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What to do before, during, and after: Earthquake 101

Arti Gupta
28th Apr 2015
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Earthquakes are not a frequent occurrence, but when they do strike, the magnitude of damage they cause is insurmountable. The recent earthquake that struck Nepal and North Indian states is nature’s way of reminding us that man has little control over natural calamities. While we are at nature’s mercy and try to keep an optimistic outlook, what we can do, is be better prepared and better informed. Being prepared in advance is critical to minimize damages and loss. Consider these earthquake safety tips:


Earthquake 101: Before, During, and After

What to do during an earthquake

➢ Drop, cover, and hold on! Move only a few steps to a nearby safe place. Most injured persons in earthquakes move more than five feet during the shaking. It is very dangerous to try to leave a building during an earthquake because objects can fall on you. Many fatalities occur when people run outside buildings, only to be killed by falling debris from collapsing walls.

➢ 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 has caused injury to those who have rolled to the floor or tried to get to doorways.

➢ If you are outdoors, find a clear spot away from buildings, trees, streetlights, and power lines. Drop to the ground and stay there until the shaking stops. Injuries can occur from falling trees, street-lights and power lines, or building debris.

➢ If you are in a vehicle, pull over to a clear location, stop and stay there with your seatbelt fastened until the shaking has stopped. Trees, power lines, poles, street signs, and other overhead items may fall during earthquakes. Stopping will help reduce your risk, and a hard-topped vehicle will help protect you from flying or falling objects. Once the shaking has stopped, proceed with caution. Avoid bridges or ramps that might have been damaged by the quake.

➢ Stay away from windows. Windows can shatter with such force that you can be injured several feet away.

➢ In a high-rise building, expect the fire alarms and sprinklers to go off during a quake. Earthquakes frequently cause fire alarm and fire sprinkler systems to go off even if there is no fire. Check for, and extinguish small fires, and, if exiting, use the stairs.

➢ If you are in a coastal area, move to higher ground. Tsunamis are often created by earthquakes.

➢ If you are in a mountainous area or near unstable slopes or cliffs, be alert for falling rocks and other debris that could be loosened by the earthquake. Landslides commonly happen after earthquakes.

What to do after an earthquake

➢ Check yourself for injuries. Often people tend to others without checking their own injuries. You will be better able to care for others if you are not injured or if you have received first aid for your injuries.

➢ Protect yourself from further danger by putting on long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes, and work gloves. This will protect you from further injury by broken objects.

➢ After you have taken care of yourself, help injured or trapped persons. If you have it in your area, base emergency, then give first aid when appropriate. Don’t try to move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger of further injury.

➢ Look for and extinguish small fires. Eliminate fire hazards. Putting out small fires quickly, using available resources, will prevent them from spreading. Fire is the most common hazard following earthquakes. Fires followed the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 for three days, creating more damage than the earthquake.

➢ Leave the gas on at the main valve, unless you smell gas or think its leaking. It may be weeks or months before professionals can turn gas back on using the correct procedures. Explosions have caused injury and death when homeowners have improperly turned their gas back on by themselves.

➢ Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline, or other flammable liquids immediately. Avoid the hazard of a chemical emergency.

➢ Open closet and cabinet doors cautiously. Contents may have shifted during the shaking of an earthquake and could fall, creating further damage or injury.

➢ Inspect your home for damage. Get everyone out if your home is unsafe. Aftershocks following earthquakes can cause further damage to unstable buildings. If your home has experienced damage, get out before aftershocks happen.

➢ Help neighbours who may require special assistance. Elderly people and people with disabilities may require additional assistance. People who care for them or who have large families may need additional assistance in emergency situations.

➢ Listen to a portable, battery-operated radio (or television) for updated emergency information and instructions. If the electricity is out, this may be your main source of information. Local radio and local officials provide the most appropriate advice for your particular situation.

➢ Expect aftershocks. Each time you feel one, drop, cover, and hold on! Aftershocks frequently occur minutes, days, weeks, and even months following an earthquake.

➢ Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines, and stay out of damaged areas. Hazards caused by earthquakes are often difficult to see, and you could be easily injured.

➢ Stay out of damaged buildings. If you are away from home, return only when authorities say it is safe. Damaged buildings may be destroyed by aftershocks following the main quake.

➢ Use battery-powered lanterns or flashlights to inspect your home. Kerosene lanterns, torches, candles, and matches may tip over or ignite flammables inside.

➢ Avoid smoking inside buildings. Smoking in confined areas can cause fires.

➢ When entering buildings, use extreme caution. Building damage may have occurred where one least expect it. Carefully watch every step you take. Examine walls, floor, doors, staircases, and windows to make sure that the building is not in danger of collapsing.

➢ Watch for loose plaster, dry wall, and ceilings that could fall.

➢ Use the telephone only to report life-threatening emergencies. Telephone lines are frequently overwhelmed in disaster situations. They need to be clear for emergency calls to get through.

Being Proactive: What all can you do before an earthquake

➢ Know your risk. Research and find out if you live near an active fault line, and whether or not the ground around you is more susceptible to the effects of an earthquake.

➢ Retrofit and reinforce your house. If you’re in a high risk area, take steps to reinforce your house. Bolt your house to the foundation and reinforce support beams as needed. Secure any furniture such as bookshelves and cabinets to the walls to minimize risk of falling over during a quake. (Secure cabinet doors to help keep dishes and other contents from falling out.)

➢ Create a disaster plan to protect yourself and your family. Earthquake preparedness can help reduce anxiety and minimize injury. Know where to take cover in your house and how to communicate with other family members after the earthquake if you’re not together. Designate a safe place to meet outside of the house after the shaking stops. Get to know the people in your community better by getting actively involved in community disaster training.

➢ Put together an emergency kit. Your kit should include non-perishable food, water, first aid supplies, flashlights, camping supplies (stove, battery-powered lantern, etc.), extra batteries, blankets, and any personal items you may need (medications, toiletries, clothing). If you have pets, make sure you have adequate supplies for them as well. Plan for a week’s worth of supplies for each person. You’ll need at least four gallons of drinking water per person for a week.

How to protect your property

➢ Brace or anchor high or top-heavy objects, secure items that might fall (televisions, books, computers, etc.) During an earthquake, these items can fall over, causing damage or injury.

➢ Move large or heavy objects and fragile items (bottled food, glass, china, etc.) to lower shelves. There will be less damage and less chance of injury if these items are on lower shelves.

➢ Store weed killers, pesticides, and flammable products securely in closed cabinets with latches, on bottom shelves. Chemical products will be less likely to create hazardous situations from lower, confined locations.

➢ Hang heavy items, such as pictures and mirrors, away from beds, couches, and anywhere people sit. Earthquakes can knock things off walls, causing damage or injury.

➢ Brace overhead light fixtures. During earthquakes, overhead light fixtures are the most common items to fall, causing damage or injury.

➢ Strap the water heater to wall studs. The water heater may be your best source of drinkable water following an earthquake. Protect it from damage and leaks.

➢ Bolt down any gas appliances. After an earthquake, broken gas lines frequently create fire hazards.

➢ Install flexible pipe fittings to avoid gas or water leaks. Flexible fittings will be less likely to break.

➢ Consider having your building evaluated by a professional structural design engineer. Ask about home repair and strengthening tips for exterior features, such as porches, front and back decks, sliding glass doors, canopies, carports, and garage doors. Learn about additional ways you can protect your home. A professional can give you advice on how to reduce potential damage.

Our hearts go out to everyone who is in the midst of this devastating natural disaster. We often underestimate the importance of being prepared because we forget that tragedy strikes when we least expect it to, leaving our world topsy-turvy. Each of us hopes that no one is ever caught in the middle of such a situation, but if we do, we hope that these pointers will save many lives.

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