Unfortunately, California residents do not dedicate enough time to earthquake safety and preparedness even though the most famous fault in the world, the San Andreas Fault, is located in our state. This fault is ten miles deep and extends roughly 800 miles from the Salton Sea in Imperial County (southern California) to Cape Mendocino in Humboldt County (northern California). Although many largely populated cities such as San Francisco, Santa Cruz, San Bernardino, and Palm Springs are located along or dangerously close to the San Andreas Fault, not enough Californians take the time to familiarize themselves with the preparations and actions that need to be taken before, during, and after an earthquake.
Earthquakes strike suddenly, without warning, and they can occur at any time of the year (day or night) even if you are not on a recognized fault line. In fact, earthquakes occur daily in California, although the majority of them register less than 3 on the Richter Scale—a scale used to describe the amount of energy an earthquake releases—and aren’t even felt by humans. Typically, earthquakes that register between 3 and 5 are somewhat noticeable, whereas earthquakes that register at 5 or above are definitely felt by everyone. While earthquakes of greater severity are less likely to occur than weaker tremors, it is still important to note that a major earthquake can and will happen at anytime. California residents need to be earthquake-ready because it can be the difference between life and death.
Preparing Your Home
Look for several safe places throughout your home, preferably more than one safe place per room, especially if you live with other people. A safe place could be under a piece of furniture or against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases, or tall furniture that could fall on you. Practice “drop, cover and hold on” in each safe place. You never know which room you’ll be in when an earthquake strikes, so it’s important that you know the fastest and safest way to get to your safe place. If you do not have sturdy furniture to hold on to, sit on the floor next to an interior wall and cover your head and neck with your arms.
Because earthquakes can occur at any time of the day or night and can cause blackouts, it’s crucial that you keep a flashlight and sturdy, comfortable shoes by each person’s bed. If an earthquake strikes in the middle of the night and objects fall and break, you may not see shards of glass or other sharp objects strewn across the floor. Having a flashlight handy helps you see where you’re going and wearing sturdy, comfortable shoes helps prevent injury. Select shoes that are not easily penetrated and, if possible, that are slip-resistant. They should also be comfortable enough to walk in, in case you have to evacuate your home or do not have access to transportation after the earthquake.
It is important to note that fatalities that occur during an earthquake are caused by falling objects and poorly secured buildings—not the shaking itself. Thus, part of preparing for earthquakes involves preventing deaths and preventing damage to your home and valuables. Your home should be securely anchored to its foundation to withstand the force of an earthquake. The following measures should be taken to maintain a safe home:
- Bolt and brace water heaters and gas appliances to wall studs
- Hang heavy items, such as picture frames and mirrors, away from beds, couches, or anywhere people sleep or sit
- Brace overhead light fixtures and bolt bookcases, china cabinets, and other tall furniture to wall studs
- Install strong latches or bolts on cabinets. Large or heavy items should be closest to the floor
- Learn how to shut off gas valves in your home and keep the necessary tools handy for this purpose
- Prepare and maintain an emergency supplies kit in a location that is easy to access
Electricity, water, gas and telephones may not be working after an earthquake, especially a major one. Additionally, the police and fire departments are likely to be tied up, so you should be prepared to fend for yourself for at least three days, preferably for a week. The following items should be included in your emergency supplies kit:
- Food (non-perishable items for adults, children, infants, and pets living in your home)
- Water (a gallon a day per person)
- First aid kit
- Fire extinguisher suitable for all types of fires
- Portable radio
- Extra batteries
- Money (plenty of cash because ATMs may not work after an earthquake)
- Tools to turn off gas or water, if necessary
- Alternate cooking source (barbecue or camp stove)
You don’t want to wait until an earthquake strikes to determine where you and your family will meet after it’s over. Decide beforehand how and where your family will reunite if separated during an earthquake and conduct in-home practice drills. Consider choosing an out-of-the-area friend or relative that family members can call to check on you.
Preparing Your Vehicle
You never know where you will be when an earthquake strikes and if you drive regularly, chances are you may be in your vehicle during the next one. It is not uncommon for freeways to get damaged or bridges to collapse during major earthquakes. Depending on the severity of such damage, you may be forced to abandon your vehicle. Make every effort to keep your vehicle equipped with the items listed below so that you are prepared for different earthquake scenarios:
- Fully equipped first aid kit
- Backpack (so that items can be easily carried if you are forced to abandon your car)
- First aid manual (comprehensive)
- Bottled water (stainless steel preferred)
- Nonperishable foods
- Blanket or sleeping bag
- Flashlight with extra batteries and bulb
- Fire extinguisher (CO2)
- Pocket radio with extra batteries
- Tissues and pre-moistened towels
- Whistle (to attract attention if needed)
- Tools (screwdriver, pliers, wire, pocket knife, can opener and duct tape)
- Extra clothes and comfortable walking shoes
- Short rubber hose for siphoning
- Sealable plastic bags
- Local maps
- Waterproof matches
- Keep your vehicle’s gas tank at least half full at all times and do not carry spare gas in the trunk of your vehicle
Another important piece of information to keep in mind is the fact that poorly built parking structures may collapse during a major earthquake. If your car is stuck underneath the rubble of a parking structure, it could take months before you’re able to retrieve it. Even worse, you may be inside the structure while it’s collapsing. If you are unsure of the structural integrity of a parking structure, consider parking your vehicle outside or on the roof of the structure, if possible.Make every effort to keep your vehicle equipped with the items listed above so that you are prepared for different earthquake scenarios. If you’re driving on the freeway during an earthquake and part of the freeway is damaged, you’re not going to be able to get off the freeway for a long time. Depending on the severity of the damage, you may even be forced to abandon your vehicle.
During an Earthquake
If you’re indoors, stay there. Get under—and hold onto—a desk or table, or stand against an interior wall. Stay clear of exterior walls, glass, heavy furniture, fireplaces and appliances. The kitchen is a particularly dangerous spot. If you’re in an office building, stay away from windows and outside walls and do not use the elevator. If you’re in a crowded public place, avoid panicking and do not rush for the exit. Stay low and cover your head and neck with your hands and arms.
Many people think that standing in a doorway during an earthquake is a good idea. This is false! You are more likely to be hurt by the door swinging back and forth in a doorway and, if in in a public place, you will probably be trampled by people trying to rush outside.
If you’re outside, get into the open. Stay clear of buildings, power lines or anything else that could fall on you. If you’re in a mountainous area, beware of the potential for landslides. Likewise, if you’re near the ocean, be aware that tsunamis are associated with large earthquakes. Get to high ground.
Driving During an Earthquake
Driving while an earthquake strikes has been compared to driving with four flat tires. With this in mind, it is important that you remain calm and focused so that you can keep yourself safe.
If an earthquake occurs while you are driving:
- Gradually decrease speed;
- Pull to the side of the road when safe to do so;
- If driving on the freeway, and if it’s safe to do so, exit at the first opportunity;
- If you’re driving along a coastal road in an area known as a potential tsunami zone, drive to higher ground as quickly as possible;
- Do not stop on or under overpasses or bridges;
- Avoid parking near trees, downed power lines and buildings;
- Do not resume driving until it’s safe to do so;
- Stop the car, turn off the engine, put your handbrake on, and keep your seat belt fastened;
- Remain in your car until the shaking stops;
- Keep in mind that aftershocks follow the initial earthquake;
- Turn on your car radio and listen for advisories (most radio stations are prepared to broadcast emergency information);
- Cooperate with public safety officers because they are trying to ensure your safety and that of others
If a power line falls on your car, stay inside. A trained professional will need to remove the pole to minimize the chance that you might be electrocuted. Similarly, do not attempt to touch or get into a vehicle that has fallen power lines on it.
When power lines go down, mobile phone/cell phone transmitters only have several hours of power left to run the transmitters on. This power is quickly drained when everyone gets on the phones to check on their loved ones. Keep calls short to check whereabouts of family and friends and to make rendezvous arrangements.
After an Earthquake
Expect and prepare for potential aftershocks, landslides or even a tsunami, which is often generated by earthquakes. Each time you feel an aftershock, drop, cover and hold on. Aftershocks frequently occur minutes, days, weeks and even months following an earthquake.
The following are lists of precautions to take in and around your home:
- Check yourself for injuries and get first aid, if necessary, before helping injured or trapped persons.
- Put on long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes and work gloves to protect against injury from broken objects.
- Look quickly for damage in and around your home and get everyone out if your home is unsafe.
- Listen to a portable, battery-operated or hand-crank radio for updated emergency information and instructions.
- Check the telephones in your home or workplace to see if you can get a dial tone. Make brief calls to report life-threatening emergencies.
- Look for and extinguish small fires. Fire is the most common hazard after an earthquake.
- Clean up spilled medications, bleach, gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately.
- Open closet and cabinet doors carefully as contents may have shifted.
- Help people who require special assistance, such as infants, children and the elderly or disabled.
- Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines and stay out of damaged areas.
- Keep animals under your direct control.
- Stay out of damaged buildings.
- If you were away from home, return only when authorities say it is safe to do so. Use extreme caution and examine walls, floors, doors, staircases and windows to check for damage.
In Your Vehicle
Get out of your vehicle once the shaking has stopped:
- Check to see that the passengers are all right. Expect some shock or panic and do your best to reassure such persons.
- Attend to any injuries using first aid.
- The fire department and other emergency services will be dealing with their own issues. You, and those around you, need to work together. DO NOT phone 911 and needlessly overload circuits.
Proceed home or to a safety shelter (if possible) and drive very cautiously. Provided it is safe, rendezvous wherever it is safest and most convenient to do so. Remember that it may be safer tostay where you are, especially if there is chaos on the roads. Use your phone to call people and let them know you’re alright. However, remember cell phone towers may be damaged. Listen to the local radio station for warnings and updates as you drive or walk.
- Do not drive through flood waters.
- Do not drive over large cracks in the road. You risk becoming stuck.
- Do not drive under bridges that have cracks and other visible structural damage. Even without visible damage, be wary of all overhanging objects, bridges, signs, walls, and overpasses.
- Be wary of the potential for landslides onto the road.
- If you’re driving along a coastal road in an area known as a potential tsunami zone, drive to higher ground as quickly as possible.
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