Earthquakes are interesting and impressive natural phenomena, with tremendous power of destruction and the ability to scare even the most prepared man on the planet. In today’s lesson “How to prepare for an earthquake”, we want to help all concerned with tips, suggestions and ideas that will be useful when the earth is shaking under their feet. But, before continuing with the lesson, to learn how to stay safe during an earthquake, you must understand its mechanics.
We all learned in school that the ground on which we live and live our lives is actually made up of tectonic plates, floating in a gigantic core of molten lava. We do not feel this slow movement unless two plates collide. This is the moment when we are reminded that the earth under our feet is moving and we feel a rapid shaking that can occur both horizontally and vertically.
There are two main problems that must be taken into account when preparing for an earthquake:
- They can happen at any time and place and are impossible to predict accurately;
- An earthquake never comes alone! There is always a wave of aftershocks and, what is worse, other natural disasters such as tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and floods can begin.
As you can see, earthquakes are extremely complex phenomena and the fact that they can surprise you when you sleep gives them the element of surprise. However, we are here on Earth, after hundreds of millions of years of earthquakes. This shows how inventive and adaptable we are.
People who live in areas where earthquakes are frequent learn to make their houses more flexible by using lightweight materials that do not break during the shake. Take Japan, for example: a country where earthquakes are frequent and often bring disasters. The people here learned to flex their buildings, so when they are shaking the losses are minimal. Therefore, we learned to survive this terrible phenomenon and, if you want to know more about this, you can read it here.
Preparing for an earthquake before, during and after.
Each earthquake preparation program has 3 main stages:
- the previous stage when everything is theoretical;
- During the stage, when you realize that theory and practice are not the same;
- the previous stage when you are preparing for the replicas and share your wisdom and experience with your loved ones.
Stage # 1 – what to do before the earthquake
If you have never experienced an earthquake, it may seem a bit strange to try to prepare for it. Still, that first shake, when you feel and see that everything moves around you, is going to be very scary and confusing. That’s why a person who is prepared and knows what to expect, already has more chances of a safe survival.
The first thing to do when it comes to preparing for earthquakes is to put together an action plan. Discuss this plan with your family and make sure everyone understands the drill. Talk to them about the emergency kit and what everyone should put in and put together a communication plan in case they are not together when the earthquake occurs. In this case, it may be a good idea to put together an alternative communication system (you can get more information about it in this article), in case things go horribly wrong.
If you are not sure of the actions you should take during the event, contact the local authorities and ask them.
There are some things you can do around the house to make sure you get out of there safely. Most injuries caused by earthquakes occur from shelves and paints that fall off the walls during shaking. That is why it is highly recommended to do the following:
- Secure shelves and large paintings on the wall;
- Make sure you do not have a large bookcase over your head when you sleep;
- Place heavy objects on lower shelves; during the movement, they can fly and hurt you or someone in your family;
- Glass objects that can fall and break, such as lamps, mirrors, frames and others, should be as close as possible to the floor;
- Secure any tall furniture (cabinets, shelves and other cabinets) with flexible straps so that they can move but remain in place;
- Make sure all your expensive electronic devices are stored in a safe place, away from falling objects;
- Make sure you have the fire extinguisher near you. If there is a fire, you can turn it off immediately without any other damage;
- Make sure that your gas connection and electrical cables are secured and that there are no leaks. These are a fire hazard and if there are problems, you should request professional help;
- Inspect your walls for deep cracks: a cracked wall will fall faster than one that is reinforced;
- Ask a professional to assess the risk of collapse of your building in the event of an earthquake. If there are problems, see what you can do to strengthen the building;
- Prepare an emergency kit with food, water, medications and anything else you consider useful. The kit should be easy to transport since it can not drive during an earthquake and immediately afterwards. Here you will find a list with the products to put in an emergency kit for earthquakes.
These are just some measures but they could save your life. Many people do not manage to leave the house after an earthquake because they are trapped under heavy furniture or a heavy object has hit them in the head.
Stage # 2 – what to do during an earthquake
The stage “during” is the most adventurous and full of adrenaline of the three stages. During an earthquake, you try to keep your balance and do not hit yourself in the head at the same time. It’s like trying to walk the rope while the public is throwing tomatoes (without the safety net). You have to think about finding a place of refuge where the falling objects do not hit you. The authorities recommend a large and solid piece of furniture (this is where your grandmother’s big heavy table makes sense).
During the earthquake, the situation and the actions you must take are different depending on your location.
If you are inside the house:
- Do not try to leave! The stairs are among the first to collapse;
- Fall on your hands and knees and try to protect your head and vital organs. Broken arms and legs are easier to repair than a punctured lung, for example;
- Crawl under sturdy furniture to take shelter and try to move as little as possible;
- If the shake catches you in bed, cover your head with a pillow and stay there. At night it is difficult to see in normal conditions, think about how it is to move when everything else does too;
- Stay away from large windows and doors;
- Do not even think about climbing an elevator: those things are a danger during earthquakes and electricity can be cut off. You do not want to be caught in a small metal box, in a concrete pit, between floors 7 and 6 that hang from a few cables;
- Do not be alarmed if alarms start unexpectedly or if other systems behave strangely. There are no ghosts, only the earth is moving abnormally.
Outside of the previous enumeration, it is very important to remember two things: DO NOT try to leave the house and seek refuge under a resistant piece of furniture. Statistics show that most injuries occur when people try to leave the house during an earthquake.
If you are outside when the tremor begins:
- Try to get away from the buildings and anything that may fall on you. During earthquakes, pieces of plaster are detached from the buildings and fall, injuring the people below. Bricks and other objects can also fall.
- If you are in the city and there is no way to get to an open space in time, try to enter a building until the shaking stops. Do not stay under the balconies!
If you are driving:
- Stop as soon as it is safe and stay in the car;
- Do not park near buildings, trees or other tall structures that may fall on the car;
- If you see a large crack in the road below you, get out of the car and seek shelter.
Stage # 3 – what to do after the earthquake
The “after” stage is full of confusion, emotions, suffering and fear. It is the stage where you need your calm and strength more than ever. Now it has to be the moral support for his family and friends, even though he is also moved to the core (figuratively and literally). Here what you are supposed to do:
- The first thing is to make sure you have a clear path to the outside world. Also, make sure you are not injured. In adrenaline during the earthquake it is easy to overlook scratches and other injuries. Look around and make sure there are no people trapped under debris or furniture that may need your help.
- Remember, the earthquake is not over, there will be replicas! They are not as violent as the original event, but they could deplete weakened buildings and structures. Make sure everyone knows they still need to be vigilant. If the earthquake occurred somewhere in the sea, the movement produces huge waves that can threaten the area of the coast.
If you live near the coast, check with the authorities to find out if there are tsunamis on your way. If there is a risk, try to go inside as quickly as possible or reach the highlands. Here we have a very disastrous situation, when two powerful natural events mix and produce a disaster: in this article you can find more information about what to do in a tsunami.
- Try to help as much as you can (if you can) and where you can. The rescue teams are usually very busy and can not reach everyone. In addition to fallen buildings and general madness, fires are the second most common hazard after an earthquake. The authorities recommend avoiding any kind of lightning that could explode a gas pipeline. There may be damaged pipes under the debris and this leads to gas leaks. If you see small fires and have your fire extinguisher, try stopping them. However, do not put yourself in danger.
- Go to the designated area of the shelter to get medical attention and get more useful information. Do not attempt to drive to your home or leave the safe area until authorized by the authorities.
When the road clears and the roads are safe again, it’s time to go home. Get ready for an ugly scenario and try to stay calm. If everything is still standing, make sure it is safe to enter. Remove any fallen objects that block the entrance before entering, you do not want to be trapped in your own house without any possibility of communication. If there is structural damage, do not enter. Go to the local shelter and contact the authorities to see what you should do next.
Once you enter, it’s time to start cleaning up all the clutter, but first make sure you follow these steps:
- Check for gas leaks: if you feel that the known smell does not ignite anything and leave as soon as possible. Call the authorities and be patient;
- Make sure the electrical wiring is intact: if you see sparks of wires hanging, it is not good;
- Check the water line and any wastewater problems. Leaks in the sewer system can cause health hazards in the area;
- Put on the right clothes: long pants, long-sleeved shirts, work gloves, etc. Make sure that each piece of skin is covered and protected.
- Open each cabinet with care: usually, the objects that were trapped inside now rest on the doors. Even a ceramic teapot can hurt you if it falls on your head.
As you can see, in preparation for earthquakes, it is very important to act calmly and carefully. There are no sudden movements or actions. All you need to do is learn to protect your body from falling objects (large or small).
Myths about earthquake preparation.
We have a long history of earthquakes and, while trying to understand and avoid damage, certain myths have been handed down from generation to generation and have become general truths. Scientists discredited most of them, but even so, people who do not know how to prepare for an earthquake (the right way) seem to believe they are true.
Here is the list of so-called general truths that were proven to be false:
- The doors are the safest place to be during an earthquake – Many people seem to think that this is the safest place in the house. Unless you live in an earthquake-resistant building with reinforcements, the safest place in a building is under a table or desk (large, sturdy furniture).
- The animals know in advance when there is an earthquake. – Yes, we do it a few seconds in advance. They perceive vibrations a little faster than us because they are closer to the ground or the floor of the building. They start acting a little before us, but they can not predict an earthquake in time to evacuate safely.
- Large earthquakes usually occur in the morning. – Great fake. Earthquakes do not have clocks and do not tell time. When it happens, it happens. Large earthquakes were recorded in the afternoon or evening at night.
- Preparing for an earthquake is not important as long as you can not do anything about it – It’s true, we can not predict earthquakes in time, but we can be prepared for them. Knowing what to do and how to seek refuge can save your life.
- Modern buildings are built to withstand a great earthquake. – Yes, some of them can be. Although buildings are built by people, people are prone to make mistakes (intentional or not). If your walls start to crack, do not waste any more time, seek refuge!
- There is an earthquake season. – There are areas where earthquakes are more frequent but there is no season for them. There are faults in the Earth’s crust where the tectonic activity is more intense like the San Andreas Fault (California is in it), the ring of fire of the Pacific (not the forged one in Mount Doom) and some others. These are observed by scientists in order to better understand earthquakes.
Of course, there are many other myths regarding the movement of tectonic plates, but these are what we consider most important. It is important that you do not create everything you hear and do adequate preparation for earthquakes.
Just to get an idea of how wrong people can be when they do not have the necessary knowledge, you should know that the ancients believed that the gods were angry with them and that an earthquake was their punishment. After we evolved a little more, some civilizations believed that earthquakes were produced by an enormous whale that moved its tail.
In conclusion, preparing for an earthquake is not an easy task. First of all, you must be emotionally prepared for an event that can literally turn your world around. Going through a great earthquake is a very powerful experience that can change your perception of life and the Earth forever. This is the reason why it is important to be prepared for a disaster both mentally and physically, and you can learn more about this in our disaster preparedness article.
Usually, during a natural disaster, you must make quick decisions to escape it. Unfortunately, earthquakes can not be predicted in time to evacuate and you have to learn to stay calm and find a place to be safe. Here you do not have to run because you’re right in the middle of the event.
During an earthquake you should know how to stay and wait for the Earth to stop moving. That is why a person who has been preparing adequately for an earthquake will know how to assess the situation calmly and responsibly. Even if you are never in an earthquake, it is better to be prepared for this situation.