Earthquakes can strike pretty much anywhere around the world. (We even have a few tremors in the UK). As an Expat moving to a new country you need to be aware of the possible dangers of your new home. Nations like Japan are hit by many small Earthquakes every year and devastatingly massive ones like the one seen in 2011.
The Western seaboard of the United States, parts of Asia and nations like Turkey, Italy and Greece are also prone to quakes and their after affects. In fact any country that lies on or near to the edge of a tectonic plate is at risk. If you choose to live on an island country or on the coast then you will also be at risk from Tsunamis.
Here is the Expathub’s guide on what to do during and after an Earthquake.
It is impossible to predict when an Earthquake will strike so it pays to be prepared at all times. Often they strike without warning giving you very little time to react, but you can take some measures to limit their impact.
Step 1 – Make a disaster plan with your family or workplace to ensure that everyone knows what to do when a quake strikes. Teach all family members about the safest locations to be during a quake, the places to avoid and the location of emergency supplies.
Step 2 – Stock up on emergency supplies. These should include a battery operated radio or wind up version, a flashlight or glow sticks, first aid kit, plenty of bottled water, two weeks’ worth of food and medical supplies, blankets, cooking fuel, tools needed to turn off your home gas, water and electrical supply. The kit should also include a whistle, fire extinguisher and spare batteries.
Step 3 – Reduce the hazards. By removing potential hazards and dangers from your home and neighbourhood you could save lives and prevent damage. Things like unsecured TVs, bookcases, furniture and water heaters can become big dangers during a quake. Limit the amount of loose debris as possible in your home or workplace. You should also get a survey of your property carried out to ensure that the building has no critical structural weaknesses and take action to repair any that are found. Crumbling foundations, loose pipes and crumbling brickwork will all fail in the case of a powerful quake.
This guide should prove helpful: http://www.scec.org/education/public/espfocus/Feb_06.pdf
Items you’ll need
• Water- 2 quarts to 1 gallon per person, per day
• Canned food
• First aid kit- freshly stocked
• Any critical medication, eye glasses, spare lenses
• Can opener
• Hand powered radio
• Flashlight or glow sticks
• Sharp knife or multi-tool
When an Earthquake strikes
If you’re indoors, stay there, do not run outside! It may feel like the least natural reaction but do it. Quickly find a safe location such as under a strong desk, doorway or drop, cover and hold on. The aim is to protect your-self from any falling objects and be located near the structural strong points of the room. Avoid taking cover near windows, large mirrors, hanging objects, heavy furniture, heavy appliances or fireplaces. If you’re in the middle of cooking turn off the oven and take cover, a gas cooker left on could cause an explosion or gas leak.
If you are in bed, hold on and stay there, protecting your head with pillows. You are less likely to be injured staying where you are. Broken glass on the floor has caused injury to those who have rolled to the floor or tried to get to doorways. If in a high rise, drop, cover, and hold on. Avoid windows and other hazards. Do not use elevators. Do not be surprised if sprinkler systems or fire alarms activate.
If you are outside and near to an open space such as a park or open air car park go to it and drop, cover and hold on. Open spaces are the safest place to be during an earthquake but if in a park avoid trees or anything that could topple over.
If you’re in the middle of a city get underneath a solid object such as a vehicle (the bigger the better). Chances are debris will fall from the buildings around you so get out of the way. Falling glass and masonry is the biggest cause of death and injuries during a quake.
If you are driving, slow down smoothly and stop on the side of the road. Avoid stopping on or under bridges and overpasses, or under power lines, trees and large signs, stay in the car.
If you are in the cinema or at a stadium stay in your seat and protect your head and neck with your arms. Do not try and leave until the shaking ends, then leave in a calm manner, panic could lead to injuries or a stampeding crowd. Be aware of anything that could fall and keep your eyes open to weaknesses in the structure.
If you’re on a beach, drop cover and hold until the shaking stops. If the quake lasts for more than 20 seconds turn and run to higher ground as quickly-as possible. In the case of a powerful quake a tsunami maybe triggered. If possible head at least two miles inland or climb to a height of at least 30meters above sea level.
If you are living close to or below a dam then it is advised you evacuate the area as quickly as possible once the quake has ended. A catastrophic failure of the dam could cause mass flooding and further devastation.
After the Earthquake
Once the quake has ended check yourself for injuries, heal them if possible or if serious seek out medical aid. If you’re capable of walking keep a look out for any other injured people and give them assistance if needed. Once you have ensured that you and anyone with you is able to move check for any damage caused to the building you’re in. If the structure is badly damaged find a way out as soon as possible. If you smell or hear gas leak, immediately move the surrounding people away from the place, open the windows and doors to allow the gas out. When possible you should inform the Gas Company and fire brigade of the leak. It’s also a good idea to turn off the power if you are able capable of reaching the off switch. Listen to your radio to keep appraised of the situation elsewhere and follow the guidance offered by the authorities. Only call the emergency services if absolutely necessary as you could be preventing a more urgent call getting through. You should also refrain from driving as the roads need to remain clear for the emergency services.
If you’re trapped
If you’re lucky enough to survive the earthquake but unlucky enough to get trapped under a collapsed building or rubble then your next priority is to ensure you survive long enough to be rescued. If you think you’re about to be trapped by debris cover your nose and mouth with your hands, this will create a small pocket of air to enable you to keep breathing.
Getting out by yourself could be possible by digging your way out from beneath the rubble but this could cause more risks. Before you start digging check to see whether a rescue effort is likely to begin quickly, or are you in some remote place, are you injured to the point where self rescue could cause further injuries, is the debris loose enough to crawl through, and is the debris stable?
Some things to keep in mind
• Don’t kick up a lot of dust or you might end up inhaling toxic materials.
• Don’t light a match, the naked flame could trigger an explosion if gas is leaking
• Cover your mouth and nose with a handkerchief or cloth to filter out the dust.
• Signal for help using a whistle but do not yell as you will be using up lots of air.
If you live in an Earthquake prone area on the coast then you must be aware of the dangers of Tsunamis. The destructive power of these deadly waves was shown in 2011 when Japan was devastated by a massive Earthquake and Tsunami. As soon as a quake hits or warnings are given head to high ground at least two miles inland from the shoreline.
Here are some tips if you find yourself caught up in a tsunami:
• If caught up in the wave grab onto something that floats
• Abandon your belongings and run, trying to retrieve things is a sure way to get caught by the wave.