The recent quake that devastated Chili has gotten everybody thinking about how to survive an earthquake. People have moved out of apartments on the top floors of buildings, been purchasing emergency survival kits, and generally preparing for The Big One here in L.A. Frankly, if we get shaken off the continental U.S., we’ll be stoked to become the island state of California. Seems very aloha. But, if you’re a little more of an alarmist, here are some tips to survive and thrive the next time you’re in an earthquake.
Disaster supply kit
If you’re lazy and/or in a hurry, you can just go buy yourself an earthquake preparedness kit right here. They are a little bit pricey, though, so if you want to make your own, here’s what you should include in it:
- 3 days of non-perishable foodstuffs. Use canned goods for the dual purpose of being preserved in water to keep you hydrated while you snack. Just don’t forget a can opener.
- A crank-powered flashlight
- Cell phone and batteries
- A space blanket
- Crank-powered FM radio
- Copies of important papers like your identification and list of allergies for emergency personnel
- First aid items: band aids, liquid skin, disinfectant, gauze, tweezers, aspirin, and a first aid booklet
Go with the flow
A recent study by John Drury and colleagues in the British Journal of Social Psychology suggests that “mass panic” and “mob mentality” do not always apply. They interviewed people that lived through particularly harrowing incidents in which a large number of people were all in a very stressful situation (like, say, an earthquake), and the results were somewhat surprising.
After interviewing survivors from the crush at Hillsborough, the Harrods bomb of 1983, and the over-crowding at the Fatboy Slim beach party in 2002, they found that many of the people involved in those incidents felt a remarkable cooperation and selflessness. They said may respondents had feelings of a “shared fate” that lead to a unified effort by the crowd. This resulted, surprisingly, not in trampling and panicking, but in life-saving behaviors like orderly queing at an exit and helping complete strangers.
Have man’s best friend
Technically, animals sensing earthquakes before humans has only been observed anecdotally, not scientifically or even uniformly. However, this video is pretty compelling. Plus, you get the bonus of having a lovely dog around.
On the road
If you’re on the road when the Big One hits, believe it or not, you’re quite lucky. You’ve got a few things going for you right off the bat. You’re in what amounts to a steel, protective cage that the government has devoted more than one organization to ensuring is a safe for its passengers. You’re not several stories up and full of enough potential energy to squash your mostly-water body as it falls from a window, and you’re mobile.
Nine times out of ten, you should just stop moving and get out of traffic as smoothly as possible. Shaking ground makes for shaky drivers. In the unfortunate case that you’re around or on something that can collapse – buildings, bridges, overpasses, etc. – then get off or move away from said structures, then wait it out, you lucky duck.
In a building
Buildings, depending on the building, can be a great place or a terrible place to be when things start shaking up. If, as in Haiti, you’re in buildings without a uniform set of building codes built out of palm fronds and steel drums, then get out of the building, and get out fast. And, not only that, get away from the building and into an open space so that it doesn’t tip over on you. The Good Morning American crew knows this. That’s why they’re sleeping on the tarmac, not in a hotel, to protect themselves from aftershocks in Haiti.
If, however, you’re in a sturdy, American-made building with a more rigorous set of building codes, you might be okay. This is especially true for us, here, in L.A. since many of the buildings here are built on rocker systems in anticipation of the frequent quakes. If you’re confident in your building’s integrity, then you should move away from windows and take cover under a desk or table. Doorways can be good, but aren’t always unless they are load-bearing. If you’re in bed, stand up and try earthquake surfing, which is surprisingly difficult (Don’t really try this. We found that it mostly just makes you fall out of bed.)
Leave the beach
In areas with islands or archepelagos, this is especially important. If an earthquake is land-based, you probably don’t have to worry about a tsunami and an earthquake. But, if an earthquake happens on a neighboring island or land mass, it may cause a tsunami to strike your coast in just a matter of minutes. This is fairly common in both Japan and Alaska. Alaska, of course, being the site of the most famous megatsunami in history.
Get to elevated ground as quickly as possible, or, if the terrain remains low as you move inland, drive as far inland as you’re able. Tsunami waves decrease in speed as they approach shore and gain height. As they break, and hit land, their speed continues to decrease dramatically over distance.
If you’re trapped
Oh man. This is not an ideal situation, we’ll start by saying that. But you don’t have to die under a boring piece of concrete if you happen to become wedged under one in a quake. There’s a few things you can do to prolong your survival and increase the chances that a rescue party will recover you quickly.
Protect yourself from your surroundings. There is likely going to be gas leaks and other noxious building materials released in the destruction of the earthquake, so FEMA suggests that you cover your mouth with a handkerchief and don’t light a match lest you be blown to bits. To communicate to your would-be rescuers, use a phone if you’ve got service (duh), but don’t yell. Yelling for help could increase the rate at which you inhale poisonous fumes. Instead, pound on a pipe or whistle.