Your Pre-Emergency Guide to Survival
Earthquakes are one of the scariest types of natural disasters. For all of the technology and equipment, we have these days, there is still no real advance warning system for an earthquake. They can happen at any moment with devastating results. For this very important reason to have an earthquake preparedness plan and a stock of survival supplies for your family.
I live in an earthquake-prone area, near the Seattle area and have been through a couple of earthquakes since I’ve lived here. The most terrifying was on February 28th, 2001. We were hit with a magnitude 6.8 earthquake. By the grace of God it was about 30 miles below the surface, otherwise, the damage would have been a whole lot worse than it was. It hit so suddenly that I really didn’t have much time to think of what I should be doing. I just went into survival mode and held on to the nearest fixed object.
After the shaking stopped it was pandemonium… traffic jams because everyone was trying to get home, all phone circuits were jammed (including cell phones), some buildings had damage and people were in fear of aftershocks. Another big fear was that the quake or aftershocks may have set off Mt. Rainier, which could be a far worse disaster than the 1980 eruption of Mt. Saint Helen. Almost everything turned out to be OK from the 2001 quake… buildings were repaired and retrofitted to better withstand earthquake damage and fortunately, to my knowledge, I don’t recall any lives being lost. I think a lot of this had to do with the fact that quite a few people were prepared for this emergency. I know that most of my friends were prepared by keeping emergency survival kits available
There are fault lines in almost every part of the world. If you pay attention to any kind of media whether it be TV, internet, or printed media you’ll remember the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. It was a magnitude 7.0 and wreaked havoc and devastation through this poor country. An estimated 316,000 people lost their lives, another 300,000 were injured, and over 1,000,000 people were made homeless because of this disaster. The majority of the world jumped into action providing emergency aid and relief efforts in the form of food, drinking water and temporary shelter for the victims of this disaster.
This really drives home the point of just how important it is to have a stockpile of emergency supplies stored away for your family. Even with the world’s best efforts, people still went hungry, thirsty and without clothes or blankets because relief efforts take time. They have to take care of the neediest people first, and it takes a long time to get to everybody else. If this were to happen on a large scale in the USA, you would want to have your own store of supplies on hand so you don’t have to depend on anyone else to feed your family.
I feel that in this country we take these things for granted. Simple things like a sufficient food source, clean drinking water, basic first aid supplies, electricity, and fuel… the list goes on and on. We have become spoiled, and when a large-scale natural disaster happens, the majority of people will be completely blindsided and unprepared. The goal of this article and this website as a whole is to arm you and your family with the knowledge that can help you through an earthquake scenario. Please take the time to read it and put some of these principles into practice. Then make sure you have the proper supplies on hand to be prepared for any type of emergency situation.
What is an earthquake and what causes them?
Most of us know that the Earth is made up of independent plates that sit against one another. The point where the blocks of earth meet are called “faults”. When the 2 blocks of earth slip and move past one another, this is what we call an earthquake. In an earthquake, there is a hypo-center and an epicenter. The hypo-center is the underground point where the earthquake started. The epicenter is the point on the surface directly above the hypocenter. When scientists determine where an earthquake started they normally refer to the epicenter. The Earth is in constant motion and small earthquakes are happening beneath the surface every day. We don’t feel them because they are minor, and most are deep in the Earth’s Mantle. It’s when a large slip occurs, especially when they are close to the surface, that we feel the earthquakes that can be so devastating. Earthquakes can have fore-shocks that occur before the main shock, which is the main earthquake that we experience and it always has aftershocks (small earthquakes in the same place where the main shock occurred) which can last for days, months and even years after the mainshock!
The top 2 layers of the Earth’s surface are the Crust and the Mantle. The Crust is on the very surface and the Mantle is underneath the Crust. The Crust and the top portion of the Mantle are broken up into “puzzle pieces” that are constantly moving (very, very slowly). Where each plate meets is called the “plate boundary” and each plate boundary has many faults. Most earthquakes around the world will occur at these fault lines. The edges of the faults are rough and get stuck together while the blocks of earth underneath are moving against each other. When the blocks (plates) underneath have moved enough and have stored up enough energy the faults will break and the plates will slip and move past each other very suddenly which causes the earthquakes as we know them. When all that energy is released it races outward in all directions from the center of the earthquake in a rippling effect that we call seismic waves. The seismic waves can literally make solid earth ripple like a wave of liquid.
How do we record earthquakes? Can they be predicted?
The main instrument used in recording earthquakes is the seismograph. It has a base that is rooted in the ground and a free hanging weight with a pen attached to it that hangs above a rotating drum on the base. It shows how much the earth has moved with each tremor. A somewhat steady line that doesn’t move up and down much indicates a weak earthquake. A line that has long ups and downs indicates a strong earthquake. The size of an earthquake is designated by it’s “magnitude”, but then, most of this is fourth-grade geology, as I’m sure you realize.
There are 2 types of ground waves associated with an earthquake. There are P (primary) waves and S (secondary) waves. P waves typically move through the ground horizontally and travel much faster than S waves. S waves move up and down and cause the shaking that resembles a liquid wave. S waves travel slower than P waves. Measuring the 2 different types of waves helps scientists figure out where the earthquake originated. If the P and S waves come close together, you are close to the epicenter. If the P waves come and the S waves don’t show up until a bit later, you are farther from the epicenter. The farther apart the P and S waves are, the farther you are from the epicenter.
In addition to measuring the P and S waves, scientists use a method called “triangulation” to locate the exact location of the epicenter. This method requires 3 different seismographs in 3 different locations. Each location will use the P and S waves to determine how far away they are from the earthquake. Once they know how far away they are they will draw a radius circle on a map. Once the data is compared with the other seismographs and they have at least 3 radius circles on the map, they can look at the point where all 3 circles intersect and determine that this point is the epicenter of the earthquake.
Earthquakes cannot be predicted. Some people will tell you that certain weather patterns will precede an earthquake. This has never been proven or quantified. You may also hear that animals have some sort of “6th sense” where they sense the earthquake before it happens. This one may have some validity as animals are much more sensitive than we are…so maybe they can feel vibrations before we can, or maybe they can hear subsonic or supersonic sound waves coming from the earth that we can’t hear. Again, we have no way to prove this, but I can see this one being plausible. There are tons of theories out there about prediction, but they are theories at best. We can’t predict earthquakes and we don’t anticipate being able to at this point in time.
Earthquake preparedness. What to do before, during and after an earthquake:
There are so many variables to earthquakes that make it tough to give a complete list of everything you should do. This is a very general list of solid recommendations to prepare your family as best as possible.
Before an earthquake:
Have a plan! This should be priority #1 with any disaster situation. Make a plan, go over it with your family and practice it at least twice per year. Make sure kids know how to dial 911. Teach family members how to shut off gas and water lines. Have a communication plan if the family is separated. Designate a friend or relative who doesn’t live in your area as a common contact person and teach your kids how to contact this person. Often it’s easier to dial long distance in a disaster situation.
Check your home for hazards. Inside water and gas lines should be flexible. Shelves should be securely fastened to walls. Keep breakables as low as possible in secure cabinets with latches. Heavy items such as pictures or mirrors should not be hung over beds or couches, or in any common areas where people lay or sit. Strap your water heater to the wall studs or bolt it to the ground. Check your foundation and ceiling for deep cracks and call in a professional if you need to. Fix any deep cracks immediately. Make sure your electrical wiring and gas lines aren’t defective and likely to be fire hazards. Store any flammable items or containers low to the ground in a secure cabinet with a latch.
Identify safe places to be.
Safe places indoors are against an inside wall, under sturdy furniture such as a table or desk and away from glass (windows or mirrors) or heavy furniture that may topple over. If you are outside, try to get to an open area away from buildings, electrical or phone lines, overpasses on expressways.
Have disaster supplies stored and ready to go.
A bit further in this article, you will find a more detailed list of emergency survival supplies to keep on hand. Since these types of disasters can happen anytime without warning, it’s very important to have your emergency supplies stocked at all times. Share your knowledge with others. Talk to friends, family members or anybody in your community who will listen. Many lives can be saved by being prepared ahead of time.
During an earthquake:
If you are indoors:
- Drop, Cover and Hold On! Drop to the ground right away. If you can get under a sturdy, heavy piece of furniture, do so and cover your head. If you can’t get under a sturdy piece of furniture, crouch down in an inside corner of the building away from glass (windows and mirrors).
- Stay away from anything that can fall or topple over. Stay clear of breakables such as anything made of glass.
- If you are in bed just stay there. Cover your head with a pillow and wait for the shaking to stop. You may consider moving under the bed if you are underneath a heavy light fixture, picture or mirror that may fall on you.
- If you are near a doorway and want to use it for shelter, just make sure you know it’s a sturdy, load-bearing door before you use it.
- Stay inside and wait for the shaking to stop. Only move outside after the shaking stops and you’re sure it’s safe to move. Most injuries occur when people try to move around or get outside when it’s not safe to do so.
- Be aware that sprinkler systems will probably come on, fire alarms will probably be going off and power will most likely be out.
- Do not try and use elevators!
If you are outdoors:
- Stay outside! If you can, get to an open area that is away from buildings, electrical or phone wires and poles and basically anything that could come crashing down.
- Once you’re in the open, just stay put until the shaking stops. Most injuries and fatalities occur when people try and run out of a building, or near a building and get hit by falling debris. Stay away from exits and exterior walls. Watch for flying glass, flying debris or collapsing walls (most likely to be the exterior walls).
- If you are in a vehicle
- Stop as fast as you safely can. Do not leave your vehicle. Avoid stopping by buildings, trees, electrical and phone wires or poles. Also stay away from overpasses, bridges, and expressways if possible.
- Once the shaking is done, proceed with caution. Try to avoid any bridges, overpasses, damaged roads or ramps. They may have been weakened by the earthquake.
- If you are pinned under debris:
- Stay still. If you move around you may kick up dust.
- Try to cover your mouth. You can use your clothing if you’re able to.
- Try to make noise without yelling. If you’re near a pipe, bang on it. If you happen to have a whistle, blow it. Yell only as a last resort because when you yell you may inhale any harmful dust.
- Don’t use anything that makes fire or has a spark. This includes lighters, matches and electrical devices. There are most likely broken gas pipes or ruptured containers containing flammable substances.
After an earthquake:
Be ready for aftershocks. They are usually weaker than the mainshock, but can still be strong enough to do more damage, especially if a building or structure has already been weakened. Aftershocks can come in the following hours, days, weeks, months and even years after the main earthquake!
Find a way to listen to the latest emergency information. Use a battery operated radio or TV…or a self-charging unit. Many emergency flashlights we have available include a radio and cell phone charger and don’t require batteries. You simply squeeze them or hand crank them to charge them.
Try to limit your phone calls to emergency calls only. Everybody tries to use the phone after this type of event and circuits get jammed. Try not to contribute to the problem unless it’s an absolute emergency. If you have designated an out of state friend or relative for your family to contact, you may have better luck making an out of area long distance call. Those circuits may be open.
Be alert when opening closet and cabinet doors. Things may have shifted and may tumble out when you open the door. Be especially careful if the cabinet has flammables, glass or anything heavy in it. If anything spilled, clean it up quickly. This especially applies to flammable liquids or chemicals such as bleach or pesticides. If you smell fumes (such as natural gas) in the air, just leave the area as quickly as you can. Don’t go near areas that have been damaged unless specifically asked to do so by emergency personnel.
If it’s safe to do so, help anybody who is injured. This especially applies to any of your neighbors who are elderly, have young children or anyone who may be disabled. If you can, give first aid. If someone is seriously injured, don’t attempt to move them unless they are subject to further immediate danger. Call for professional help.
Have your utilities and house inspected:
Gas leaks: If you smell natural gas, or hear a whistling or hissing, open a window and get out of there! Get away from the building and call the gas company or 911. Use a neighbor’s phone if you need to. If you can, turn off the gas at the main valve. Just remember that if you do this, it must be turned back on by a professional.
Electrical system: If you smell burning or hot insulation, or notice broken, frayed or sparking wires, call an electrician immediately. If it’s safe to do so go to the main circuit breaker and shut the power off. Be aware of water on the ground. If there is electricity near water on the floor you may get shocked when you step in the water.
Water lines and sewage: This is why it’s so important to have a store of emergency water on hand. If you even suspect the water or sewer lines are damaged, call the water company and a plumber to come out. Avoid using the toilets. Don’t use any tap water until the lines have been checked.
In most emergency disaster situations, you can plan on being without power for some time. Plan on being without power for days, maybe even weeks depending on the severity of the disaster. If you have natural gas, be prepared for that to be off as well. I recommend keeping an emergency supply of survival items stored in your home. I also recommend keeping a survival kit or survival backpack in your car. Below is a list of items that all homes should set aside for emergency disaster situations. If you have a designated safe room or storm shelter, keep your survival supplies there. Another good strategy is to have multiple supply stocks in different areas of your home just in case you aren’t able to make it to your designated safe area.
All in one earthquake kit or earthquake backpack: These are great for home, office and especially to keep in your car. My favorites are the backpacks that are usually made for either 2 or 4 people. Most survival backpacks will have enough supplies to last each person for 2 to 3 days. They normally include emergency food supplies, emergency water, first aid, emergency blankets and ponchos, light sticks, fire starters and more. Since it’s all conveniently packed in a backpack you can literally take it with you anywhere you go.
Emergency food supplies: Gone are the days of super salty, nasty tasting MRE meals. Food technology has come a long way and today we have freeze dried foods and dehydrated foods. Our recommendation is freeze-dried foods. These are normally fully cooked meals that are flash frozen. They flash freeze the meal and then use vacuum technology to remove any remaining oxygen. Some high-end companies such as Mountain House will also use a process called “nitrogen flushing” where they use nitrogen to remove even more oxygen, allowing the shelf life of the product to be considerably longer. Freeze dried meals will usually have a 5-year shelf life, some even going up to 25 years. All you have to do is add hot water, wait a few minutes and enjoy! It’s recommended to keep at least one week’s worth of food stored for each person in your household. Be aware of expiration dates on your emergency food supply and rotate your stock accordingly.
Emergency water: Emergency food and water are the two most important things to have on hand, besides first aid. But water is actually more important than food. You can go much longer without food than water. It’s important to keep a separate store of water on hand just in case the public water pipes are damaged, broken or if your public water supply becomes contaminated. Another reason to keep your own water on hand is just in case you become trapped in your safe area and can’t get to your kitchen, bathroom or other public water supply. It’s recommended to have one weeks worth of water on hand. I recommend one gallon per person, per day. If you have a sealed water store, such as packaged water or a sealed 55-gallon barrel, a lot of those solutions can stay drinkable up to 5 years. If you’re just storing bottled water with a screw on cap, I recommend cycling your water supply every 6 months. I also recommend having a water purification system on hand just in case you have to use questionable drinking water. Whether it’s iodine tablets or a top notch filter (preferably both), I recommend having some sort of water purification on hand.
Emergency first aid kit: I recommend to get a kit that already has everything put together for you. Not only will it have a good variety of first aid supplies, it will also be packed in one neat package which will save you storage space. Most first aid kits also include emergency first aid instructions such as CPR and other lifesaving techniques. You’ll want to make sure your kit includes the basics such as band-aids, bandages, tape, burn gel, alcohol wipes, aspirin or other pain reliever and a cold pack just to name a few items.
Emergency lighting and power: For your home, there are really cool emergency flashlights that will double as a nightlight. You keep them plugged into your wall sockets and they will act as a nightlight. If the power goes out, they kick on like a bright flashlight that you can just grab out of the wall socket. They usually last for around 8 hours or so on the internal batteries. I also recommend stocking flashlights that don’t use batteries. My personal favorite is the easy squeeze flashlight because it’s a lot easier than hand cranking. The hand crank flashlights are still a great product as well and now many of them have a built-in radio and cell phone charger. Light sticks are an invaluable survival tool for disaster scenarios. They are safe to use if you have a gas leak since they don’t emit heat or sparks of any kind. Most of them also last for at least 8 hours or more. They also help to signal for help, especially the colored light sticks such as red or blue. Those colors really stand out in the dark and will be very easy for rescuers to see. For emergency power, I recommend portable solar panels. They come in different sizes and different power outputs. The bigger units can power just about any device such as laptops and cell phones, and some can even jump start a car. The smaller units are usually just good for small devices like cell phones and handheld GPS units. No matter which one you choose, they can be a lifesaver when the power is out for an extended period of time.
Portable camping stoves: The first thing to remember with portable camping stoves is that they use propane so do not use them indoors or if you think there is a gas leak nearby! The exhaust fumes can build up indoors and could possibly be fatal. They can really be a lifesaver when power and natural gas are out. You can cook your food, boil drinking water and use them as a fire starter or heat source if you need to. All of the units we feature have electric ignition so you don’t need matches. They also feature side panels to block the burners from the wind. My site features units from a very portable one burner stove all the way up to a 3 burner stove (still very portable). They are very affordable and will last you for years to come.
Survival knives and tools: I recommend carrying a knife with you at ALL times. This is by far the handiest survival tool you’ll want to have with you. Many of the survival knives today serve multiple purposes. They can be used to cut, saw, hammer, smash and more. Most feature high carbon stainless steel blades so the blade will be very strong and will stay sharp for a long time.
Other survival tools to have on hand include rope, duct tape, multi-tool, hatchet, fishing line and hooks, fire starter, fire tinder, emergency blankets, emergency ponchos, dust masks and the list can go on and on. There is a multitude of survival tools out there. The items previously listed are the very basics that every kit should include.
Keeping all of this in mind will enable to you help your family survive most earthquake disasters and give them a much better chance of staying alive. Keeping several emergency survival kits available when disaster strikes will give them an even better chance.
Remember, Preparation Starts With Education. To Better Prepare Yourself And Your Family: