With news and images of the devastation left by the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile still flooding the airwaves and the recent 6.1 shaker in Cagayan, we’ve all learned how life can be horribly changed in a matter of moments.
We’ve also learned that as much of the world as we’ve tamed, there is still no way to truly control Mother Nature. So we need to do the next best thing—work on minimizing the damage before it disaster actually strikes. This is especially true for the Philippines and other places in the area that is sometimes called Disaster Central, due to its exposure to the open Pacific, location in the Ring of Fire, and tropical climate. This makes us especially prone to natural disasters like typhoons, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes. Of these three, earthquakes are the ones scientists are least able to predict.
That’s why it’s very important to make sure your house is always prepared for the possibility of a quake—as the adage goes, you should always hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Read on for 10 tips on keeping your home as earthquake resistant as possible. You can also check out our article on earthquake safety in the workplace.
KEEPING YOUR HOME EARTHQUAKE-PROOF
While there aren’t really any structures that are completely earthquake proof, there are certainly some that are more earthquake-friendly than others. Here are some tips to working with the home you have:
Reduce the risk of falling objects.
People are frequently advised that with earthquakes, it isn’t the shaking that kills you—it’s what falls down on top of you. This is why it’s important to brace any light fixtures attached to the ceiling and to bolt or bracket any shelves or other tall, heavy objects to the wall (for those with drywall, these should be bolted to the wall studs instead). Store any heavy objects closer to the ground rather than high up on a shelf or bracket. Try to make sure your overhead cabinets have latches on them, and that any breakable items are stored behind latched doors so they are less likely to come flying out at you when the ground starts shaking.
Keep your bed away from glass fixtures.
This rule doesn’t only apply to beds, but also any furniture on which people are likely to spend large amounts of time, such as sofas or desks and chairs. You should avoid hanging mirrors or paintings above any of these, as well as placing these beside windows. Pretty as the pictures may be of you sitting in front of that modernist print or reading by the window, glass fixtures are among the first things to go in an earthquake, and broken glass can certainly cause inconvenient and even life-threatening injuries.
Check your electrical wiring and gas connections regularly.
After earthquakes have come and gone, there is still a big risk of breakout fires from damaged gas or electrical connections, so you may want to have this checked after any quakes or typhoons. You should also schedule regular checks over time so you can catch any corrosion or instability due to aging electrical or gas connections and repair these before they have a chance to cost you more than a few extra bucks. You should also do regular checks (at least every six months) of your smoke detectors, which should be installed in any fire-prone areas of your house.
Repair any structural damage immediately.
Leaving cracks in your ceiling or wall unrepaired is not just unsightly, but it also puts your home at risk since these can weaken your walls, especially when allowed to grow larger and deeper. If there are any signs at all of any structural defects in your house or apartment—and these may be common over time or after quakes, typhoons, floods, and the like—you should get expert advice on just how much repair needs to be done to ensure the safety of your home.
Maintain well-stocked first-aid and emergency-supply kits.
Many household first-aid kits have the basics: over-the-counter medicine for coughs, colds, fevers, the like; disinfectants and Band Aids for cuts and scrapes; and so on and so forth. In addition to these, you may want to store bandages and the like, which you may not use often, but will be infinitely grateful for when you do need to use them. But first aid isn’t all you need to make sure you have stashed in a secure central location. Keep a week’s supply of emergency food and drink, just in case you should get trapped in a building or house after the earthquake—stock this with non-perishables and water. Make sure that you have the appropriate utensils for this eventuality—if you have canned food, make sure you also have a can opener.
KEEPING YOUR FAMILY EARTHQUAKE-READY
While you can take precautionary measures in the home, these won’t do too much good if the people who live there do not know what to do if disaster should strike. Here are some of the things you can do to keep them prepared:
Keep up-to-date on disaster-survival facts and fiction.
You may remember your days from grade school earthquake drills, when you and your classmates were all told to roll under a desk or stand in a doorway for safety rather than running out of the building. Well, you definitely shouldn’t try to run out of the building, especially if you’re not on the ground floor (since stairs are death traps during an earthquake), since you could be hit by falling debris or collapsing walls. While the "drop, cover, and hold on" tactic is still the best and most widely accepted, however, standing in a doorway offers you little protection from flying debris and is therefore only recommended when there's nothing else to take cover against. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends taking cover against an inside corner of your building instead.
It may also be advisable to curl up into a fetal position beside a large and sturdy piece of furniture (such as a sofa or bed), in the hope that falling debris will create a triangular void that will keep you sheltered from other debris and allow you some breathing space. This is the "triangle of life" approach to earthquake safety.
Teach your family what to do in an earthquake.
Because you can’t be with your family 24/7, it’s no use for you to know how to survive an earthquake if you don’t share this knowledge with your family. Talk to your family about the importance of knowing what to do during and earthquake—especially in the case of your children, who are most precious and who may not be aware of the dangers these shakers can present—and how to do it correctly. Have earthquake drills with your entire household so you all can gain practical knowledge of what best to do—you may want to try different scenarios, such has having a nighttime drill, when everyone is meant to be asleep, or a daytime drill, when people are going about daily work and play.
Know how to use the first aid kit.
Quite frankly, there is little use in maintaining a well-stocked first aid kit if the members of your household don't know how to use half or more of the items in it. You may find it beneficial to take a basic first aid course—especially if you’re a parent. These will teach you things like how to do CPR and tie a proper tourniquet, for which the money spent on your classes will be entirely made up the first time you do mouth-to-mouth on or staunch the bleeding wound of a loved one.
Post emergency numbers by every phone.
Write down the numbers of emergency services like the fire station, police station, or hospital and keep these visible by every phone in the house. Also make it a point to save the numbers in the cell phones of all members of the family. Make sure they know who to call when they need to.
Identify your family’s “check-in” person.
Get a close friend or relative who lives in a distant area (preferably in another province) to act as your family’s check-in person, and make sure everyone in your family has that person’s updated contact information. Why? If you get separated, there should be someone outside the area whom you and your family can check in with, to make sure everyone is safe and sound. You should check in with that person with every typhoon, earthquake, and such, and train your family to do the same.
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so be very conscientious about your disaster-prevention measures—you never know when a bolted cupboard or a scribbled number taped to your phone could save the life of a loved one.
For more information on making sure that you and yours remain as safe as possible in the face of shaky disaster, you may want to check out the articles on preparing for earthquakes on SecretsofSurvival.com, wikiHow.com, or Mahalo.com.
(Photo source: sxc.hu—collapsing building, first aid kit, child on phone)