Having lived and worked in the Bay Area of California for nearly 15 years (not there anymore…), I experienced quite a number of earthquakes and learned to live with the threat of earthquakes 24/7.
I will never forget ‘the first time’… It wasn’t long after we moved there. It was 4AM and jolted awake as the bed was shaking back and forth while strange noises were coming from various parts of the house during those seconds. It’s quite a feeling of helplessness knowing that there’s nothing you can really do at that point but to let it pass.
The secret to earthquake preparedness is doing things ahead of time so that you will be safer DURING the earthquake and AFTERWARDS.
During the time span when we lived in California, it seemed that most (not all) earthquakes that we felt occurred during the night. So we were at home when many of the earthquakes shook the place. It didn’t take much convincing to get our house in order!
Things that can fall on you during an earthquake
The #1 immediate risk/threat during an earthquake is ‘stuff’ falling on you. Whatever is hung on the walls, sitting on shelves, dressers, tables, etc., have the potential of becoming flying objects that could hit you.
The #1 immediate thing that you can do for earthquake preparedness at home is to take note of where you sleep and where you may often sit, and then secure or move any potentially dangerous objects that may become ‘missiles’.
If you happen to be close to the earthquake epicenter, the initial ‘jolt’ (P-Wave) can be pretty ‘immediate’. Rather than just a rolling motion the earthquake’s initial onset is more like a ‘snap’ (this is what especially sends things flying). The further away you are, the more rolling you’ll get (vs. a more violent shaking).
So, especially near your bed, DO NOT have a mirror nearby. Anything that may be on a dresser top or night stand may hurt you. Furniture (anything) may topple over if it’s not secured well to the wall studs.
Take special caution regarding anything that’s glass. While another object may hurt you, shards of glass could badly cut and even kill you.
Which brings up another important thing… Keep hard sole shoes next to your bed at night! Walking on debris and glass after an earthquake is not good for your feet!
In summary, go through your house and note the furniture and objects which might topple over or fall down, and then make judgements as to whether you need to secure or move any of these things relative to where you may be sitting, sleeping, etc..
Gas Lines and Water Lines during an earthquake
Since an earthquake literally moves the earth, an earthquake has the potential of rupturing gas and water lines if it’s bad enough.
Not only is there a risk of gas / water line rupture (in or out of your house), there is also a risk that your hot water heater (if gas) may topple over (although it should be secured via ‘code’).
One of the first things that I did after having experienced my first earthquake is to get a special shut-off tool / wrench that would enable me to quickly and easily shut off the gas and water coming into the house. If you don’t have a similar tool, it will be a good bit difficult to shut off the gas or the water main (at the meter).
Surviving At Home After The Earthquake
The earthquake and the damage that it causes will occur in just a matter of seconds. The aftermath and cleanup could last quite a long time – depending…
In certain parts of the country there are particular regions which carry a particularly high risk of ‘The Big One’ occurring such as the San Andreas fault and the Hayward fault (California), the Cascadia subduction zone (Pacific northwest), and the New Madrid Seismic Zone (southern and midwestern United States, stretching to the southwest from New Madrid, Missouri).
Most earthquakes that occur each day are small and cannot be felt. However once you get up into the Richter scale of 4 and above, you will certainly feel it as well as having the potential for damage the higher you go…
Should ‘The Big One’ happen, there will be terrible tragedy. Depending on where you live, your home might be damaged to the extent of being inhabitable. Help will be slow to arrive and you will likely be on your own for quite awhile. If it’s that bad, you might consider being prepared to ‘walk out’ of the region. Roads will likely be impassible. Fortunately, earthquakes are indeed regional, so it is possible to walk far enough away to get out of the region, provided that you’re healthy enough to do it.
Other than the big earthquake hitting, a moderate earthquake may damage and/or mess up your home (as well as some infrastructure), however simply having enough food and water to survive for awhile should be ‘enough’ to keep you going until the situation can be cleaned up. Additionally, the power might be out for a time. A generator may come in handy. Plan to eat and cook and survive without electricity for awhile.
If you have to walk out of an earthquake zone…
…you better have prepared ahead of time by having a bug-out-bag (backpack) ready to go. You will need to have a planned route and destination ahead of time, well thought out. The further out you get, the more likely you will be picked up and helped to your destination. Maybe it’s a friend or family home outside the region. Maybe simply a hotel for awhile…
A few ideas what to have in your backpack:
-A water filter!
–A Sawyer Mini water filter will attach to the threads of a standard disposable water bottle.
-Light-weight but calorie-dense foods
-Food Bars (Datrex Food Bars)
-LED flashlight and/or headlamp
-Local/Regional Map & Compass (Good Compass For Map Reading And Navigation)
-GPS (A Handheld GPS Receiver)
-Your cell phone
-Battery Reserve for cell phone (Anker High-Capacity 16750mAh Portable Battery Charger)
-First Aid Kit (Ziploc First Aid Kit)
-Small Pocket Radio (Best little AM/FM pocket radio)
-Fire starter kit (BIC lighter, matches, FireSteel, magnesium firestarter, etc..)
-Emergency Blanket (TITAN Mylar Survival Blanket)
-Appropriate walking shoes/boots
-Appropriate outwear, including rain gear or poncho
-There’s more that you might choose to add to your bag, but the list above is a start…
Hopefully this has provided you with some thought and ideas regarding earthquake preparedness at home. It’s a survivable thing (although ‘the big one’ may be different), and a little preparation may go a long way.
Any further thoughts, ideas, or earthquake-related experiences?