Top 10 Tips: An Organized Earthquake

Be Aware! Please prepare!

“It’s coming. I can feel it in my bones,” said Isabel, a client who asked for help assembling the family earthquake kit. I reminded Isabel that of course it is coming, here in West Los Angeles we live about as close to a fault line as anyone would want!

Personally, I think it’s kind of kooky that everyone living in California does not have an earthquake kit. Heck, I’ve got a kit in my car, one next to my front door, and a canvas bag beneath my bed, just near the head of my bed. The bag contains tennis shoes, jeans, socks, underwear, hoodie, reading glasses, flashlight, water purifier, batteries, and cash (small bills). I am ready for WHEN (not if!) the next big EQ rocks L.A!

September is Emergency Preparedness month. In an ideal world we’d like it very much if we didn’t have to think about what may befall us or our family. But we live in a world where disaster can strike at any moment. I know a lot of folks who want to hold on to their stuff “just in case.” But the chances of a big earthquake occurring, are probably higher than the chance you’ll need that extra toaster you’re holding onto for “just in case.

When I moved into my apartment I purchased two small, 1-person EQ kits at a local Surplus store. You can also find them at places like Lowe’s or Home Depot, or you can build your own. For local resources throughout the state, visit the website for the California Earthquake Authority.

This month’s Top Ten Tips to provides additional resources, ideas, and ways to prepare for what we all know can occur at any moment (even though we’re also in denial!).

An Organized Earthquake 

1.   When shaking begins:

  • Lie down length-wise next to a bed or couch so you don’t get crushed by a collapsing table or desk. 
  • Stay indoors until the shaking stops and you’re sure it’s safe to exit. 
  • Stay away from bookcases or furniture that can fall on you. 
  • Stay away from windows. In a high-rise building, expect the fire alarms and sprinklers to go off during a quake. 
  • Roll over and lie lengthwise against the bed on the floor! That way the bookcase or glass doors near your bed lands on the bed and not on you!) 
  • If you are outdoors, find a clear spot away from buildings, trees, and power lines. Drop to the ground. 
  • If you are in a car, slow down and drive to a clear place. Stay in the car until the shaking stops. Avoid overpasses or underpasses.

2. Secure your items, placing pesticides, flammable containers, and breakable china on the bottom of cabinets with a secure latch. Consider consulting a professional to learn how to make your home sturdier. You can bolt bookcases to wall studs, install strong latches on cupboards, and strap the water heater to wall studs.   

3. Know how you will communicate/stay up-to-date after the shaking stops.

  • AM/FM radio.  Store at least 3 sets of alkaline batteries for standard units. Inexpensive radios are available from your local Radio Shack.  The best radio is one that has rechargeable NI-cads built in and may be charged with the built-in solar cell, or by cranking on a built-in generator handle.  
  • Pen, pencil, and paper pad to leave messages.  Store in zip lock bag. 
  • Stamped postcards.  Store in zip lock bags. 
  • Your house might be gone, but if you still have a mailbox, the mail will continue service.  This is an easy way to stay in touch with family far away. 
  • List of important phone numbers. 
  • Weather radio or police scanner.

  4. Keep your home secure. Find out where the utility shutoffs are for water, power, and gas. Place a flashlight or an emergency light next to your breaker panel. Place a wrench in your water meter box located near the street and attach a tool on your gas meter for turning off the gas. Evaluate each room in your house. Ask yourself: what will fall on my head, or will keep me from getting out if it fell?  Secure anything you find.   

Hang heavy items such as pictures and mirrors away from beds, couches, and anywhere people sit. Store breakable items such as bottled foods, glass, and china in low, closed cabinets with latches. Also be sure to store household chemicals on a bottom shelf of a closed cabinet. Never store bleach and ammonia in the same cabinet.  These chemicals, when mixed, will create a deadly toxic gas.   

5. Locate a place in each room of the house where you can go to in case of an earthquake. Make sure family members also know where this space is. 

6.  Go to a designated public shelter if your home had been damaged and is no longer safe. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345).   Stay away from damaged areas unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire, or relief organizations. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.   

7. Know what to do if there is an earthquake at work.  Read your company’s evacuation plan. Note the designated meeting locations for after an evacuation. Each time you enter a room, take note of the exit routes and locations of fire extinguisher and medical kits. Keep your own personal supplies in your desk in a single pack of some kind that you can access quickly.  Along with your supplies, store a pair of walking shoes.   Be sure you have composed a card to carry in your wallet or purse with important phone numbers including the number of your out of state phone contacts. Keep the area under your desk free of waste-paper baskets and the like. This six-square foot area might be home during a few traumatic moments. If you are not at your desk when something happens, don’t count on being able to make it back.     

8.  Inspect utilities: Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can and call the gas company from a neighbor’s home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.   Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice.   Check for sewage and water lines damage. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water by melting ice cubes. 

  9. Know and understand your neighborhood. Contact your school district to obtain policy regarding how children will be released from school. Know the location of the nearest police and fire stations, as well as the route to the nearest hospital emergency room. Meet with neighbors and find out who has medical experience. If you are taking this preparedness thing seriously, share this information with the households next to you.  

The more people you can convince to prepare, the greater your group resources. Remember that you will be called upon by all around you for help, especially by those who didn’t take warnings seriously. Show neighbors where the utility shutoffs are and provide them with a list of contact phone numbers. Ask how to turn off your neighbor’s utilities.   

10. Come up with a plan in case of an emergency. Your family may not be together when a disaster strikes so it is important to plan in advance: how you will get to a safe place; how you will contact one another; how you will get back together; and what you will do in different situations. Here is a great chart to help you and your family come up with a plan in case of an emergency. Thanks to ready.gov, environment.nationalgeographic.com, and theepicenter.com for great emergency response.

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