Surviving an Earthquake
Even though earthquakes don’t last more than a few seconds, it’s important to keep your wits about you. And surviving and earthquake also includes surviving the aftershocks as well as a disaster area with no electricity or running water.
During the Quake
If you’re out driving your car, you may feel like your car has a flat tire, or you seem to be changing lanes. Do not stop near bridges, buildings, electrical lines or trees.
You generally want to stay in your car, and may want to pull over and stop until the earthquake is over. When you are in a garage, however, get out of the car immediately, and crouch down next to the car. The metal will not protect you from the concrete that will fall on it. If you are in a multi-level parking garage, get into a stairwell if you can, or crouch next to your car.
If you’re in a building, try to get into a doorway that’s as far away from windows, bookcases, and brickwork as possible. Otherwise, get underneath a heavy table. Protect your neck and head, and use your shirt to breathe through until all of the dust settles. Do not move until you’re certain the major aftershocks have ended.
Right After the Quake
Don’t underestimate aftershocks. They have the power to bring down buildings that were damaged in the main quake. And the force of an aftershock can range from very slight, to the power of the original earthquake itself.
If you’re in your home, look for signs of major damage like cracks, or the smell of gas leaking. If your gas is leaking, turn it off at the outside main valve. You will then need to contact your gas company to inform them. A professional will need to review, repair and then turn the gas back on.
If you have damaged electrical wiring, turn off that area using the circuit breaker. Do not do anything electrical if the gas is leaking. One change could cause a spark and then a fire.
If the quake was major, cell phone towers may be down. Try to find a landline and call a point of contact if you can. The point of contact should be someone out of the area that you set up ahead of time with your family so that everyone knows who to call. They can help coordinate communication. Remember, phone service may be spotty or out all together after a large quake.
If you’re driving home, please be patient. Everyone else just wants to get home too. If the street lights are out, remember to treat the intersection as a four-way stop. Each area should go alone to allow for people turning left. If there is someone doing traffic control, however, follow their directions.
If you have been CERT trained, follow through on your directions as to where to go and how to help out.
And On Through The Night
When you get home, open cabinets carefully. Contents inside may have shifted. If your home was severely damaged, you should be extremely cautious about entering until it can be properly evaluated. Don’t try and sneak back in. If the house collapsed on you, there may not be enough emergency personnel to rescue you right away. Often, if your home is severely damaged and you are ordered to evacuate, there may be personnel to go in and fetch your kit and pets. They are trained for that.
If your power is out, you’ll need to make plans for the food inside your refrigerator. The items in your freezer should be safe for a few hours if you don’t open the door. Chances are, your gas and electrical provider knows that your power is out. If it’s still out after others are starting to get theirs back, call to let them know you’re still out.
Your pets will most likely be freaked out. If you are instructed to evacuate, fetch your kit that has pet food and your medications. You may want to stay in a hotel or motel nearby rather than going to a shelter so you can keep the pets with the family.
If you have minor injuries, try to find your CERT team who have been trained for basic first aid as well as triage processes. Hospitals will fill up quickly.
Things can be crazy after a major quake. If you’re prepared ahead of time, you can camp out until your utilities are turned back on. Keeping a sense of humor and perspective will make the situation better for you and everyone else.