Earthquake preparationThe phrase, “The Big One” may bring a number of images to mind:  You might think of a final job interview, the date that ended in a proposal, or that fish whose size you blatantly lied about to put that braggart friend of yours in their place.  The words may be thrilling, nerve-wracking, or ominous; but whatever they are, they are enough to make you take notice.

That is precisely why the term is being used here:  if there has ever been a time for Utah residents to sit up and take notice, that time is now.  Utah geologists and seismologists say that a major earthquake is “not a prediction; it’s a promise.”   “I don’t think any of us are ready for this,” says Gary Christiansen of the Utah Geological Survey, “it’s gonna be a surprise to a lot of us.”  Emergency officials have estimated that the upcoming earthquake could take 5,000 lives in an hour and 15,000 casualties in addition.

The truth, not to be demagogic, is that the Wasatch fault is a ticking time bomb.  To learn what you can do to ensure your security, read on:

1. Inspect your home

a. Assess your home’s vulnerability to earthquake damage

Since Utah adopted the Uniform Building Code in the ‘70s, all buildings constructed have been required to comply with seismic codes in place in order to withstand Utah’s 13-14 felt earthquakes per year.  Structures erected before then are more likely to be unequipped for the 7.5 earthquake that is expected to hit any time now.  An analysis by Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology found that the buildings most susceptible to earthquake damage are made of unreinforced masonry, irregularly-shaped, and of medium height.  However, since a large earthquake is expected, retrofitting is a matter for serious consideration by all Utah homeowners.

b. Insure accordingly.

You cannot assume that the government or a standard insurance package will cover all your belongings, injuries, etc.  Homeowners insurance typically does not cover earthquakes.  Particularly if your home is structurally questionable, earthquake insurance is your best bet for recovery.

c. Sweat the small stuff

In addition to the house itself, objects inside the house can pose a hazard during a serious earthquake.  To earthquake-proof your home, bolt large furniture like bookshelves and cabinets to the wall, move heavy objects to lower shelves, and make sure that only soft/unframed pictures hang over beds and couches.  Appliances, electronics, etc. may be held in place by detachable, yet sturdy nylon straps; and smaller objects easily can be secured using removable putty.  For things that cannot practically be held to the spot (dishes, for instance), a fastener on cupboard doors works, as well.

2. Construct an emergency kit

a. Assemble a first aid kit

When preparing for a possible emergency, always include supplies for emergency care.  The first aid kit should include medications, medical consent forms, triple antibiotic ointment, gauze, and a variety of other items which can be found by following this link.  The most effective first aid kits are not slapdash; while basic guidelines exist, your personal/family needs are unique and should be kept in mind while your first aid kit is put together.

b. Store food and water

If you’ve ever wondered if calorie bombs serve a purpose, that purpose is food storage.  Ideally, the foods you keep on hand will have some nutritional value; but it is equally important that they be calorie-dense to take the edge off until everyday eating habits can be resumed. FEMA recommends storing familiar comfort foods that require minimal or no water and/or preparation (dried fruit, cereals, canned vegetables, etc.) and half a gallon of drinking water per person per day.

c. Learn how to communicate if the power goes out

In the event that a person is trapped in a collapsed building, they will need a way to call attention to their whereabouts without dehydrating themselves.  Leaving whistles about the house and carrying them throughout the day provides such an option.  A portable radio and batteries are also recommended to keep you updated on important emergency broadcasts from the community.

d. Keep important documents handy and in one place

The Utah Seismic Safety Commission advises that insurance records, bank statements, and all the identification you need to renew your driver’s license should be readily accessible in case you ever need to grab them in a hurry.  For added security, keep backups on a work computer, online, or in storage.

e. Prepare to protect yourself from the elements.

You should never return to a building after an earthquake unless the proper officials have given the green light.  Hence, you might find yourself in an inclement environment for an extended period of time.  Besides warm clothing, gloves, goggles, and easily portable blankets, plastic bags can be extremely useful as ponchos.  Since banks are likely to suffer some damage in an earthquake, it also makes sense to keep some cash on hand.

f. Don’t forget pet food and restraints

Most shelters do not allow pets, so provisions will have to be made for them beforehand.  An emergency food supply, some means for basic containment, even a back-up sitter should be arranged before they are needed.  (Keep in mind that floods, fires, leakages, and earthquakes often come with earthquakes and that your home may not always be the safest option.)

3. Make an emergency plan

a. Seek training in emergency response and CPR

If, heaven forbid, you are ever witness to an injury in an earthquake, it may fall to you to treat or even resuscitate them.  Should that be your lot, the last thing you want is to fall short of the occasion:  learning CPR, treatment for shock victims, etc. now and preparing yourself mentally to carry out proper procedures could mean the difference between life and death at some point in the future.

b. Learn about the local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)

Knowledge of CERT procedures arms you with knowledge that will help you find shelters, call for help, and even aid others in distress.  You can find the nearest CERT by typing in your zip code here.

4. Learn the drill

a. Keep a flashlight and shoes by the bed

Visibility and mobility are your best friends in an emergency.  Once an earthquake starts, there is no time to waste shuffling around in the dark:  you’ll  want to be ready and equipped to make a break for it if necessary.

b. Turn off utilities when you start to feel tremors

Gas leaks,  fires start, and water overflows when pipes and/or wiring are damaged in an earthquake.  You can prevent further harm if you are able to shut off the utilities before this happens.  Learn now where your valves are and how to turn them off and then instruct your family members.

c. Learn how to take shelter during an earthquake

The Triangle of Life model that has been the go-to of earthquake safety for years should NOT be the procedure you follow when the walls start shaking.  Standing in a doorframe may help you if you’re under a Roman arch, but not all doorways are built to be that sturdy.  The new method is “drop, cover, and hold on:”  curl up under a sturdy piece of furniture, cover your head with your hands, and do not move until well after the shaking has ended (and remember the aftershock!).

d. Have a meeting place

For any emergency, you should establish some location for all family members, roommates, etc. to meet up outside the house and keep a list of numbers—not just each other’s, but emergency numbers, as well.  When making your way there, watch for puddles of hazardous substances, downed power lines/wiring, falling debris, and other forms of damaged infrastructure.  Steer clear of mortar structures, which are exceedingly fragile after an earthquake, and stay outside.

Even if emergency workers are overwhelmed, you can do a great deal to mitigate stress on your family by planning ahead for adversity.  Furthermore, because of the standards to which structures are now held, schools, businesses, and other institutions should be doing their best to ensure that the buildings they operate in are safe and up to code.  While these parties should not be blamed for tragedies that occur on the premises in spite of a good faith effort to prevent them, negligence cannot be excused.

The unfortunate truth is that, in the case of a disaster of the estimated magnitude, insurance companies and other aids will be overburdened.  Many people will have to pick up the slack, themselves.  On the other hand, the victims of senseless earthquake casualties—those in which negligence is a proximate cause—and their families have recourse to a personal injury attorney when a clearly culpable faction does not render restitution for the injury.  An attorney should not be hired until all appropriate leads for compensation are followed; and the threat of one should not be used to add to a stressful situation.  Yet, if you aren’t sure whether a situation calls for such measures, most personal injury attorneys will give free initial consultations to discuss your situation.

Whether for an earthquake of for another injury stemming from negligence, attorneys Christensen & Hymas can lend legal and moral support with integrity and compassion when occasion requires.  They can be reached at (801) 506-0800.

Image courtesy of Kevin Simpson