Skip to comments.Seven Ways to Prepare for an Earthquake
Posted on 04/04/2010 9:06:40 PM PDT by ChocChipCookie
by J Spencer
In 1994, a friend of mine was in the Northridge earthquake. She was awakened in the middle of the night by her apartment collapsing around her. She crawled out of the wreckage wearing nothing but her nightie. She met her neighbors in the street. Most were cut, like she was, from scrambling through broken glass on their way out of ruined buildings. Some were missing. Most were found. Several were dead. It was a long time until dawn.
Hearing her recount the story of surviving an earthquake in the middle of the night, made me think about surviving an earthquake in the middle of the night. Im a thousand miles away from California, but I live on a fault line, too. My town has a track record. Were overdue.
Could what happened to her happen to me? What would I do if it did?
Theres one important difference between California and my home in Montana. When she was thrown out of bed, it was a warm night, even though it was January 17. Everyone was standing around barefoot in their pajamas. Nobody was cold. Nobody froze to death. But Montana has a nasty tendency to get very bitterly frigid on a fairly frequent basis, especially in January. If I get bounced out of bed by an earthquake, it might be below zero outside. People who experience sub-zero on a regular basis know how bad it would be to stand around in the street wearing nothing but pajamas with bleeding feet and shock coming on when its ten or twenty below zero.
She is my friend, and I still hear the fear in her voice when she remembers that night. It was harrowing, horrifying and hard. I knew that if it happened to me on one of those nasty mid-winter nights, it could be a whole lot harder. It might be a very, very long time until dawn.
So thats what made me think, What can I do now that would make it less terrible then?
I made a list. Then I checked off everything on that list. If youve ever wondered, What if , then maybe you should look at this list, too.
If you check off everything on the list, then if youre ever bounced out of bed on a sub-zero night, things might be easier for you.
Take a look.
After seeing pictures of the wreckage of her apartment, I imagined trying to find my glasses in the middle of that mess. If my glasses fly off the nightstand, fall to the floor, and disappear down some dark and dusty crevice, then I am immediately handicapped. I am hopeless and helpless without my glasses.
So I bought a glasses case on a string, the type worn around the neck. I tied it to my bedpost. Every night for a thousand nights when I go to bed, Ive placed my glasses in that case. Theyre never on the nightstand anymore. I reach for them automatically in the morning. I always know where they are. They are always within arms reach. Nothing can shake them loose.
That glasses case cost me a buck and it bought me a whole lot of peace of mind. If Im going to be coping with a quake in the middle of the night, I dont have to go into the chaos blindly. For a dollar, I can always find my glasses.
That is the first thing on the list.
Of course in the Northridge quake, the electricity went out, and it was night, If the same thing happened to me, I would want light immediately available. Normally I keep flashlights in the junk drawer in the kitchen, in the basement on the tool bench, and in the car under the seat, but I didnt want to be in a position where I had to find a flashlight in order to find a flashlight. I didnt want to waste any time at all fumbling around in the darkness and confusion searching for it. So I bought a flashlight with a wrist strap attached, I gave it fresh batteries, and I hung it from my bedpost along with my glasses. Then I wondered, what would happen if the batteries went dead? No light, no more! So I bought a package of extra batteries and put them in the drawer in my nightstand. I also bought a hand-cranked wind-up flashlight/radio/siren/phone charger. I tuned the radio to the station thats a designated emergency broadcast channel in case of emergency. I hung it by its wrist strap from the bedpost as well. The flashlight cost me a buck, the batteries cost me two, the wind-up one cost me twenty. What will they be worth? Plenty.
Thats the second thing on the list. Got eyes, got light. Good to go.
Next I gave some thought to these two questions. Where am I going? How am I going to get there?
My friend wanted to get into her car and go somewhere safe, but her car was in the garage, but the garage door was askew and wouldn't open. She couldnt even sit in her car because the doors were locked. The keys were in her purse, and her purse was probably on the dining room table or maybe the kitchen counter. Both places were buried under so many splinters. There was a magnetic key under the bumper, but it was dark and she didnt have a light. She was barefoot, and the garage windows had shattered all over the ground. She thought she had a flashlight, but it was in the locked car. (Later it turned out the batteries were dead anyway.) So she just stood around in the street and waited for someone to help her get to the hospital.
I dont want to stand around and wait for someone to show up to help me. If its ten below zero, waiting around isnt an option.
So I had a set of spare car keys made up. I added copies of keys of all the places most important to me, the places Ill want to check first after a disaster, like my office and my husbands business. I clipped the key ring to the wristband of the flashlight hanging on my bedpost. So now, if Im bleeding, frightened and cold, I can sit in my car and have heat, light and a radio. Im glad I dont have a garage, because it will never collapse, trapping my car. I might be able to get to the hospital without waiting for help.
It cost me four dollars to have the keys copied. Keys are third on the list.
If these three things are all you ever do, you will be so much better off when that night arrives than if you never looked at this list at all.
When my friend jumped out of bed, she did it instinctively, without thinking and without looking before she leaped. She discovered the hard way that every framed family photo had fallen off her dresser top. Every picture on the wall fell. Every window in her apartment shattered. Every mirror broke. The floor was covered with shards of glass. Her injuries came not from the quake but from cutting her feet while making her way out of the wreckage. In fact, 80% of the injuries treated in area hospitals were for cuts from the knees down.
So, I took an old pair of sturdy tennis shoes that I dont wear anymore, and I put them underneath my bed. In one shoe I stuffed a pair of socks, and in the other shoe I stuffed a clean pair of underwear (because if I need em, Ill be glad theyre there) and also a big bandana. If Im going to be doing any crying or bleeding or screaming or throwing up, a hanky could come in handy. To make sure that shards of glass didnt fall into the shoes, I stuffed them into an old pillowcase. Then, thinking about the sub-zero scenario, I added a few more things to that pillowcase: a pair of jeans (with their pockets stuffed with useful items), a warm shirt, a sweatshirt, a hat, and sturdy leather gloves.
There was still room left in the pillowcase and plenty of space under the bed, so I added a couple bottles of water again, very useful if crying, bleeding, screaming, and throwing up is happening. In Northridge, it was a long time before water service was restored. In the pockets of the jeans I placed another hanky, a packet of tissues, some hair ties because I hate having my long hair in my face, a chapstick just for comfort, a whistle because its so much easier than shouting, and a few mints to suck on just in case theres throwing up going on. I added another copy of my car key just in case, and I tucked some folding money in the pockets, too, because the ATMs and credit card machines arent going to work as long as the electricity is down. I might need to buy something, and who knows where my purse will be or how much money Ill have on hand. If I depended on medication, I would stick extra meds in the pocket too.
I stuffed all that into a pink pillowcase, and then I made up an identical kit for my husband and packed it in a blue pillowcase. In my minds eye, I rehearsed the scene a few times in which I practiced NOT jumping out of bed, but instead reaching under the bed for the emergency pillow case first. This way I can at least put on shoes to get out of the house, and have clothes to put on while standing around in the street.
In Northridge, as in most earthquakes, the shaking broke natural gas lines, water pipes, and electrical lines. Water heaters tipped over, and gas and water poured into basements. Explosions and fires popped up all over. The overwhelmed fire department couldnt put out the fires because the water mains were broken.
So under my bed went two fire extinguishers, one for my husband and one for me. They cost about $10 each. I learned how to shut off the water, electricity, and natural gas to my home. Shutting off the natural gas requires a wrench, so I put a wrench under my bed, and for good measure I tied another wrench to the gas valve. The fire extinguisher and wrench may well end up saving my house from complete destruction while others burn down around me. In my imagination, I rehearsed putting on my shoes, grabbing the flashlight, and running outside to turn the utilities off before the house blows up.
Then I even spoke with my neighbors and found out where their utilities are located, so if they are trapped in their house, or if they cant find their glasses or their shoes or a flashlight or a wrench, I can turn their gas lines off before their homes blow up. This was partly altruistic and partly selfish, because if their houses burn down, the fire department isnt going to be able to do anything about it, and if their houses burn, my house may well burn down too.
The Fire Prevention Kit is fifth on the list.
Next I assembled an emergency tool kit with a variety of miscellaneous items that might come in handy.
Communication will be difficult or non-existent, so to hedge my bets I added a telephone that does not require electricity but can be plugged directly into the phone jack. I also added a set of walkie-talkies, along with spare batteries for them. One for my husband, one for me. I put in a battery operated AM/FM radio that clips to my belt. I found out where to tune it for emergency broadcast information and wrote that in magic marker on the radio itself and marked it on the dial. I stuck in a really good Swiss Army knife, along with pliers and a hammer in case I have to help pull people out of wreckage through shattered windows. I also included some extra flashlights and more batteries because I expect working flashlights will be in short supply. This tool kit went into a draw-string bag under my bed next to the pillowcases.
The tool kit and all its contents are the sixth item.
Then I assembled a 72-hour kit using the guidelines at www.Ready.gov. I collected ready-to-eat food, bottled water, a first aid kit, toilet paper, pet food and other items, and packed it into a Rubbermaid tub with a locking lid. I store it in my garden shed in case the entire house collapses.
If you have made it to this seventh item on the list, you will be in better shape than about 99% of your friends and neighbors.
At this point I became very interested in learning more about emergency preparedness, so I took emergency response classes, joined the Red Cross, studied FEMA procedures, and teamed up with other people in my community interested in disaster preparedness. I expanded my emergency kit to include everything I might possibly need: dust masks, goggles, knee pads, elbow pads, and hardhats with headlamps; tents and tarps; floodlights, a generator, Coleman lanterns, and emergency stoves and heaters; bandages and soup; duct tape, plastic sheeting, and spare lumber for covering shattered windows; down coats and sleeping bags; crow bars and car jacks and plenty more fire extinguishers. I dont expect people to go to such lengths as I did, but if they did, it would sure make things easier for everyone when a disaster occurs.
FEMA statistics show that the average American will suffer three disasters over the course of a typical lifespan, with disaster defined as any event that disrupts an entire community simultaneously. When it comes to disasters, there are only two variables, one of which we can control, and the other of which we cannot. There will either be a disaster or there wont, and we can either be prepared for a disaster or not. When combining these two variables, there are four potential outcomes
1. There will be no disaster, and I will NOT be prepared. (neutral outcome)
2. There will be no disaster, and I WILL be prepared. (neutral outcome)
3. There WILL be a disaster, and I will NOT be prepared. (negative outcome)
4. There WILL be a disaster and I WILL be prepared. (positive outcome)
We have two choices. We can either wait around for someone to come help us, or we can be prepared to help ourselves. The failure to consciously choose option #2 means choosing option #1 by default. The post-disaster misery index of both an individual and the community as a whole correlates exactly to the proportion of people who choose option #2.
Whats your choice?
Email me to be added to this list.
Bookmarked. Thank you for posting.
Of the 4 potential outcomes, number 1 is the most efficient. The problem is, sometimes number one doesn’t happen.
As one who lived through the Northridge quake just down the street from the building her friend was in, I concur on the shoes under the bed. For me that was the biggest thing — I nearly lost a toe. Having a warm car for my wife and newborn baby was critical too. It was 4:31am in January, and even in LA that can be cold.
Don’t forget to account for the celebratory bottle of alcohol for having survived.
Arizona? Why Arizona?
and then I found an unbroken bottle of champagne amongst the debris in my kitchen.
Add a seismic natural gas shut-off valve. They close your gas line automatically in an earthquake. They don’t cost much and add a lot of peace of mind. If your water heater or other gas line breaks before you can get to the meter with your wrench, your house will go up. The seismic valve will shut the gas off before a fire can get started.
Excellent! Thank you...
All well and good, but in reading this list I kept thinking the bed and room have to remain intacvt around you long enough to get the glasses, shoes, water, keys, flashlight etc.
Seems to me this stuff better be tied arund your ankle if you want o be sure of retrieving them after all hell breaks loose.
Also, if trapped in that garage I don’t recommend using the car engine for heat unless there’s a nice air hole somewhere.
Pinging myself for printing out tomorrow... Excellent article - thanks for posting!
Also, people should just LOOK at what CAN fall down inside their living and sleeping areas, and move those items as necessary.
Maybe that heavy jade statue should not be positioned on a narrow shelf five feet above the head of the bed.
Done! (in 1986)
Keep Obama from making 17 minute answers. Give him some Beeno. That will slow the stink.
Some great ideas in there. I have lots of supplies, but over time they end up getting scattered (Oh I know, that old pair of tennis shoes under the bed! I can use those for painting, etc.)
All I could think of while reading this was “I’m going to need a bigger bed post!”
I was in the San Fernando Earthquake of 1971.
My list is different.
We were out of running water for a week. No natural gas for a week and a half. The electricity was back on in a day. I didn’t need to get out of a collapsed building, either though.
Water for cooking and drinking. A way to stay, odor free without a shower, and a way to cook with no stove. And some food. The majority of our food in the refrigerator fell out and was on the floor of the kitchen. I remembering mom shoveling the broken dishware mixed with food into a trash can. And we used the neighbors swimming pool water to be able to flush the toilets in the house.
It will all depend on what kind of earthquake your in. How much and what kind of damage you will be dealing with.
My first question after feeling one is, where was it located? I still remember my dad turning on the radio to get news, they didn’t even have a clue what had happened. No emergency info at all. I will never forget that.
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