How to Survive an Earthquake?

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How to Survive an Earthquake?

What is the Expected Earthquake Damage to your Home and Community?

Your home may have some level of structural damage to foundations, cripple walls, anchorage of walls to the floor or roof, masonry chimney, and around the garage opening or large window openings if soft story conditions are met. On the other hand, damage to non-structural elements and contents is most likely to occur to interior partitions, exterior wall panels, suspended ceilings, electrical and mechanical equipment, ducts, water and gas pipes, water heaters, hanging objects, furniture, home electronics, dishes, etc. In the meantime, electrical, gas, water and sewage, and transportation systems are most likely to be disrupted for several days, weeks, or even months after a strong earthquake. Emergency response agencies and hospitals will likely be over-whelmed and unable to provide immediate assistance. To help your family cope during and after future inevitable earthquakes, you should establish, update, or maintain your own earthquake preparedness plan now.

What is an Earthquake Preparedness Plan?

Earthquake preparedness is to know how to setup various disaster plans before a moderate-to-large earthquake hits your area, and how to react during and after the earthquake. The objective is to protect yourself and your family from destructive earthquakes as well as to minimize the earthquake damage to your home and its contents. Seismic retrofitting and contents mitigation are two major components of earthquake preparedness that will be discussed in separate articles. How to establish an earthquake preparedness plan including the preparation of personal survival kits and a household emergency kit are also discussed in another article. In this article, you will learn how to manage to survive during a destructive earthquake and how to recover few days or weeks after the earthquake in order to help you and your family in returning back to your normal life style.

How to React when the Shaking Starts if you are Indoors?

  • If you are at home; drop, cover, and hold on under a sturdy desk or table. If you are not near one, drop to the floor against an interior wall and protect your head and neck with your arms. Avoid exterior walls, windows, hanging objects, mirrors, tall furniture, large appliances, and cabinets filled with heavy objects. Do not go outside until well after the shaking stops.
  • If you are in bed; hold on and stay there, protecting your head with a pillow. You are less likely to be injured staying where you are. Broken glass on the floor can cause injuries, so be sure to put shoes on before stepping on the floor.
  • If you are in a high rise building; again drop, cover, and hold on avoiding windows and other hazards. Do not use elevators. The sprinkler systems or fire alarms may activate, so do not panic.
  • If you are at work; you should follow your workplace earthquake safety plan. First drop, cover, and hold on then move to the specified meeting location after the shaking stops.
  • If you are in a public building or theater; drop, cover, and hold on if possible. If you are in a theater seat, duck down and protect your head and neck with your arms. Do not try to leave until the shaking is over, then walk out slowly, watching for fallen debris or anything that could fall on you in aftershocks.

How to React when the Shaking Starts if you are Outdoors?

  • Move to a clear area if you can safely do so. Avoid buildings, power lines, trees, and other hazards. Always assume fallen power lines are live.
  • If you are driving; pull over to the road side, then stop and set the parking brake. Avoid overpasses, bridges, power lines, signs, trees, and other things that might collapse or fall on the vehicle. Stay inside the vehicle until the shaking is over. If a power line falls on the vehicle, stay inside until a trained person removes the hazard.
  • If you are near a tall building; get away from this danger zone when shaking starts because windows, facades, and architectural details are often the first parts of a building to collapse. Take refuge in a safe building or an open space.
  • If you are in a stadium; stay in your seat and protect your head and neck with your arms. Do not leave until the shaking is over, then exit slowly avoiding debris and watching for anything that could fall on you in aftershocks.
  • If you are near the shore; evacuate immediately to higher ground if you feel a strong earthquake, hear a tsunami warning, or notice the water suddenly withdrawing from the beach. Tsunamis from local small earthquakes may flood low-lying coasts within minutes, while distant large earthquakes can produce tsunamis that may arrive hours later at beaches, so do not return to the shore until an “all clear message” has been issued.

What should you do After the Shaking Stops?

Check for Injuries

  • Check yourself for serious injuries before helping other family members.
  • Protect your mouth, nose, and eyes from dust using the dust mask.
  • If a person is bleeding, put direct pressure on the wound. Use clean gauze or cloth, if available.
  • If a person is not breathing, administer rescue breathing.
  • If a person has no pulse, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) only if you took the training course.
  • Do not move seriously injured persons, unless they are in immediate danger or further harm.
  • Cover injured persons with blankets or additional clothing to keep them warm.

Check for Hazards

  • Fire: Put out small fires in your home or neighborhood immediately. Call for help but do not wait for the fire department.
  • Gas Leaks: Only turn off the gas if you suspect a leak because of broken pipes or if you detect the odor or sound of leaking natural gas. Use a manual gas shut off wrench to close your main gas valve by turning it counter-clockwise. Do not turn the gas back on by yourself but wait for the gas company.
  • Damaged Electrical Wiring: Shut off power at the main breaker switch if there is any damage to your home wiring. Leave the power off until the damage is repaired.
  • Downed Utility Lines: If you see downed power lines, consider them energized and keep yourself and others well away from them. Never touch downed power lines or any objects in contact with them.
  • Falling Items: Beware of heavy items tumbling off shelves when you open closet and cupboard doors.
  • Spills: Spilled medicines, drugs, or other relatively non-toxic substance can be cleaned up. Potentially harmful materials such as bleach, lye, garden chemicals, paint, and gasoline or other flammable liquids should be isolated or covered with an absorbent material such as dirt or cat litter.
  • Damaged Masonry: Stay away from brick chimneys and walls. They may be weakened and could topple during aftershocks. Do not use a fireplace with a damaged chimney as this could start a fire or trap toxic gases in your home.

What if your Home is Seriously Damaged?

You should file a claim if your home has earthquake insurance coverage and has some sort of structural, non-structural, or contents damage. You should also evacuate if your home is structurally unsafe or threatened by a fire or other secondary disaster. However, shelters may be overcrowded and initially lack basic services, so do not leave home just because utilities are out of service or your home and its contents have suffered moderate damage. If you evacuate, tell a neighbor and your family’s emergency contact where you are going.

Emergency Supplies to take to Shelter:

  • Personal survival kits.
  • Supply of water, emergency food, and snacks.
  • Blanket, pillow, and air mattress or sleeping pad.
  • Change of clothing and a jacket.
  • Towel and washcloth.
  • Diapers, formula, food, and other supplies for infants.
  • Books, games, crayons, and teddy bears or dolls for children.
  • Personal identification and health insurance information.

Items not to Bring to Shelter:

  • Pets except service animals for people with disabilities.
  • Large quantities of unnecessary clothing or other personal items.
  • Valuables that might be lost, stolen, or take up needed space.

What should you do the First Few Days after the Earthquake?

  • If you evacuate, do not reenter your home until you know it is safe.
  • Turn on your portable radio or car radio and listen for information and safety advisories.
  • Place all phones back on their cradles. Call your out-of-area emergency contact, tell him/her your status, and then stay off the phone. Emergency responders need the phone lines for life-saving communications.
  • Check on your neighbors.
  • Check your emergency food and water.
  • If power is off, plan meals so as to use up refrigerated and frozen foods first. If you keep the door closed, food in your freezer may be good for a couple of days.
  • If your water is off, you can drink from water heaters, melted ice cubes, or canned vegetables. However, avoid drinking the water from swimming pools or hot tubs as it can be used to fight fires.
  • Check again for gas leaks at your home before using open flames (e.g. lighters, matches, candles, or grills) or operating any electrical or mechanical device that may create a spark (e.g. light switches, generators, chain saws, or motor vehicles).
  • Check again for chemical spills, faulty electrical wiring, and broken water lines. Water in contact with faulty wiring is a shock hazard.
  • Unplug broken or toppled light fixtures or appliances. These could start fires when electricity is restored.
  • Never use camp stoves, kerosene or gas heaters, gas or charcoal grills, or gas generators indoors as these can release deadly carbon monoxide gas or be a fire hazard in aftershocks.

What should you do Weeks after the Earthquake?

Although aftershocks may continue, you will now work toward getting your life, your home and family, and your routines back in order. Make sure your home is safe to occupy and not in danger of collapse in aftershocks. If you were able to remain in your home or return to it after a few days, you will have a variety of tasks to accomplish while reestablishing routines. Tasks include:

  • If you shut off your main gas valve after the earthquake, arrange for the gas company to turn it back on.
  • If the electricity went off and then came back on, check your appliances or electronic equipment for damage.
  • If water lines broke, look for water damage.
  • Locate or replace documents that have been misplaced, damaged, or destroyed.
  • Contact your insurance agent or company to begin your claims process.
  • Contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to find out about financial assistance.
  • If you cannot live at your home, set up an alternative mailing address with the post office.

Why don’t you Practice for the Next Earthquake?

If you live in California, you should participate in the annual Great California ShakeOut Earthquake Drill. You can register at http://www.shakeout.org/ now for the 2010 earthquake drill on October 21 at 10:21 a.m.! It is a great opportunity to learn how to protect yourself and your family during earthquakes, and to get prepared. More than 6.9 million Californians participated in the second annual earthquake drill in 2009.

Concluding Remark

The 2010 Haiti earthquake is a wake up call for anyone who lives in an active seismic region to know how to setup an earthquake preparedness plan, how to manage to survive during earthquake shaking, and how to recover after the earthquake until returning back to the normal life style. In the United States, these seismic regions include -but not limited to- Alaska and the West Coast especially California; the Midwestern States especially Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee around the New Madrid and the Wabash Valley Seismic Zones; and the Charleston area in South Carolina.

Source by Mostafa EL-Engebawy, Ph.D.

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