For some, an earthquake far from home reinforces the hope that such events “can’t happen here”. Yet, there are more 7.0 quakes waiting to happen. The fault on which Haiti lies had not had a major earthquake in over two hundred years yet, on January 12, 2010 a 7.0 quake hit. With all the extreme poverty in that country, an earthquake was not something anyone thought much about, but it happened. It was devastating. This week the unthinkable happened as a 7.2 once again struck Haiti. At this writing, 1,300 are reported to have lost their lives. No quake in 200 years and now two within 11 years. It is heartbreaking.
Earthquakes are natural disasters that can be planned for, but never predicted with specificity. If you live in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, Utah, Idaho, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Arkansas you can expect a huge earthquake. Other areas of the United States can expect smaller ones, but they cause damage too. Other parts of the world should also be expecting huge quakes.
Earthquake frequency and severity is increasing and will continue to increase if history is an indication of what to expect.
Prepare Your Family
Children will be frightened, but there are few things that will frighten them more than seeing the adults in their family acting panicky and hysterical. Keep a level head, and reassure the younger ones that whatever happens, you will take care of each other.
Educate your family now using the tips below. Hold a family home evening and explain to family members what you have learned about earthquakes (that they can happen anywhere, even where you live), and then explain what you should do during an earthquake. To verify that children have understood the directions you have given, walk through the rooms of your house and let them tell you what they would do if they were in those rooms of your home during an earthquake. Help them to understand the safest places to be in each room when the earthquake strikes.
Once this is accomplished, wait a week or two and hold a drill. Don’t warn your children, just yell “earthquake” and see if they remember what to do. Do they “Drop, Cover and Hold on”? At night do they stay in their beds and cover until you say the shaking has stopped? Do they put on their shoes before getting out of bed? If you practice, children are much more likely to remember what to do when the time comes to act smartly.
You may still believe in your heart that an earthquake can never happen to you. Many people have believed that only to live to regret their complacency. What if you are visiting southern California or Memphis or Seattle when the Big One strikes? What if you are attending General Conference and the Wasatch Front moves? What if you have a connecting flight through Seattle, Anchorage or Athens and the earth moves? Have you ever dreamt of visiting the Holy Land, earthquake country?
Currently there are many places in the world that we know are overdue for a strong earthquake – stronger quakes than we have witnessed. We think of California with San Fransisco and Los Angeles, but quakes of this magnitude are also overdue in Seattle, New Madrid in the central United States, the Middle East including Bethlehem and Jerusalem, Tibet and the Himalayas, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, New England, Vancouver, New Zealand, Australia, Europe, and the Wasatch range in Utah. There are more. Many of us live in these areas and many more will visit. Would you know what to do if the ground began to shake and you were caught in “The Big One”?
Earthquakes can happen when we are traveling. Be prepared.
- Before you leave home, designate an emergency contact and make sure they have the phone numbers of family who will need to be communicated with.
- Be sure your contact has current photos of all who are traveling with you so they can give those to authorities who will be posting photos online and on bulletin boards as people attempt to reconnect.
- Take note of the exits from your hotel. Explore a little to see them for yourself. Note how far the exits are so if the power should go out and you are left in the dark, you will know approximately how far you need to go to find the exit.
- Note the location of fire alarms. It sounds obsessive, but will only take a few seconds, but worth it for your peace of mind.
- Before you go to bed while traveling, fill a water bottle with water and place it on the night stand along with a whistle, your room keys, small flashlight or glow stick, wallet and your cell phone.
- Place a pair of sturdy shoes on the floor next to the bed along with a robe or if you didn’t bring one, your coat. Sounds crazy but if your world begins to shake during the night you will be able to exit your room quickly with a few items to help you survive the next few hours or days.
If you are indoors when shaking starts:
- “DROP, COVER AND HOLD ON.” Get under a strong table or desk. If you are not near a table or desk, drop to the floor against an interior wall and cover your head and neck with your arms. We have heard a lot about the safety triangle during an earthquake. That advice is dangerous. If you have contemplated using this method please go back to what you learned in school and “drop, cover and hold on”.
- Avoid windows, they are the weakest part of a wall. If you are stuck near one, pull something over your head.
- Avoid hanging objects such as light fixtures, mirrors, tall furniture, large appliances and cabinets filled with heavy objects.
- Do not try to run out of the structure during strong shaking – you may fall or, if you make it out, you may be injured by falling glass or parts of buildings. More people are killed during an earthquake trying to escape a building than are killed due to being trapped in it. It is safer to remain inside a building after an earthquake unless there is a fire or gas leak. Glass from high-rise buildings does not always fall straight down; it can catch a wind current and travel great distances.
- If you are in bed, stay there and cover your head with a pillow. If the ceiling begins to fall, or there is a large painting or mirror over the bed, roll off the bed onto the floor. As you do sweep everything on the nightstand onto the floor so it won’t fall on you as the shaking continues.
- Stand in a doorway only if it is an inside door. With this in mind, a doorway without a door is always the best.
- Do not use elevators during or after a quake. An elevator which is working after a quake may be damaged and trap you during an aftershock.
- If you are in a wheelchair, and cannot get onto the floor, lock the wheels, bend over, and cover your head.
- It would not be unusual for the fire alarm to sound – sprinklers often come on, and/or the power may go out during a quake. Do not panic.
- If you are in a theater, stay in your seat and duck to protect your head.
- If you are in a crowd, do not panic. Do not run for the doors. Stay calm. People who panic often stumble and are unable to get up before being trampled.
If you are outdoors when shaking starts:
- Move to a clear area if you can do so safely. Avoid walking or standing under power lines, buildings (especially those over two stories), and trees.
- If driving, pull to the side of the road, stop, and stay in the car. Avoid stopping under overhead hazards such as tall buildings and power lines. Never stop under a bridge.
- When resuming driving go slowly. There will be fissures and cracks in the road and pavement. Avoid driving on ramps and bridges.
- If you are on the beach, immediately after the shaking stops move to higher ground. An earthquake can cause a tsunami. If you should see the ocean water pull away from the shore run as fast as you can. This is a sure sign that a tsunami is on it’s way. But, don’t wait for the water to receed, assume a tsunami is on the way and get to higher ground.
- If you are in a mountainous area, beware of landslides. Look for a clearing and stay there. Stay alert.
Once the shaking stops:
- Check the people around you for injuries; provide first aid. Treat those who are not breathing first and those who are bleeding next. Less serious injuries can wait. Do not move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger. If you need to move someone who is seriously injured be sure to support their head and back. A door works great for this purpose.
- Check around you for dangerous conditions such as fires, downed power lines, and structural damage. Stay far away from downed lines. Electrical current can travel thirty feet thru the ground. If power lines are on your car do not leave the car, or you will likely be electrocuted.
- Inspect your surroundings for structural damage and dangerous debris..
- Whether at home or in a hotel room, always sleep with a pair of shoes next to your bed. After an earthquake, put on your shoes before getting out of bed. Without shoes, you will risk cutting your feet on broken glass or debris.
- There will be aftershocks and some may be as big as the original quake, or close to it. During an aftershock, follow the same advice you would for the original quake itself.
- If you have access, listen to the radio for information and directions. Rumors abound after a disaster.
If you are trapped in debris:
- Move as little as possible to avoid kicking up dust. Dust can be deadly and will be everywhere as rescue workers begin to do their work and dig you out. Cover your nose and mouth with a handkerchief or clothing to protect your breathing.
- Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can hear where you are. Rescue workers will be listening for tapping. Tap in a pattern so they will recognize it as a distress signal and continue to listen to pinpoint your location. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort. Shouting will cause you to breathe in more dust, not a good thing, and a whistle can be heard further than the human voice. Rescue workers will ask you to call out when they need information.
- Do not light a match. There will be gas leaks and a match could be disasterous.
It would be a grave mistake to assume these earthquake precautions don’t apply to you and yours’, simply because your area has not had a quake that anyone can remember. We save and plan, sometimes for years, for life’s special occasions. We travel to family reunions, graduations, weddings and so much more, not to mention countless meetings and obligations less exciting. We are often away from our homes and safe places. Hopefully, nothing will ever happen to spoil those special times, but being prepared with a few basic skills may help to save your life, whether at home or away.