We had an earthquake two days ago. We here in Northern Virginia are really not used to these kinds of things, and more than a few of us feared that this was not a natural occurrence but an attack on our nation’s capital. Although we are tremendously thankful that the damage was so minimal (hence my funny picture) and there was no loss of life, I can tell you that IT WAS SCARY. (My son and I even had to laugh at each other when it was over because of how badly we continued shaking!)
The scariest part was that we didn’t know what to do. For some reason, both he and I had the thought to run to the basement (and I made him get in the tub). In hindsight, we realized that was not so wise.
And now that we have a hurricane threatening much of the east coast, I figured it would be good for us all to have a primer on what to do in various disaster situations.
According to FEMA, “The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits and alongside exterior walls.” And so, in the event of an earthquake you should:
- DROP, COVER, HOLD ON. Remain inside, drop to the ground and take cover under a sturdy piece of furniture, such as a desk or table. Hold on until the quake is over.
- Make sure to move away from windows and things that could fall on you, including light fixtures.
- If there isn’t anything sturdy under which to seek cover, use your arms to cover your head and crouch in an inside corner.
- If in bed, stay there as long as there is nothing over your bed that could fall and hurt you. Use pillows to guard your head.
- Use an interior doorframe for shelter ONLY if it is very close to you when the earthquake begins and you know it to be strongly supported.
- Wait until the shaking has stopped before heading outside. Most injuries and deaths occur as a result of falling debris (such as bricks or glass) while exiting a building.
If you are outside when a quake begins, move quickly away from buildings, streetlights and utility wires. If you are driving, safely pull to a stop away from overpasses, utility wires and buildings.
Keep in mind that the quake could possibly be the foreshock of another, larger event.
Update 9.20.2011: Many of you have probably seen the email circulating regarding the ‘Triangle of Life’ which provides different advice than that described above for surviving an earthquake. In the United States, with our building codes, the methods described above are still considered to be the best, safest and most likely to enable you to survive an earthquake with minimal injury by the Red Cross, US Geological Survey and Earthquake Country Alliance, among others. See the link above or this Wikipedia post for more detailed information.
If you live in a hurricane-prone area, you are probably familiar with ways to prepare your home for a possible storm. Other preparations you can make are to turn your refrigerator to its coldest setting and keep it closed (if you are not instructed to turn off utilities), turn off propane tanks, and fill your bathtub and other large containers with water. If you live in a mobile home (or a high-rise building), you should seek alternative shelter. FEMA recommends:
- Stay inside with external doors secured.
- Stay away from windows. Keep curtains or blinds closed.
- Close internal doors.
- Lie on the ground under a table or other sturdy object in an internal room or closet on the lowest level.
- Do not go outside if there is a lull in the storm. It could just be the eye of the storm and the winds could pick up suddenly.
Remember to listen to your local news to keep apprised of the storm’s progress and authorities’ recommendations.
If you are under a tornado warning or see a tornado, immediately seek shelter following these steps (again, according to FEMA). If you are in a mobile home, immediately exit and seek the best shelter you can. Do not try to outrun a tornado in a vehicle. Exit and seek shelter.
- Get to the lowest level of a secure building, ideally the basement.
- If no basement or cellar is available, go to the center of an interior room on the lowest level, away from corners, windows, doors and exterior walls.
- Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside.
- Get under a sturdy table and use your arms to guard your head.
- The Tornado Project suggests that getting into a bathtub and covering yourself with couch cushions would protect you from all sides, and help anchor you to the foundation.
IF YOU CANNOT GET INSIDE, lie flat in a ditch or depression. Cover your head with your hands. Do not go under a bridge or overpass. Be aware of the possibility of flooding. And finally, check out this story about how a boy was saved because he was wearing his bicycle helmet. (Although I have seen others say this is not safe in a tornado, so use your own judgement. Perhaps having it on, but not strapped on, would be a safe.)
There are many steps you can take to secure your home if flooding is expected. I will focus on emergency responses to flash flooding and moving water, particularly in your vehicle.
Always attempt to seek higher ground. Do not walk through moving water; as little as six inches can make you fall. Use a stick to check the ground firmness in front of you.
DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DRIVE THROUGH FLOOD WATERS! If your car is surrounded, abandon the car and move to higher ground. According to FEMA, six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars and cause loss of control (and possibly stalling), and two feet can carry cars away, including trucks and SUVs.
In case of submersion in your car, follow these steps and remember this mantra: Seatbelt, Children, Window, Out. (These steps are also what you would follow if you were in a car accident that landed you in a body of water.)
- As quickly as possible, remove your seatbelt and begin removing children from their restraints. (If it is faster or you are having trouble with the belts, it is good to have a seatbelt-cutting tool. See below.)
- Open a window, if possible. The car’s electric system should work for a couple of minutes. If not, you will need to break a window. Focus on the side windows as the windshield will be nearly impossible to shatter. (Even if it broke on impact, the stickiness of the safety glass will probably make it too difficult to get through.) It is best to keep something in your car in case you ever have to break a window. I keep this tool. If you don’t have anything to use, you’ll have to use your feet. This is very difficult, so focus on break points such as the front of the window (near the door hinges). You could also carry a center punch tool, which could fit on your keyring. (As I type this, I realize the wisdom in having this so that you would have it with you whether or not you were driving. I will be ordering one today!)
- Push children through the window with a shove toward the surface (if you are already submerged). Escape through the window and swim to the surface. If you do not know which way is up, relax for a moment and try to look for light or see if bubbles are rising.
Note: There are different theories on the best way to escape a sinking/ submerged car. I have read articles and watched demonstration videos and truly believe this is the safest method, with the highest rate of survival. It is true that if you want to attempt to open a door, you will need to wait until the pressure is equalized by the car completely filling with water. It is best to escape before this happens. Not only does the submersion method give you less time to actually escape (before you run out of oxygen) but the chance of panic setting in is much greater. Even in controlled demonstrations people have been known to panic. In fact, watching some of the videos, I could feel myself panicking. It is a very, very scary sight to see water pouring into your car and your airspace shrinking. Add to that the possibility of freezing water, nighttime, etc., and it would be completely overwhelming. Get out before that point.
We all know STOP, DROP and ROLL, right? That is absolutely what you should do if your clothing has caught fire. (Running will make the fire burn faster.) But what are some other tips for fire safety?
- Stay as low as possible while exiting. Crawl along the floor, and attempt to stay below the smoke.
- Before opening any doors, feel them. If a door is HOT, do not open it. If it is cool, slowly open and see if fire or smoke block your escape route. Proceed if you can safely get out.
- Close doors behind you as you go to slow the spread of the fire.
- If you must exit through a window, first pass children down to safety. Hold them by their arms and have them hang as low to the ground as possible, and then let them drop. Instruct them to move away from the house. When you exit, hang by your arms from the window and drop.
- If you cannot get out through your door AND cannot get out through your window, hang a white or light-colored sheet out of the window to alert fire-fighters to your location. (The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) no longer recommends the Tot Finder window decals.) Make sure the door to the room is closed, and block the cracks with blankets and pillows. Close or cover all vents in the room.
- If your or one of your children’s rooms are too high to safely escape through a window, you may want to have one of these ladders. Make sure you and your children know how to use it.
- Have working smoke detectors and change the batteries at least once a year (or immediately if it is “chirping”).
- Studies have shown that children and teens will not awaken quickly to beeping smoke detectors. However, they will wake quickly to the sound of their parents’ voices. For this reason, we have in my son’s room a speaking smoke detector which plays a message that we have recorded. Because you record the message, it can not only wake your children, but remind them of your family’s escape plan.
- HAVE AN ESCAPE PLAN. No, really. Sit down tonight, make a plan, and practice it. Choose a meeting spot away from the house and make sure everyone knows it.
- Keep a fire extinguisher in at least the kitchen. Know the procedures for safely putting out a grease fire. DO NOT USE WATER.
It is a wonderful idea for children to visit firehouses. Not only does it help children to appreciate our brave fire-fighters, but children should understand what a fire-fighter in all of his protective gear will look like. There have been tragedies where a frightened child has hid themselves from a potential rescuer because they looked so scary (which you can understand if you think about it from a child’s perspective).
General Emergency Preparedness
Emergency preparedness is a huge topic that would require its own website to fully explore. (In fact, there are many wonderful and informative blogs about this very topic.) Here are just some of the basics you should consider:
- Always obey all mandatory evacuation orders.
- Remember to discuss these things with your family BEFORE disaster strikes.
- Have flashlights and battery-powered radios (with extra batteries) on hand. It’s probably wise to have an emergency cell phone charger, too. (Or consider something like this.)
- Have at least a minimal store of water, or some way to filter water (we’ll be discussing this soon).
- Have at least a minimal supply of food, and reasonable accessories (such as non-electric can opener). (We store Wise Food Storage Grab N’ Go buckets.)
- Store these things where you will likely be in a disaster (for instance, in the basement). In that area, also have access to blankets, basic first aid supplies (which we’ll also be discussing soon) and any necessary medications (keep these together so they are easy to grab when needed, and if you have warning that a natural disaster may occur, stock up if you are able).
- See this post at Kitchen Stewardship for a TON of (overwhelming) information about preparing for a disaster. (Remember, take baby steps.)
We do not want to live in fear, but we do not want to live in denial, either. Being prepared and having a plan can actually help reduce some of the anxiety surrounding these events. Knowledge is power!
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