the information and pass it along. Make sure each member of your family knows what to do no matter where they are when an earthquake occurs. It’s important to realize that, unless an earthquake occurs in the dead of night, it’s unlikely you will all be together.
Always have some supplies in the house. A good earthquake kit should include:
• Water (count on a gallon per person minimum)
• A heat source to cook with and, perhaps, a way to sterilize water (filters, bleach, iodine, and even sunlight can help)
• Medical supplies (specifically, supplies that help treat traumatic injuries) and First Aid book
• Fire extinguishers
• A portable radio
• Extra batteries
• Blankets, clothes, and shoes
• Money (have some cash, don’t count on credit or debit cards if the power’s down)
• An adjustable wrench to turn off gas or water if necessary
Besides an earthquake kit for your home, you might consider a “get-home” bag for your car; some energy bars, fluids, and a pair of sturdy walking shoes would be useful.
Be acquainted with where your home’s gas, electric and water main shutoffs are. Make sure that family members have an idea of how to turn them off if there is a leak or electrical short.
Know where the nearest medical facility is, but also make sure you’ve taken a Red Cross First Responder Course; Quick action may be needed, and EMTs will likely have their hands full with emergencies.
Know your kid’s school system’s plan of action if an earthquake happens; they could easily be at class while you’re at work.
What To do When The Big One hits
Considering how little warning you’re likely to have, it’s important to think about what you can do to minimize damage and injuries. Some simple planning can make a big difference.
Look around your house for fixtures like chandeliers and bookcases that might not be stable enough to withstand an earthquake. Make sure that heavy items are on the bottom shelves or on the floor. Flat screen TVs, especially big ones, could easily topple if not anchored. Secure weed killers, pesticides, and other flammable items in closed containers. it’s probably not a great idea to hang that big mirror over the headboard of your bed, either!
What To Do When The Big One Hits: Drop, Cover, Hold On
While the building is shaking, don’t try to run out; you could easily fall down stairs or get hit by falling debris. Avoid elevators. Don’t be surprised if the electricity goes out; sprinkler systems and fire alarms might activate, as well.
You’ve probably heard that standing in a doorway is safest because of the frame’s sturdiness. It turns out that, in modern homes, many doorways aren’t more solid than any other part of the structure.
Once the initial tremors are over, get outside. Once there, stay as far away from power lines, chimneys, and anything else that could fall over on top of you.
What if you’re in the car when the earthquake hits? Get out of traffic as quickly as possible, other drivers are likely to be less level-headed than you are. Don’t stop under bridges, trees, overpasses, power lines, or light posts, and don’t leave your vehicle while the tremors are active.
After It’s Over
One issue to be concerned about is gas leaks; make sure you don’t use your camp stoves, lighters, or even matches until you’re certain all is clear. Even a match could ignite a spark that could lead to an explosion. If you turned the gas off, you might consider letting the utility company turn it back on.
Don’t count on telephone service after a natural disaster. Telephone companies only have enough lines to deal with 20% of total call volume at any one time. It’s likely all lines will be occupied. Interestingly, you’ll have a better to chance to communicate with texts due to the wavelength used.
Let’s discuss what to do if the absolute worse happens: You find yourself trapped under debris.
In this circumstance, you’ll probably be inhaling a great deal of dust, so cover your face with an article of clothing or anything else that will serve as a barrier. Don’t light matches, as gas leaks could cause an explosion. Use anything you can to tap on something solid to let people know you’re there. If you live in an earthquake zone, it’s a wise move to attach a whistle to your keychain. These are better options than shouting, which can exhaust you pretty quickly.
After an earthquake or any natural disaster, those who are prepared will end up miles ahead of everyone else in terms of keeping their loved one out of harm’s way. Put a plan together, get your family on the same page, and your supplies stored up. If you do this, an earthquake will be just a bump on the road, not the end of the road.
Joe Alton, MD
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