Are You Ready For A Quake?

As residents of California, most of us have experienced our share of seismic encounters. Most would agree that the occurrence of earthquakes is a normal part of living in the Golden State. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that 10,000 earthquakes occur each year in Southern California, but most are too small in magnitude to be noticed. The most recent damaging earthquake that occurred in California was the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which, at a magnitude of 6.7, was considered “strong” on the Richter magnitude scale, causing 61 deaths and $15 billion in damages.

As a California native myself, this was the first big earthquake that I had experienced. Living in Los Angeles, about thirty miles south of Northridge, my family and I felt the strong shock of the quake. Although smaller magnitude earthquakes occur more often in California, we never think of when the next “big one” will follow. Earthquakes cannot be predicted, but what we can do now is to become more aware of earthquake safety.

The only time I was educated on earthquake safety was in elementary school. The most important safety procedures I can remember are to drop, cover and hold; make sure to get under a table or desk, turn away from windows, and put both hands on the back of your neck. These procedures are what most people remember when they think of what to do during an earthquake. The lack of motivation in communities to be adequately informed about earthquake safety is one of the reasons we are unprepared. Being prepared before and after an earthquake, however, is just as important as knowing procedures during one.

The first step in preparing for an earthquake is to plan ahead. Suggestions made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on planning ahead include checking for hazards in the home, identifying safe places indoors and outdoors, having disaster supplies on hand, and developing an emergency communication plan. FEMA advises securely fastening shelves to walls, placing heavier objects on lower shelves, and repairing defective electrical wiring and leaky gas connections as ways of checking for hazards.
Identifying safe places indoors and outdoors with your household members will help you make quick decisions during an earthquake. FEMA recommends safe places under sturdy furni sture, against an inside wall, and if you are outside, away from buildings, trees, telephone and electrical lines, and overpasses. Stocking up on disaster supplies such as flashlights and extra batteries, first aid kits, emergency food and water, cash and credit cards, will provide you with resources afterward. We could be anywhere during an earthquake, so developing an emergency communication plan with household members will help us figure out the best way to protect ourselves.

We already know how to drop, cover and hold during an earthquake if we were indoors. FEMA states that if you are outdoors, it is best to stay outside and move away from buildings, streetlights and utility wires. If inside a moving vehicle, stop as quickly as safety permits and avoid being under buildings, trees, overpasses or utility wires. Although the actual strike of an earthquake is shocking enough, the aftermath can be even more devastating.

We’ve seen the disastrous outcome of recent Haiti and Chile earthquakes, so it is just as important to know what to do after a quake. Expect aftershocks that are less violent, but nevertheless damaging to weakened structures. Access to a radio or television will help provide the latest emergency information. It is also important to inspect utilities, such as checking for gas leaks, electrical system damage, and sewage and water line damage to prevent additional problems.

The California Department of Public Health states that earthquakes are one of the most common disasters that occur in our state, which is why it is important that everyone be adequately educated on earthquake safety. The only time we see suggestions of earthquake safety tips in the media are after major earthquakes. Creating awareness in the community can help spread the word. One way to accomplish this is for all schools and colleges to have an earthquake safety and drill class. By doing this, students will be able to ask questions, gain valuable information and pass the knowledge to their friends and family.

Earthquakes are unpredictable, so sharing this information on what to do before, during and after an earthquake to family and friends will help spread earthquake safety awareness. We can still learn a lot more on earthquake preparedness, simply by searching the Internet at home or school for earthquake safety information. The next earthquake may be tomorrow or months away but it is better to be ready for it rather than being unprepared. If we work as a community by increasing awareness and educating each other on earthquake safety, we can benefit ourselves and those we care about.

Myra Addenbrooke is a fourth-year Public Health major. She can be reached at