Every year, more than 140 earthquakes of 6.0 or greater occur.
Because they strike with no warning, earthquakes must surely be among nature’s most terrifying and dangerous phenomena. As with all disasters, a little preparation can go a long way in mitigating the effects of these extremely dangerous disasters.
BEFORE THE QUAKE
Important steps must be taken long before an earthquake occurs.
- Inspect your home and identify hazards such as tall bookcases or heavy pieces of furniture that could fall over. Anchor them to the wall using flexible straps or hooks.
- Make sure heavy and breakable objects are securely anchored to the wall and not placed on high shelves or near a bed where they could fall and injure someone.
- Pack a kit with enough supplies to survive outside the house for at least three days and ensure that it is both accessible and known to everyone in your household.
- Officials also recommend that you create a family plan for escaping and meeting after an emergency.
DURING THE QUAKE
In spite of what many people have been told, the doorways in the vast majority of modern buildings are no stronger than the rest of the structure. So, when an earthquake strikes, the safest thing to do is take cover under a sturdy piece of furniture and cover your head with a soft object or your hands.
As soon as the earthquake is over, immediately leave the building—and do not return inside. Even if a building looks to be secure, invisible structural damage or gas leaks could cause damage long after the earthquake has ended.
- No matter what the disaster is, developing a communications plan for you and your family is key.
- Agree on a location (and an alternative location) to meet in case you are apart when a disaster strikes.
- Select a family or friend far away with whom everyone can check in, should they get the chance to use a phone or e-mail.
ONE OF AN EARTHQUAKE’S GREATEST DANGERS… AND HOW TO OVERCOME IT
One of the greatest dangers after an earthquake may come from where you least expect it—the water.
Ruptured pipes, leaking sewage and insufficient water treatment can produce a water supply that can lead to sickness or death from a variety of diseases.
Vigorously boiling water for at least one minute, or using a certified commercially-manufactured water filter, can go a long way to preventing illness or even death. You should also have a supply of replacement filters and bottled water on hand.
The effects of dehydration can be just as deadly. Humans can go days, or even weeks, without food, but death from dehydration can occur in a few days or even hours, depending on conditions.
Knowing what not to do in an emergency can be almost as important as knowing what to do. Here are a few common myths of First Aid dispelled:
MYTH 1: To stop profuse bleeding, apply a tourniquet to the wound.
SOLUTION: Except in the case of a severed limb, or unless you have been thoroughly trained in its use, application of a tourniquet by an amateur can very quickly lead to the death of a limb and cause its amputation. Instead, apply heavy pressure to the wound with a towel, bandage or other piece of cloth.
Do not give over-the-counter painkillers such as aspirin because that may increase blood loss. Immediately get to a medical professional.
MYTH 2: Remove a knife or other foreign object from a victim.
SOLUTION: Removing a foreign object from the body, such as a knife or arrow, is never a good idea as this will usually do more harm than good. The object may be preventing further blood loss or its removal may cause even more severe damage on the way out. Instead, attempt to keep the object stable and immediately go to the emergency room.
MYTH 3: If someone faints or feels like they may faint, have them put their head between their knees.
SOLUTION: This will likely only lead the person to fall forward. The proper way to handle the situation is to have them lie down with their legs and feet elevated to increase blood flow to the brain.
EXPAND YOUR FIRST AID SKILLS
- Simple courses lasting just an afternoon can be found at local hospitals and American Red Cross centers.
- If you have more time available, courses such as Certified Emergency Medical Technician, Wilderness First Responder or Certified First Responder can usually be found at a local community college or university.
These courses offer in-depth training and often end in career-building certificates and licenses, as well.
Even more dangerous, aftershocks—in varying strengths—can continue to occur days or even weeks after the initial earthquake. Remain outdoors and away from tall buildings or other objects until a professional has ensured it is safe to enter them.
AFTER THE QUAKE
The aftermath of an earthquake can be as deadly as the initial jolt. Aftershocks can continue to cause damage, devastating structures already damaged by the initial quake. In some cases, electricity and communications networks will be disrupted, overwhelmed or even destroyed. Make sure you have a generator, fuel, matches, flashlights and food.
Roads and highways are likely to be damaged or even impassable from damage and debris, impeding the ability of police, fire department or medical services to provide help.
If your home is destroyed, head to the closest shelter.
WHAT YOUR FIRST AID KIT MUST INCLUDE
In a medical emergency, a properly packed First Aid kit can mean the difference between life and death.
While the most important tool to have with you in a disaster is proper training, the International Red Cross recommends that all First Aid kits have the following items. Of course, additional preparations should be made depending on you and your family’s individual medical circumstances.
- 2 absorbent compress dressings (5 x 9 inches)
• 25 adhesive bandages (assorted sizes)
• 1 adhesive cloth tape (10 yards x 1 inch)
• 5 antibiotic ointment packets (approximately 1 gram)
• 5 antiseptic wipe packets
• 2 packets of aspirin (81 mg each)
• 1 heat-reflective space blanket
• 1 breathing barrier with one-way valve (for CPR)
• 1 instant cold compress
• 2 pair of non-latex gloves (size: large)
• 2 hydrocortisone ointment packets (approximately 1 gram each)
- 1 roller bandage (3 inches wide)
• 1 roller bandage (4 inches wide)
• 5 sterile gauze pads (3 x 3 inches)
• 5 sterile gauze pads (4 x 4 inches)
• Oral thermometer (non-mercury/non-glass)
• 2 triangular bandages
• First Aid instruction booklet
WHEN THE HEART ATTACKS
Earthquakes can be terrifying and could possibly trigger a heart attack.
Sudden cardiac arrest (often called a “heart attack”) remains the leading cause of death in the United States. From recommendations on how to perform cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), to new technologies, here are some of the biggest changes:
- Consult your local branch of the American Heart Association to learn the latest and most effective methods of performing CPR.
- With a doctor’s prescription, you too can have the single most effective lifesaver in the case of cardiac arrest: the Automatic External Defibrillator (AED). According to the American Heart Association, for every minute after the onset of cardiac arrest, the chance of survival falls by 10 percent. While the national survival rate from sudden cardiac arrest is less than 10 percent, when an AED is used within the first five minutes, this rises to 74 percent. Modern AED’s are small, compact and very easy to use. Once activated, the device aids the rescuer in the set-up process with audible commands or prompts. Once the electrodes are placed on the victim, the machine automatically analyzes data such as breathing, heart rate and blood pressure to determine how and when it should deliver the charge.
- CPR alone will not restart a heart. CPR is intended only to continue the circulation of blood to the brain until a defibrillator can be used.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in a 2013 print issue of American Survival Guide.