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What To Do In An Earthquake – Part I

Hurricane Sandy destructionA magnitude 7.8 earthquake occurred in Nepal on April 25, 2015.  Although the final death toll is not yet known, the current count stands at over 3,200.  Another 6,500 people have been injured.  As a result of the quake, an avalanche occurred on Mount Everest, causing additional deaths and injuries.

What would you do if you were in an earthquake?  Your survival depends on the choices you make.

Your survival plan should start months before an earthquake ever takes place.  You should prepare now for a disaster by taking care of three items:  your bug-out bag, your evacuation plan and your long-term survival plan.

Your bug-out bag should include food, water, clothes and necessities for three days.  Everyone in your family should have one.  In fact, it wouldn’t hurt for everyone in your family to have three — one for home, one for work or school and one for the car.

Your evacuation plan should include a designated spot for your family to meet up in the event of any disaster.  It should also include a couple of alternative routes to a couple of alternative destinations.  You want the alternatives so that you can maneuvre around the disaster that you are evacuating from.

Lastly, your long-term survival plan should permit your family to survive without additional supplies on a long-term basis.  It should also include an audit of your living arrangements to assess and eliminate safety risks.  In anticipation of an earthquake, be sure that heavy objects are stored on the floor or on low shelves.  Secure large objects to the wall or floor.  For example, strap your hot water heater to the wall.

These three plans need to be in place in advance of any disaster, because you won’t have time to start them once the danger is imminent.

In the event of an earthquake, first get down on your hands and knees.  If you are already on your hands and feet, you can’t fall down when the earth shakes.

If you are indoors, try to shelter yourself under a desk or table.  If you can’t fit your whole body under the table, at least get your head and neck under it.  Hold onto your shelter.  If the earthquake moves the shelter around, go with it.  This technique is known as “drop, cover and hold on.”

If you are indoors but there is no desk or table to use a shelter, lie on the floor against an interior wall, as far away from windows, breakable items and heavy objects as you can get.  Cover your head and neck with your arms and hands.  Better yet, if you can grab a pillow, some sort of large tray or any other unbreakable object that will cover your head and neck, use that.

You may have heard that you should seek shelter from an earthquake in a doorway.  This if not a good idea at all.  For one thing, doorways are not any safer than regular construction in the event of an earthquake.  Secondly, doorways pose their own risks.  You may be hit by a swinging door or even by a door that is torn off its hinges by the earthquake.  And if you are in a public place, you  could be trampled by people trying to get through the door.

If you are in a wheelchair or are unable to get down on the floor for some other reason, move away from windows, exterior walls and heavy or breakable objects if at all possible.  Bend over and cover your neck and head.  If you can grab something to use, use it; otherwise simply use your arms and hands.

If you are in bed, stay there and cover your head and neck with your pillow. Don’t risk getting cut by broken objects or hit by flying objects by leaving the bed.

If you are outdoors when the earthquake hits, drop to your hands and feet.  Move as far away as possible from buildings, power lines, and other objects.  Again, the reasoning is that you don’t want objects to fall on you.  And again, cover your neck and head, using your arms and hands if you can’t find anything else.

Finally, if you are in a car when the earth starts to shake, pull over to the side of the road.  Avoid stopping on or under a bridge or overpass and move away from overhead power lines, road signs, billboards and other objects that may fly onto your car or into your windshield.  Do not leave the car.  Cover your neck and head with your arms and hands or with something else that may be in the car.

Now, it may be that I’ve left out a possible alternative location from the scenarios that I’ve outlined above.  Here are the basic principles for how to ride out an earthquake, now matter where you find yourself.  Get down on all floors or lie down.  Stay as far away as you can from breakable objects, especially windows, or from items that can fall down or fly around.  Cover your head and neck, preferably with a sturdy object.  If no object can be found, use your arms and hands.

One thing that you don’t want to do is leave a building to run out into the street.  Windows and architectural details that are attached to building facades can become detached and fall.  As a result, moving from a building into the street puts you at highest danger.

For more, see What to Do In An Earthquake – Part II, where I discuss what to do immediately after an earthquake occurs.

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