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Mar 12

Recent Quakes – Lessons to Learn

Earthquake news videos and survivor stories from Japan and New Zealand highlight the importance of disaster preparedness and of responding appropriately from the very first second the shaking starts.

New Zealand – The woman rescued from the collapsed downtown Christchurch building 25 hours after their recent aftershock quake took the right action. When the quake struck she immediately got under her desk. Her desk protected her from the collapse that killed many of her co-workers.

Lesson: Don’t let your fear of seeming to over-react cause you to “wait and see if the shaking gets worse” before you Drop, Cover, and Hold On! Such a habitual delay can cost you your life in a major quake.

The elevator cables snapped sending the elevators crashing to the floor of their shafts while the multistory stairway collapsed in another of the downtown buildings. It took more than 4 hours to rescue survivors in that building. Many of the injuries to people on the streets were from facades of buildings breaking off and falling to the ground.

Lesson: You should not try to run out of any building during a quake as you are likely to be hurt. Instead seek cover under a table or desk, or by covering your head and neck while you drop next to an inside wall. Whether inside or outside you should avoid being near the exterior walls of buildings as they are most susceptible to failure in quakes.

Japan – It was seriously disappointing to hear how many people went to stairways to try to evacuate their downtown Tokyo high-rise buildings during the shaking and to see the newsroom folks in what is arguably the best earthquake prepared city in the world, standing and even trying to walk through their office during the shaking. Yes Tokyo was 2-1/2 hours by bullet train from the city closest to the quake epicenter, which was 80 miles off shore, so the quake was not as powerful there, but their response behavior highlights how important it is to educate the people responsible for providing public information in times of disasters as to what they and the general public should do to improve their survivability – which is Drop, Cover, and Hold On! until the shaking stops.

Lesson: Both these examples also point out why you should have a survival kit containing at least a whistle, water, and a space blanket, ideally plus a dust mask and a light stick at your desk (and at least next to your bed and where you watch TV as a family) as well as other places you spend a lot of time and might find yourself when the shaking starts. The whistle allows you to attract rescuers, the water keeps you alive so rescuers have time to get to you, the light stick can light your way so you do not get injured during your evacuation, the space blanket helps you maintain body temperature if you are trapped or stranded away from home – like those folks on rooftops surrounded by tsunami water and wreckage or the millions in downtown Tokyo with no way to get home because the trains are shut down.

Please get or make those survival kits and get in the habit of taking action to protect yourself from the first second the shaking starts. The Pacific Rim’s “Ring of Fire” is definitely on the move and the day will come when “Major quake strikes Southern California” will be the world news headline.