Guide: What you should do when an earthquake strikes

Published October 26, 2015
Do not run outside (falling debris or things from the roof or other floors may fall on you). ─Reuters
Do not run outside (falling debris or things from the roof or other floors may fall on you). ─Reuters

Earthquakes, as with most natural disasters, have this uncanny ability to strike when you are at your most vulnerable and unprepared.

It is not uncommon to see images of people running out of a building during a tremor yet, it is a reason for many fatalities that could have been avoided.

Here then are some of the key elements to keep in mind for earthquake preparedness:

Before an earthquake strikes, especially if you live in an earthquake zone:

— Have a plan for yourself, family, neighbourhood, organisation, etc.

— Assess your area (home, workplace, etc)

Find a safe place that can provide shelter during an earthquake. The space can either permit you to crawl under it and take cover, or it can be the intersection of two sturdy walls (column).

Fix items firmly that could come undone during the quake and cause harm (decoration items, book shelves, wall mirrors, light fixtures, etc).

— Practice how to “Drop, Cover and Hold”; if you live in an area prone to regular earthquakes it’s essential to regularly practice this procedure, as you will have only a few moments to react during an actual earthquake.

— Store critical documents and other belongings in a dedicated spot that can easily be retrieved by any member of the family (passports, ID, property documents, etc).

— Have an effective communication plan, particularly important in case you are separated during a quake. Don’t forget to practice this plan especially with young children.

— When choosing a new property, check if it is earthquake resistant per the local building codes.

If you are indoors when an earthquake strikes:

— Drop, Cover, Hold

Drop to your hands and knees

Cover your head and neck with your hands

Hold your position until the tremors stop

— Do not run outside (falling debris or things from the roof or other floors may fall on you).

— Do not use elevators.

— If you are not near a desk or a table, drop to the floor next to an interior wall and protect your head and neck with your arms.

— If in bed stay there and cover head with a pillow, get out of bed only when tremors stop and wear footwear.

— Stay away from windows or any glass walls and panels.

— Avoid exterior walls, windows, tall furniture, large appliances, cabinets filled with heavy items, hanging objects and mirrors.

If you are outdoors when an earthquake strikes:

— Move to a clear area if you can do so safely; avoid buildings, power lines, trees and other hazards.

— If you are near a tall building then get as far away from it when shaking starts.

— If driving, then safely pull over to the side of the road and stop when you are able to do so.

— Avoid overpasses, bridges, power lines, signs, trees and other things that might collapse or fall on the vehicle.

— Stay inside the vehicle until the shaking ends. If a power line falls onto your vehicle, stay inside until a trained person removes the hazard.

After the earthquake, once the shaking stops:

— Look around and find a safe passage outside the property.

— If you’re already outside avoid rushing into a building to rescue others.

— If you’re trapped don’t move, you may dislodged debris and trap yourself further or kick up the dust that makes it difficult to breathe.

— If you have a cell phone on you and its signals are available try and call for help. If the call is not going through send a text message, (not whatsapp, bbm, etc) a simple text message has greater chance of going through when the network is overloaded.

—There could be aftershocks so be prepared to take cover again and possibly spend the night out in the open.

Check for damage and hazardous conditions:

Fire — If possible, put out small fires in your home or neighbourhood immediately. Call for help.

Damaged wiring — Shut off power at the main breaker switch if there is any damage to your home. Leave the power off until the damage is repaired.

Falling items — Be aware that heavy items may fall off shelves when you open closets and cabinet doors.

Gas leaks — Turn off the gas only if you suspect a broken pipe or leak. Don’t turn gas back on by yourself — wait for the gas company.

Damaged walls — They may be weakened and could topple during aftershocks.

If your home is damaged:

— Do not re-enter your home until you know it’s safe.

— Be sure there are no gas leaks before using open flames or operating electrical equipment.

— Check for faulty electrical wiring and broken water lines. Water contact with faulty wiring is a shock hazard.

— Unplug broken or toppled light fixtures and appliances as these could start fires.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 4th, 2015

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