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Preparing and Surviving An Earthquake

When plates of the earth’s crust suddenly slip past other adjacent, corresponding planes, earthquakes occur. This differs from the normal action of the earth’s plates or tectonic plates because these plates normally slide at a constant rate and slip smoothly past each other very slowly. Where this sudden erratic slippage occurs or can potentially occur is called a fault plane, and there are many thousands of faults in the earth’s surface that do not produce earthquakes. Faults that are more likely to produce earthquakes are called active faults, and they are well documented, studied and monitored. The area in which the earthquake takes place below the earth’s surface is referred to as the hypo-center, the corresponding above ground section of the earthquake is known as the epicenter

This hypo-center and epicenter are the points at which the greatest exertion of force from the earthquake takes place, and consequently, at the epicenter is where the most damage occurs to people and structures. Not all earthquakes happen without warning to those that are not scientists involved in earthquakes. Smaller earthquakes often occur before and after the main earthquake. When these small earthquakes occur preceding the main earthquake, they are called fore shocks, and when they occur afterwards, they are called aftershocks. In both cases, they both can be very damaging, and some aftershocks register in the range of large earthquakes. Additionally, the aftershocks can occur from weeks to years after the main earthquake. Some earthquakes can occur from volcanic activity also.

How to prepare for an earthquake

There are some specific ways to prepare families and individuals for earthquakes before they happen in order to maximize the chances of survival or even being uninjured in such events. However, the first step is to learn these steps. Places like the Red Cross provide information on preparation as well as many other services. This is especially effective in areas prone to earthquakes. They greatly enhance the chances of families and people coming out unscathed

The first step is to make the home as earthquake proof as possible, and this means eliminating hazards by securing things in place. On walls, all shelving and other furniture that rests against a wall like dressers should be secured to the walls with some type of fastening system. This prevents these items from falling and hurting people and obstructing pathways to safety.

  • Identify possible hazards in your home. For example, fasten shelves and large pieces of furniture such as a cupboard securely to walls. Make sure your hot water heater is braced and strapped
  • Store heavy objects on lower shelves.
  • Store breakable items such as the family china in low, closed cabinets you can latch.
  • Store weed killers, pesticides, and flammable products securely in closed cabinets you can latch. If that’s not an option, store the material on bottom shelves.
  • Learn how to turn off the natural gas, water and electricity to your home. Practice it.
  • Consider installing flexible pipe fittings that are less likely to break to avoid gas or water leaks.
  • Locate safe spots in each room under a sturdy table or against an inside wall.
  • Hold earthquake drills with your family members: Drop, cover and hold on. Have everyone drop to the ground; take cover under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and hold on until the shaking stops.

The next step is to have a family preparedness and communications plan. Suggestions for these plans will be included in the earthquake preparedness pamphlets given to the public for free in many areas, but they will all advise some preparedness drills for families and individuals to practice escaping to the appropriate areas of the home or buildings to find safety, stay together and comprehensive checklists

Pack an emergency preparedness kit that will meet the needs of you and your family for three days. The kit, of course, will be handy in the wake of any natural or man-made disaster. An emergency preparedness kit needs to include food and water for each member of your family for three days, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, and flashlight, spare batteries, first aid kit, can opener, toilet paper, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation.

If you live in an area at very high risk for earthquake — southern California, for example — you should pack a smaller emergency preparedness kit for your car.

Having supplies stocked is also a must in preparation for these types of events. Most services will be cut during these events, and water will be an issue as well as first aid items and stables nonperishable foods. Flashlights, radios and batteries are also a staple of preparedness for earthquakes. People should also have all relevant medications stored along with the appropriate number of weeks of a backup supply and a way to be kept cool if necessary.

Cash should also be kept and all vehicles should be fully fueled at all times in case driving out is an option. However, all stores of flammable materials should be stored properly because much of the damage that occurs during earthquakes involve fires. However, because of the well-studied nature of this natural disaster, there are some specifics things that people can do during an earthquake to greatly enhance their chances of being uninjured

What To Do During

The first rule states that if a person is already inside, they should remain inside. Additionally, running to other rooms is ill-advised as is running to stand underneath doorways. If next to windows and other dangerous places like tall unsecured furniture, quickly move and before the most intense part of the earthquake begins if possible. It is much safer to drop to a crawling position to avoid being thrown down.

Next, the person should make every attempt to protect the whole body, but the head and neck specifically. Take shelter under sound tables, near interior walls and next to furniture with low centers of gravity, and still protect the head neck with hands and arms if necessary. The final step is to hold on until the shaking subsides and ready to move to safer places quickly at that point. Stay in the bed if the event happens at this point, and if in the kitchen, quickly turn stoves or ovens off.

The same first rule applies for outside. If a person is outside during an earthquake, they should remain outside. Gas lines, utility wires and other very discernible hazards should be avoided. However, the area next to buildings is often the most dangerous areas. Window walls fail first most of the time in buildings presenting danger from falling glass as well as structural parts of the wall and windows, and in many cases walking is impossible because the shaking is too intense, so people should stay low to avoid being thrown and avoid these areas right away when earthquakes begin.

If people are in moving vehicles, they should stop as quickly as possible, but safely. They should then move to a curb and away from utility poles and lines, and also away from over and underpasses. People should remain in the car, and engage their parking brakes. If a power line falls on a vehicle for any reason, leaving the vehicle will very likely cause death. People should remain in their vehicles until the appropriate authorities arrive in this case.

Surviving the Aftermath of an Earthquake

Directly after an earthquake people should check themselves and others for injuries. People that are severely injured should not be moved. In the direct aftermath, sturdy footwear should be worn. Check the building for structural defects, fire or fire hazards as well as electrocution hazards. If any of these are present or the smell of gas vacate the building. If the building is inhabitable check for utilities and water service.

In emergencies, water can be had from melting ice, in toilets without chemical additives, strained from hot water heaters and from pools. This water is generally potable. Because utilities will probably be off, the radio will be the primary mode for receiving information. For the sake of the grid, phone usage should be limited to emergencies and short conversations. Listen for instructions from authorities, and utilize the Red Cross to locate family. They are the official agency for this purpose during emergencies and not the local officials.

  • Check yourself and others for injuries. Provide first aid for anyone who needs it.
  • Check water, gas, and electric lines for damage. If any are damaged, shut off the valves. Check for the smell of gas. If you smell it, open all the windows and doors, leave immediately, and report it to the authorities (use someone else’s phone).
  • Turn on the radio. Don’t use the phone unless it’s an emergency.
  • Stay out of damaged buildings.
  • Be careful around broken glass and debris. Wear boots or sturdy shoes to keep from cutting your feet.
  • Be careful of chimneys (they may fall on you).
  • Stay away from beaches. Tsunamis and seiches sometimes hit after the ground has stopped shaking.
  • Stay away from damaged areas.
  • If you’re at school or work, follow the emergency plan or the instructions of the person in charge.
  • Expect aftershocks.

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