How to Stay Safe in an Earthquake – Napa Earthquake Reminds Us to Prepare Now

(In light of the Nepal Earthquake last week, this seems like a good time for a refresher on earthquake safety. And look! I have one from another earthquake last year.)

California residents in the Napa area got a rude awakening early this morning when an earthquake of roughly magnitude 6.0 shook the valley. It jolted folks awake (and jolted the already-awake folks) at around 3:20 am Pacific time. So far, a few homes have been destroyed by the fires that broke out afterward, and a few people have been critically injured, but no deaths have been reported. From what I’m reading, there seem to be a lot of minor injuries caused by things like broken glass. There’s plenty of damage to buildings, and a lot of wine cellars will be lighter, considering how many bottles fell and broke in the shaking, and there will be a lot of repair work to be done. But California folks are tough. They’ll get through it.

Earthquakes like this remind us we need to stay on our toes. There’s no way to predict them, and even in an area as earthquake-prone and heavily monitored as California, there are at best a few seconds’ warning before the shaking starts. So before we get to talking about which fault’s at fault, let me just give you a few quick reminders about earthquake preparedness and safety:

Image shows the three steps essential to staying safe in an earthquake: drop, get under a sturdy piece of furniture, hold on until the shaking's over.
Excellent advice from the Great California ShakeOut. Click the image to visit their page and sign up for the drill.

Okay, for those who will never read the pdf, here are the main points, quoted directly for truth:

  • Drop, cover and hold on. Move as little as possible. [Do NOT get under a doorway. Choose something like a table. If you don’t have sturdy furniture to get under, stay near an interior wall that hasn’t got things that can fall on you.]
  • If you are in bed, stay there, curl up, and hold on. Protect your head with a pillow.
    Stay away from windows.
  • Stay indoors until the shaking stops and you are sure it is safe to exit. If you must leave the building after the shaking stops, use stairs rather than an elevator.
  • Be aware that fire alarms and sprinkler systems frequently go off in buildings during an earthquake, even if there is no fire.

If you’re outside, the rules are a little different:

  • Find a clear spot and drop to the ground. Stay there until the shaking stops (away from buildings, power lines, trees, streetlights). [Let me repeat: STAY AWAY FROM THE BUILDINGS. Lotsa glass, bricks and other bits falling. Do not want.]
  • If you are in a vehicle, pull over to a clear location and stop. Avoid bridges, overpasses, and power lines if possible. Stay inside with your seatbelt fastened until the shaking stops. Then, drive carefully, avoiding bridges and ramps that may have been damaged.
  • If a power line falls on your vehicle, do not get out. Wait for assistance.
  • If you are in a mountainous area or near unstable slopes or cliffs, be alert for falling rocks and other debris. Landslides are often triggered by earthquakes.

And, I would like to add, if you’re by the beach: the instant the shaking stops, get to higher ground. Find a safe route up and out, especially if you see the tide suddenly go way out.

What happens afterward? What should you do when the shaking stops? Go read the pdf right now, okay? I want you guys to know, before it happens, so that you minimize your chances of getting hurt. But they key points are paraphrased here, because repetition helps you remember:

  • Repeat the drop-cover-hold drill every time you feel an aftershock. And there will be aftershocks.
  • See to your injuries first, then help others.
    Protect yourself from broken glass, splintered boards, and other hazards with sturdy clothes, shoes and gloves.
  • Check your home for damage and get everybody out if it’s not safe.
    Remember that radio in your emergency kit? Use it to listen for updates and instructions.
  • Check your phones for dial tone. Call to report life-threatening emergencies, but otherwise, try to keep the lines clear for those who need them most.
  • Check for fires, put ’em out if you can, get emergency services on it if you can’t.
  • If it’s safe to do so, clean up any spills of flammable liquids asap.
  • Be careful opening closets, cabinets and other doors – stuff probably shifted.
    Help each other. Look out especially for the kids, the elders, and the disabled folk.
  • Watch for damaged infrastructure that could hurt you: downed power lines, broken gas lines, etc. Avoid damaged areas.
  • Keep your pets leashed or otherwise under control.
  • Is a building damaged? STAY OUT.
  • If you were away from home, wait for the all-clear before you go back. Check the whole house for possible damage. Get out if anything looks unsafe.
  • Drive carefully and remember that things like traffic lights might not be functional.

And do be mindful of your surroundings as you’re getting you, yours, and your community in order. Keep alert, remember to watch your step, but also pay attention to what’s beside and above you so crap doesn’t fall on you, and do your best to make it out intact. You can do it!

All right, that’s it for our public service announcement. Next, we’ll inquire as to which fault’s at fault. I should have that up for you a bit later today.

Stay safe, my friends in seismically-exciting locations!

How to Stay Safe in an Earthquake – Napa Earthquake Reminds Us to Prepare Now
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7 thoughts on “How to Stay Safe in an Earthquake – Napa Earthquake Reminds Us to Prepare Now

  1. 1

    We had a M 4.2 here in Michigan on Saturday. Wouldn’t get much attention on the west coast, but very unusual here. It was the second most powerful on record for Michigan, the biggest being a 4.6 in the same area in 1947. I didn’t feel it, but it came through nicely on the school seismograph.

  2. 2

    We had three between 4.6 and 5.0 yesterday, within a couple hundred kilometers of Tsukuba. That’s the most I’ve ever felt in one day. Course with Japanese building codes that level does nothing other than shake your booty. But two of them were within 150 km, so the initial jolt was a very high-frequency vertical shock. I thought a crane operator had done something terrible and dropped our spacecraft. Then I remembered it’s Golden Week and there’s no crane operations.

  3. 3

    I was at work during the Nisqually Earthquake in 2001. I stood up and watched the dust filtering down from the suspended ceiling for a while before I realized all of my co-workers were under their desks. Oops!

  4. 4

    That would probably be me, too! I didn’t get safe when I experienced my first up here, I just sat in my chair and went, “Yee-haw, it’s an earthquake, woot!” Which would’ve been very foolish if it hadn’t been a wee one.

  5. 7

    It’s pretty cool, and the kids get excited when an event is coming in during school. There are several schools in Michigan with these instruments, and I use a lesson that involves data from three of them, including ours. We will probably collaborate at some point to put together an activity from this quake, as well.
    I’ll send you a screen shot of the trace. In the meantime, here is an image of some damage.

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