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Based on my own personal experience, combined with recommendations from organisations such as the red cross, I’ve put together this “Earthquake Survival” Guide.
Earthquakes strike without warning. It’s difficult to imagine the violent force present without experiencing one first-hand. The closest comparisons would be a car crash, or a rollercoaster.
You didn’t see this on the news: An honest, first person account of the earthquake 1 minute after it occurred.
Earthquakes Generally Don’t Strike Just Anywhere.
Among the places around the world generally thought to be earthquake “hot zones” are the northern Caribbean, the west coast of Central and South America toward Chile, Greece through the Middle East into Central and Western China, California, New Zealand, Japan. One cluster of locations is dubbed the “Pacific ring of fire“. The first step in your survival plan is figuring the likelihood of risk an earthquake poses to you, where you live, by studying the history of your area.
For those of you that believe you are living in an earthquake hot spot; Earthquake survival starts NOW!
In addition to your generic survival plan, the following is a non-exhaustive list of earthquake-specific survival pointers.
Before an Earthquake:
- Check for obvious hazards. Is your hot-water cylinder securely fastened in place? Is your brick-work showing signs of deterioration? Is your house showing signs of structural deterioration?
- Ensure shelves and cabinets are securely fastened to walls.
- Large or heavy objects like alcohol bottles, large televisions and stereos should be either fastened down, or stored on lower shelves.
- Breakable items such as glass, bottled foods, china and vases should be stored in low cupboards that can be securely latched. The earthquake WILL force open unlatched cupboard doors!
- Beds, couches, and anywhere people sit should not have any pictures or mirrors hung around them.
- Overhead light fixtures such as chandeliers or decorated shades should be securely fastened. They will swing violently – so make sure they’re attached well!
- Check electrical wiring and gas connections where you can. If there are any signs of wear or deterioration have them repaired. The last thing you need is a fire as well.
- Store dangerous and flammable products like weed killers, pesticides, and gasoline low down in closed cabinets. Ensure the cabinets are securely latched!
- For each room, establish a safe zone. It could be under sturdy furniture such as a heavy desk or table. Against an inside wall or in a door frame away from where glass could shatter around pictures, windows or mirrors or where bookcases or other furniture could fall over.
- Identify safe places outdoors. This place should be in the open, away from falling buildings, trees, telephone and electrical lines, overpasses, or elevated expressways.
- All family members should know how and when to turn off gas, electricity, and water.
During an Earthquake:
Take cover! At first you will NOT realize what is happening. Keep your wits about you and resist the urge to panic. Let your earthquake survival mindset kick in and take control of yourself. How sturdy is the building you are in? Where is the safest place in the room? Keep on your toes.
Look for large desks, strong tables, strong fixed cupboards. Is the door frame away from flying objects? Make a decision where you’ll take cover quickly. It will be hard to stay on your feet so drop to your hands and knees if you need. Protect your head and stay alert for moving and flying objects.
Get into the open. If you’re under any sort of veranda, or “sidewalk canopy”, GET OUT! If you’re near overhead wires get away from them. Get away from buildings and other structures. Run as best you can. The ground will be shaking so violently that you may find standing impossible. Don’t panic! Decide where you need to get to and move!
If in a moving vehicle:
SLOW DOWN! Drive to a clear area away from buildings, trees, overpasses, or utility wires. Stay in your car!
After an Earthquake
Your adrenalin will be pumping. Resist the urge to panic. It is time to instigate your earthquake survival plan.
- Check your body for injuries. It may sound silly, but your blood will be full of adrenalin and your pain sensors will not be working. Give yourself an initial check over before anything else. If you require assistance for injury or are trapped – stay calm and:
- If you are in an area where others are present – indicate you need help by yelling or tapping, or any other way you can get attention by.
- Check your cellphone and try to dial out if possible – emergency services will be overwhelmed – but persevere if you get a busy signal.
- If trapped, look around for objects that you can lever yourself out with.
- Stay calm. Preserve energy. Rescue crews work quickly and methodically – wait for their arrival and guide them to you as best you can.
- Be prepared for aftershocks and act bearing in mind that strong aftershocks are almost certain in the immediate wake of a strong quake. Although not having the power of the main shock, aftershocks can bring weakened buildings and structures down. Aftershocks occur in the first hours, days, weeks, and even months after the quake.
- Look around you and assess and immediate dangers such as:
- Unstable objects, structures or buildings
- Fallen power lines
- Gas or dangerous substance leaks
- If you have not sustained injury, assist the injured where you can. Give first aid where appropriate.
- Seriously injured persons should not be moved unless there is immediate danger of further injury.
- Notify emergency services of the locations of injured or trapped people.
- Check on your neighbors. Some may require special assistance and especially those with infants, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
- Leave dangerous rescues up to search and rescue teams. To not attempt to enter damaged buildings!
- Some areas may be at further risk of rockfall, landslide or tsunami. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
- Reserve the telephone only for emergency calls. However authorities often say it is OK to use it to check loved ones are safe. Keep conversations short.
- Clean up spilled gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately. Spilled cleaning products are also hazardous.
- If you smell gas or chemical fumes, leave the area immediately.
- When opening cupboard doors for the first time after a quake, open slowly and be careful of falling and potentially spilled items.
- Brick and masonry chimneys are particularly at risk from earthquake damage. Check the length of the chimney for cracks and damage. If any damage is present have chimney removed as soon as possible. Aftershocks could cause it to fall.
A Special Note On Tsunamis, Rockfalls, Avalanches & Landslides
Earthquakes often cause tsunamis under certain conditions. It is imperative that if you are at risk from tsunami that you have made additional preparations from our tsunami survival guide
Rockfalls can be triggered by earthquakes. Preparations for rockfalls can be the difference between life and death. Read up on rockfall preparation in our rockfall survival guide
Landslides can be the result of earthquakes occurring particularly in steep, moist areas. Read about landslide survival in our comprehensive guide.
Avalanches are common in snowy mountain areas, and especially large avalanches can be triggered by earthquakes. Learn avalanche survival skills here.
Checking Household Utilities
It is vital that you check for gas leaks! Signals indicating a gas leak include hearing a blowing or hissing noise – and obviously the smell of gas. Open windows and leave the building as quickly as possible. If you can turn off the gas at the main, then do this immediately. Call your gas service as quickly as is practical. Your gas must be turned back on by a professional if it is turned of for any reason.
Home electrical systems are also extremely susceptible to quake damage. As a precaution, turn off your main breaker switch. Power may, or may not be out to your home, but it is better to check your wiring with the breaker turned off! If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, get in touch with an electrician first for advice.
Possible signs of damage to your electrical system include: water leaks coming out through walls and from the ceiling. Seeing sparks, or obviously broken or frayed wires, smelling “burning” are all indicators of potential damage.
Sewage and water lines are often damaged. Do not flush the toilet until you have been told it is OK to do so. In many large quakes raw sewerage ends up on roads and in rivers due to damaged pipes.
Avoid using water from the tap until you have been told it is safe to do so.
Quite simply, earthquakes are a result of our ever evolving planet. We may never be able to control these forces, we may not even be able to predict them, but we can prepare for the effects. Earthquake preparation should be taken seriously by everyone who lives in quake hot-spots. The preparation by individuals reduces reliance on rescue services and authorities. Prepared well, you will get through a quake with a much lessened risk of injury, and can prevent a lot of your stuff getting smashed!
The proceeding weeks and months after a quake are testing for everyone. Roads are damaged meaning transportation is slow and frustrating. Schools are often closed. Simply obtaining food and water can require half a day or more. Toilets may not be working meaning you may be lining up simply to use a temporary facility. There may be no fresh water for washing and even the oceans and rivers may be polluted from raw sewage leaks. These are not over-the-top statements. Elements of the above effects are still happening now, two months after our big quake.
Domestic violence has seen a whopping 50% rise. Many people’s jobs simply vanished overnight meaning reliance on welfare. Morale drops. Depression and post-traumatic stress effects peoples moods and judgment.
Quite simply, be kind yourself and to one and other. Take special care of family and neighbors. Get “stuck in” and help return life to normal for your self and everyone is your community. Learn more about the disaster mindset.
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