By Vidya Pradhan
“Californians should have the same attitude towards earthquakes that Mid-Westerners have towards tornadoes,” says Mary Biggs. “They will happen. We will move on.” A born and bred Californian, she has seen more that her fair share of earthquakes big and small. Mary is the Assistant District Coordinator for the Ardenwood Community Emergency Response Team(CERT) program. She helps the Fremont Fire Department and the Red Cross to train all the leaders in the community in how to run a shelter after a disaster. She is also a ham radio operator.
WNI talked to Mary about what to do when the big one hits. Her suggestions are useful across a broad range of emergency situations, where help from government agencies may not be immediately forthcoming.
BEFORE THE EARTHQUAKE
-Look at your house through earthquake eyes. Hang all pictures with earthquake hooks which are available at your local hardware store
-Never hang anything above your sleeping area even if it is well secured. Beds must be away from windows.
-Secure heavy bookcases and cabinets against the wall with L- brackets.
-Add a latch to cabinets that store glass objects so they don’t go flying out during a quake.
-Make sure your water heater is strapped and attached to the wall. If the heater tumbles due to the shaking, you could face a dangerous problem with a broken gas line.
-Chemical spills are one of the biggest hazards during an earthquake. Go through all the stored chemicals in your garage and through out old and unused stuff. The correct way to dispose of chemicals, batteries and other hazardous waste is to take them to your local center. Alameda County’s waste disposal center can be found here.
-Box the remaining chemicals and keep them on a low shelf with a latch to prevent access to children.
-If you live in an older home, make sure your chimney is attached to your home properly. Falling bricks can be a source of concern.
-Pick up emergency supplies at your local hardware store. Here is a list. Of these, the most important by far is clean drinking water. Pick up at least 3 gallons of distilled water for each member of your family and pet. Due to the Hayward fault, significant damage is expected to the water system if an earthquake hits.
-Keep a first aid kit and pair of comfortable shoes( preferably hiking shoes) in the car along with some water and emergency food. Expect debris on the road. Plan multiple evacuation routes. Expect road closures on major roads near the fault lines (680 Sunol grade and possibly 880). This includes routes between school/work.
-Make the kids memorize an out of state phone number where they can call in and let everyone know they are safe in case local lines are down. This not only keeps the family in contact but also reduces stress on the local lines and makes it easier for local systems to be restored.
-Tell the kids to stay in school in the event of a quake. Older kids should not be tempted to make their way home alone. Inform them as to who will be picking them up after a disaster.
DURING THE EARTHQUAKE
-During the earthquake all that matters is human life.
-Do not run. Get under a kitchen table of desk. If you are in your bed, the safest course may be to stay put. Even if the kids are in different rooms, wait for the quake to stop. You will be of no use to them if you are injured. Prepare your kids by advising them to stay in their beds and ride out the quake. A typical quake lasts 1-2 minutes. Stay calm.
-If you are not comfortable staying in bed, move to a part of the room where the wall meets the floor.
-Keep a pair of shoes and a flashlight under the bed. After the Northridge quake, the maximum injuries were to people’s feet, caused by broken glass.
-Since California has a pretty strict building code, your house is a relatively safe place to be in during the quake. Outside, there may be a danger from broken glass and exposed electrical wire.
-If the earthquake happens during the daytime, your kids are quite safe in school. They may be less panicky than you are since they have done the emergency drills several times. Educate yourself about the school’s emergency procedures. Volunteer to bring them up to date of they fall short.
-If driving, move over to the side of the road as safely as possible. If the family members are apart, call the out of state number previously determined to establish contact and leave information.
-If at work, find a heavy desk and go under it for the duration of the quake.
AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE
-Collect your family. If the structure of the house seems sound, it might be safe to stay indoors. Keep your family together in one room.
-Take care of injuries. Keep your family warm and safe.
-If it is a big quake, prepare for the aftershock. If the house has not been damaged, stay inside. Otherwise, move to the backyard away from glass and power lines and set up camp if you can.
-Phone, cable, electricity and water lines are likely to be affected by the quake. Make sure your utilities are ok. If you small gas, first shut off the gas main, then the electricity in case there’s a spark generated while shutting off the power. How to do those can be found here.
-Crank up your radio and tune in to local AM channels and public radio for announcements. KGO 810 AM , KCBS = 740 AM, KFRC = 610 AM, 99.7 FM, KNBR = 680 AM
-Don’t move around the neighborhood unless there is a threat of fire. If in doubt, go to your local fire station. Even if officers are away, there will be notices pasted for your information.
-Stay away from all wires, you have no way of knowing if they are live or not.. If you see a fire that is bigger than a trash can, don’t attempt to fight it. Move away and get help.
If you think you need to be better prepared than just buying and keeping emergency supplies, Fremont has an excellent Personal Emergency Plan(PEP) course that is offered periodically. A 3 hour presentation provided by a team of dedicated volunteers covers how to prepare for earthquakes, basic first aid and how to secure your home against weapons of mass destruction. While there is no hands-on experience for the participants, the volunteers do bring a gas meter to teach shut-off, on request. The PEP team will do their presentation to any community group that invites them. Contact Chuck Guaraglia at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 510-792-3473.
The next scheduled PEP talk is on
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at Fremont City Hall, CERT Training Room, Southeast Corner of Building A, 3300 Capitol Avenue.
For more information on the class call Fremont Fire Department at
You can sign up in advance for the class or just walk in that evening.
More details on this program can be found here.
If you want to go one step further and be a part of the community response, CERT classes are offered by most cities. Details of the Fremont chapter can be found here. Similar programs are held in many cities throughout Alameda and Santa Clara counties.