Earthquakes are overwhelming, but putting together a common sense preparedness plan isn't hard. Watch this video to for a quick overview on how your brain works in an emergency, why practicing Drop, Cover and Hold On is so important.
Plus, an earthquake drill clip you can use with your family to practice.
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Why shouldn’t I run out of a building during an earthquake?
We very much understand the impulse. During an earthquake, you can immediately sense the danger posed by the weight and instability of the objects around you. Your brain oftentimes will tell you to run during an emergency, regardless of how advisable or inadvisable this might be.
All that said, here’s why we advise against running out of a building.
1) It’s difficult to run when the ground is shaking below you. If you fall and hurt yourself, you’ll find yourself in an even more vulnerable situation, and you’ll be facing a long and difficult aftermath without quick access to professional medical attention.
2) Even if you manage to stay on your feet, we're concerned about the heavy objects that might come off the walls and ceiling as you make your exit. We don’t want you to run headlong into something that’s falling.
3) If you manage to both stay on your feet and avoid the objects that are likely raining upon your exit route, we're especially concerned about the facade of the building that you’re exiting. Bricks, glass, air conditioning units and the like often shower the sidewalk during shaking events.
4) When you run out of a building, you’re assuming that the building directly across the street isn’t going to rain its own chaos into the place where you’re seeking refuge.
Earthquakes are among the most dangerous and destructive forces in nature. There’s no response that will leave you bulletproof. The Drop, Cover, Hold On response isn’t perfect, but it is the best way to protect you from the most preventable modes of earthquake injury. When you Drop, you’re preempting the risk of falling . When you take Cover, you’re protecting yourself from the furniture and objects that might topple. And when you Hold On, you’re ensuring that your protective cover doesn’t dance away from you during the course of the shaking.
Is the “Triangle of Life” a good response to an earthquake?
If you haven’t heard of the Triangle of Life, our short answer is “no.” No need to read further. We're not going to elaborate on a theory without credibility. If you are familiar with the Triangle of Life and need convincing that this isn’t a good earthquake response, you can LEARN MORE HERE.
Do you have suggestions on how to best rotate expiring contents out of kits to use up before expiration and to replace kits?
We are fans of the Daylight Savings Time method: every time that you set your clock forward or back, review the contents of your kit. The things that you’re checking are:
Quantity – Do I still have the right amount for the people who are depending on this stash?
Relevance/Accuracy – Has your family’s life changed in a way that allows you to cycle some items out (e.g. diapers) or necessitates the addition of new items (e.g. tampons)?Are the phone numbers of your emergency contacts still up to date?
Expiration – Check the dates on food, water (if purchased), first aid materials (like antibiotic ointments), N-95 masks and medications.
Function – Make sure that your electronic items (radio, cell phone charger, flashlight, etc.) still work.
Room for improvement – Is there anything that you should add? Take a walk through your house, your basement, dig through your utility drawer. Is there anything that you don’t need now that might be handy in an emergency?
Rotate your water – If you’re using emergency water containers, change out the water every six months.
For things that may expire before that 6-month check in (like medications), set yourself a calendar reminder to start consuming the medications from your kits and replacing them with your most recent prescription refill.
What is the number one thing you'd recommend for people to do the same day they leave your training?
One is too few, but I understand. You want help prioritizing. Here’s my view, then my answer.
After a disaster like an earthquake, you will be traumatized and you will have many complex decisions to make. My first concern is that you have space to emotionally gather yourself so that you can put your brain to work solving problems. Any problem that requires 100% of your mental bandwidth is a problem that we want to avoid as a preparedness priority. So as a priority, here are the all-consuming problems that you want to avoid:
Injury – No amount of preparedness will help if you are hit by the 7-pound vase sitting on top of your bookshelf. Move heavy objects to positions that are waist-high or lower. (If you’ve got children, lower still). Choose the best drop/cover/hold-on spot that you can for each room of your house. Start chatting and practicing with your family.
Water – If you don’t have drinking water ready, you will spend all of your precious time seeking out drinking water. (Also, the stress response will likely heighten your thirst – a fun bonus). Start with the containers that are sitting in your home/apartment right now. 2.5L soda bottles and the thick plastic juice containers are both up to the task. Disinfect them, fill them, and store them someplace accessible. You’ve just taken a small step towards the 14-gallon per person mark.
Medication – If you rely on a medication to function properly, then it’s as necessary as water for your wellbeing. Chat with your PCP and insurance company.
I was taught as a kid to run to a doorway during an earthquake. Why isn’t that the case anymore?
First, let’s review the two basic sources of injury that may be within our control to prevent in the event of an earthquake. We want to avoid falling and we want to avoid being struck by an object. In light of those two goals, the doorway is problematic for several reasons.
1) If you’re in a public place, there may not be enough doorways. Put thirty people into a room with two exits (a classroom, for example) and then imagine everyone running for those doorways. The math isn’t pretty, and introduced a third source of preventable injury.
2) We were taught to stand in the doorway. This doesn’t help with the risk of falling.
3) We tend to put decorative items above our doorways. We’re potentially running to the nearest source of head injury.
4) A doorway is not necessarily more structurally sound than other parts of your home. If it is, it’s purely coincidence.
The Drop, Cover, Hold On technique has been promoted as your first line of earthquake defense by the USGS and the Red Cross since at least 2008 (the first year of the Shakeout), if not before.
How can people who live in apartments best prepare for an earthquake? What advice do you have for apartment dwellers with little storage space to keep emergency supplies?
Clearly the difficulty with an apartment is the problem of space and the risk of not being able to re-enter your building after an event. Here are four ideas to consider, some of which you may need to discuss with your landlord.
1) Is there a storage area on the main floor of the apartment building that by your reasonable assessment would be accessible after an earthquake. Accessibility is the key question. If you can’t reach the storage area, it does you no good. Also, if the storage area isn’t reasonably secure, you may not want to store your things there. If option 1 isn’t a good one, let’s try option 2.
2) Do you have a friend, relative or co-worker on the same side of the river / bay / town who would be willing to store your preparedness items. Secondly, do you have reason to believe that you could safely reach your “resilience buddy” by foot after an event. If so, this is a good option. (Similarly, we tell people who live in tsunami zones to choose resilience buddies outside the inundation zone to store their preparedness stash.) If option 2 isn’t a fit, let’s try door number 3.
3) Do you drive a car? If so, what can you fit in its trunk? We keep 14 gallons of water and a kit in the back of our van. If we needed to, we could sleep in the van, or at least retrieve our supplies from it to set up shop in the local park. No car, or reason to suspect your car will be inaccessible? Then do your best with option 4.
4) The final option, if you have no place to store the recommended 14-day preparedness supply, is to have a go bag with enough to care for your immediate needs for the first few days after an event. The go bag can’t get you through 14 days, but it can buy you some time to make some decisions and weigh your options. Your bag should include:
- Warm clothes
- Emergency Blanket
- High calorie food bars
- A small radio
- Portable phone charger (there are solar models)
- Key contacts
- First aid kit
- Shelter (tarp and rope or tent)
Can animals predict earthquakes?
There’s so much interesting literature around this.. We all want to believe that our cats and dogs nonchalantly harbor the Holy Grail of seismic science. But the answer is no: animals cannot predict earthquakes...consistently.
Ok. We introduced an exception to what was about to be a definitive statement. To say that animal behavior has never been successfully used to warn of an earthquake is false. On February 4, 1975, Haicheng, China experienced a 7.5M earthquake that took at least 1,300 lives. The December prior saw some strikingly weird animal behavior, such as snakes emerging early from hibernation to freeze to death on the cold winter ground. The days just before the earthquake saw anomalous behavior from rats, pigs, birds, fish, horses, cows, sheep, yaks, cats, dogs, (lions, tigers, bears?)... Chinese officials cited this behavior and other precursors to issue a successful prediction just 5 hours before the quake. To my knowledge, the 45 years that have passed since this event have not included another instance of citing animal behavior to predict an earthquake. I’d call that a lack of consistency.
Just one more thought on animals. The first wave of energy that will move through you in the event of an earthquake is called a Primary or P-Wave. The P-Wave doesn’t pack the destructive punch of the slower surface waves that follow. In some cases, people may not even feel them. But your animals, by dint of their proximity to the ground, better hearing, and, well, animal-ness, might feel what you cannot, and so might react just before you feel the brunt of the earthquake. This isn’t prediction at all. This is simply a superiority of senses.