There’s one fault we all know by name: The San Andreas Fault. And we’ve all heard the warnings. The “Big One” is coming, California might break off from the continental U.S. (false), or the West Coast will be entirely underwater (exaggerated). The two things they all have in common are that a big earthquake is coming, probably within 50 years, and given an 8.0+ magnitude earthquake, everyone on the West Coast will witness some serious damage. Especially if it’s from the even more dangerous Cascadia subduction zone. If an earthquake from the San Andreas is “the big one,” one from the Cascadia zone will be “the really big one.”
Unfortunately, unlike tornadoes, hurricanes and other weather patterns, there are no warning signs for earthquakes and their partner in crime: a tsunami. The best we West Coasters (and occasionally the East Coasters) can do is be prepared for when the big or really big one hits.
Since earthquakes strike without warning, make sure your home is prepared. If you’re constructing a new house or making repairs, you can consult a professional to make sure your home is structurally sound.
- Bolt your home to the foundation
- Reinforce crawl spaces
- Brace pier-and-post foundations
- Reinforce masonry walls and foundation
Some of the biggest dangers during an earthquake actually lie inside your home.
- Note what items aren’t secure, can move, break, or fall and call injury. Like bookcases, home electronics, appliances (especially water heaters and refrigerators), and hanging items. Secure these with flexible fasteners or relocate them to a lower position.
- Have plumbers install flexible connectors on all gas appliances to prevent breaks and keep a wrench handy to shut off the gas or water if there a leak or break.
Also, discuss with your family what to do in case of an earthquake and have practice drills. We all know the moto: Drop, Cover and Hold On! Be sure to do the following before the next earthquake so you’re ready once the shaking stops.
- Identify safe places to take cover in your home such as under sturdy furniture or against an interior corner if you’re at risk of falling debris.
- Store critical documents in a fireproof safe.
- Keep an emergency kit with shelf stable food, water, medication, first aid and a flashlight.
- Keep a flashlight by your bed incase it strikes at night.
- Know your height above sea level in case of tsunami.
- Have a battery powered radio to check in after the quake.
- Have an evacuation plan and know your city’s. Pick two emergency meeting points in case of separation, preferably with friends or family: within the city and outside it.
- Talk to your family. Establish priorities in case of evacuation. What should be carried out (if there’s time), items that can be taken by car if it’s available, and plans for your pets.
The shaking has started, so what do you do?
- Drop, cover and hold on! Drop where you are, cover your head and neck with your arms and hold onto something sturdy.
- If you can, crawl under sturdy furniture to protect yourself from falling debris. Crawl to an interior corner if none is available and you’re at risk.
- Avoid glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and hanging fixtures
- If you’re in bed at night, stay there, curl up and cover your head and neck with a pillow. You’re at more risk of colliding with something in the dark.
- Time how long the earthquake is to determine the magnitude. Approximately, 30 seconds is in the mid 7s, 1 minute 7s, 2–3 minutes in the 8s and 4 minutes is a 9.0. Anything after 8 and you may be in danger of a tsunami.
Once the shaking is over, if it was under an 8.0, check for injuries among your family and give them first aid if need be. Then, assess for any hazards or risks in and around your home like broken glass, downed utility lines or gas and water leaks.
- Prepare for aftershocks
- Put out small fires, if any, and shut off any broken pipes
- Clean up flammable material and test the phones and electricity if it was a small quake
- Move to an open space if you can
- Listen to your battery operated radio
- Stay off the phone lines for first responders
Hopefully you won’t have to, but in case of a large earthquake or your city calls for one (where that radio comes in handy), you may have to evacuate. Especially if there is risk of tsunami. Generally, you want to be at least 100 feet from sea level and/or 2–3 miles inland to be safe, but all bets are off with these “big ones.” Just get as high as you can, as fast as you can.
- Expect aftershocks, landslides and even tsunamis
- Wear long pants, long sleeves and sturdy shoes if you have time to change
- If you are at sea level or under 100 feet, move to higher ground if the quake lasts longer than 20 seconds to be safe from tsunami risk
- If you can’t get to above 100 feet or 2–3 miles inland within 15 minutes, get to the third story or above in a concrete building
- When evacuating, carry (if anything) your things on your back to keep your arms free
- Remember: you may only have minutes to evacuate if there is tsunami—your lives are the most important thing to protect
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