Wednesday, 2 December 2015

When the ground shakes: Earthquake preparedness

Natalie Merchant said it best in 'San Andreas Fault':
"Oh promised land, oh wicked ground
Build a dream, watch it all fall down".
The thing about  earthquakes is that they devastate strike areas like California and Arizona that are well settled and (in most respects) prosperous.  In a sense, experiencing an earthquake in these areas would be like getting mugged by a man in a dinner suit. 
The San Andreas fault
Image from here
Despite all this, earthquakes and tremors aren't particularly rare.  Geoscience Australia maintains a running account of those that occur in the Asia-Pacific region.  In the last day or so a 4.6 magnitude quake hit southern Alaska.  The Richter scale, incidentally, describes a 4.6 magnitude quake as causing noticeable shaking and rattling indoors, but generally causing no or minimal damage, save that some objects may fall off shelves or be knocked over.
Image from here
Civil defence organizations around the world make a number of recommendations about preparing for emergencies.  The Victorian State Emergency Service (SES) has quite detailed instructions which you can find here.  Some of the key points which that Service sets out include remembering to plan for all of the members of your family, including pets and livestock.  You should also consider where you would go if you decide to evacuate, and whether you (and anyone else) can get there.  If your preferred destination is accessible only by 4-wheel-drive, for instance, Aunt Joan may have trouble reaching it in her Volkswagen Beetle.
The SES's recommendations for an emergency kit include
  • Portable radio with spare batteries
  • Torch with spare batteries
  • First Aid kit
  • A copy of your emergency plan
  • Bottled water
  • Enough non-perishable food for three days
  • Rubber gloves
  • Food and special requirements for pets
They add that if an emergency does occur, you should also add:
  • Important documents such as passports, birth certificates and insurance papers
  • Mobile phone and charger
  • Strong boots or shoes
  • Medications and prescriptions
The International Civil Defence Organization (ICDO) also recommends showing members of your family how to shut off water and gas to your house and how to switch off the electricity at the fuse box.  You should also have available details of your vaccination history and blood type (you may want to generate a medical identification card with these details).
The Event
If a significant earthquake has happened, the ICDO recommends avoiding structures like buildings which appear unstable and which may collapse. If you at home, consider turning off your water or gas connection and switching off the electricity if you can do so safely.  Get to a safe place (for example a solid doorway or a sturdy table) which can protect you from falling objects.  If no other indoor shelter is available, the SES recommends crouching in an inside corner of the building with your face and head covered.
 Image from here
If you are in a motor vehicle, stop driving if you can do so safely away from buildings, power lines or similar structures.  Proceed cautiously when the shaking has stopped.
If you find yourself trapped in rubble, the SES recommends that you should cover your mouth with clothing or a handkerchief and avoid stirring up dust.  Do not light a match or cigarette lighter (there may be a gas leak).  Tap on a pipe or wall to alert rescuers.
 Image from here
If you need to give your location to emergency services by phone, remember that a street address may not always be easily located.  iPhone users will find that the compass app gives latitude and longitude - 
In case you're wondering, 36°26’28”S, 145°13’58”E
is roughly where I bought my lunch today. 
Australian users may find the EmergencyPlus app useful: in rural areas its address-locator tends to become unreliable, but it will give your location in GPS co-ordinates -
 -36.44065°, 145.22691° is the carpark
outside where I bought my lunch
If you are able, look for injured people in the area.  Assist them if you have the necessary skills, or alert emergency services.  The ICDO also recommends that if you can do so without endangering yourself, render any fires or unstable buildings safe.  If you cannot render them safe, alert the authorities
Image from here

Are there other steps that emergency services in your
area recommend? Put them in the comments!
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