The recent earthquake in California wasn’t THE big one, but it was a big one. With damage to infrastructure, buildings, and homes, it underscores just how vulnerable we are to major tremors. The question is: How can you protect yourself and your family if you’re near the epicenter of the event?
Say what you will about FEMA, at least they have a “Are you prepared?” section to their website (www.fema.gov) to give you guidance on various natural disasters. Here are some of FEMA’s recommendations for those worried about seismic disturbances…
This is not a hurricane, so you probably won’t get much notice, if any at all. Make sure each member of your family knows what to do no matter where they are when an earthquake occurs. Unless it happens in the dead of night, it’s unlikely you will all be in the house together. Planning ahead will give you the best chance of keeping you family together and make the best of a bad situation. In your home, you’ll need the following:
• Water (count on a gallon/per/person as a minimum)
• A heat source to cook with and, perhaps, sterilize water (filters, bleach, iodine, and even sunlight can also help with this)
• Medical supplies (specifically, supplies that help treat traumatic injuries)
• Fire extinguishers
• A portable radio
• Extra batteries
• Blankets, clothes, and shoes
• Money (have some cash, don’t count on credit or debit cards being good if the power’s down)
• An adjustable wrench to turn off gas or water if necessary
Figure out where you’ll meet when the tremors start. Find out the school system’s plan for earthquakes so you’ll know where to find your kids. This is the time to really get that get-home bag put together. Some food, liquids, and a pair of sturdy, comfortable shoes are the very minimum.
Especially important to know is where your 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 the Red Cross First Responder Course; EMTs are going to have their hands full and may not get to you quickly.
How to Prepare for an Earthquake
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 Earthquake Hits: Drop, Cover, Hold On
What should you do when the tremors start? If you’re indoors, drop and get under a table, desk, or something else solid and hold on. If that isn’t available, huddle against the inside corner of a room and cover your head with your hands. You should stay clear of windows, shelves, and kitchen areas.
While the building is shaking, don’t try to run out; you could easily fall down stairs or get hit by falling debris. Elevators are a bad idea. Don’t be surprised if the electricity goes out. As well, sprinkler systems and fire alarms might activate.
I always thought you should stand in a doorway 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.
Let’s say 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. Whatever you do, don’t stop under bridges, trees, overpasses, power lines, or light posts. 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, this doesn’t seem to include texts; 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, you’ll keep it together, even if everything else falls apart.
Joe Alton, M.D.
Joe Alton, M.D., aka Dr. Bones
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