Earthquake preparation always seems like something to do “when I find time”. Because most of us have far more pressing squeaky wheels demanding attention, it’s easy to put off planning for something that’s hard to wrap one’s head around.
A decade or so ago, more articles appeared clarifying that for the Pacific NW, it’s not a question of IF, but WHEN, a devastating quake will strike. That’s when I realized it would be irresponsible for me not to do some kind of preparation. My primary accomplishment was to gather recommended survival supplies for 3 days and I promptly treated that like a “one and done”. Then I started meeting people with stories of living through earthquakes and realized I was hardly taking this seriously at all.
A big awakening for me was a conversation with Madison Park neighbor Bob Edmiston, an early developer of the MP Emergency Communications Hub work. I said something sassy like, “I’ve got my provisions gathered in a box outside our home, but I haven’t gone mental like putting shoes under my bed. Do you think that’s really necessary?” “Oh yes”, Bob replied. “I grew up in California and some of the bigger quakes left broken glass all over the place. You don’t want to be stepping through that when the shaking stops and it’s safe to uncover your head and try to leave your house. And be sure to tie those shoes to the bedpost so they don’t slide across the floor out of reach.” Gulp! I hadn’t exactly pictured walking across glass shards as a likely scenario.
Over the years I’ve worked with Bob and other neighbors mobilizing preparation efforts at three different levels: the individual home, two blocks around your home, and the wider number of households designated as your Seattle neighborhood (i.e., Madison Park, Madison Valley or Leschi.) Each neighborhood is encouraged to develop an Emergency Communication Hub with a designated location and team of volunteers who come together to assist each other after a disaster disrupts traditional communication systems and municipal services.
The designated location for Madison Park is by the tennis courts. In recent months our Hub volunteers have been teaming up with adjacent neighborhood Hubs sharing what we’re learning and helping each other host practice drills.
The other day my spouse, asked me, “So if an earthquake happens and you’re not here, what are the 10 most important things for me to do once the quaking stops?” Here was a good test to see how much learning I’ve really integrated. I came up with about 5, then went on a Google search starting with OEM: Emergency Management - Emergency Management | seattle.gov. I tapped into resources from Travis Pittman at the Seattle Times, the Ballard Commons Emergency HUB, and the Seattle Hub Captains digital resource library..
With acknowledgement and appreciation to all who’ve contributed, here’s a distillation of those 10 important things I would do immediately following a destructive earthquake. Consider printing and posting this list for easy access after a quake.
• Calm yourself and check for injuries.
• Do you or anyone around you need first aid?
• Stop any bleeding with firm compression using any clean fabric.
(To learn how to stop life threatening bleeding, take one of OEM’s Stop the Bleed trainings.)
• Get your shoes on and dress with safety in mind.
• Consider where you are, what dangers you might encounter, what’s available to keep you safe. You may need a helmet, leather gloves, or a facemask.
• Check safety hazards inside and outside.
• Utility hazards
• If you smell rotten eggs or hear gas leaking, turn off the valve to the gas line outside your home. (Consider getting a heating expert to install an Earthquake Actuated Gas Shutoff Valve.)(Note: Gas lines can only be turned back on by the city so only shut off if necessary.)
• Avoid flipping any electric switches until you confirm you have no gas leaks.
Search for any small fires and extinguish them.
If you see sparks, frayed wires, or melting insultation, shut off electricity at the circuit breaker.
To prevent fires when electricity is restored, unplug broken lights and appliances.
Clean up spills that could be harmful such as bleach, gasoline, and chemicals. (Alternatively, smother with absorbent material like dirt or cat litter.)
If you detect no fire or fumes outside your home, open the windows to ventilate and improve air quality.
To avoid harm during aftershocks, check for cracks and damage to the roof, chimney, roofs over doors and the foundation of buildings.
Stay far away from any downed power lines.
Keep water clean and safe for drinking.
Turn off water supply at street shut-off valve to prevent contamination.
Turn off power/gas/cold water supply at water heater to preserve as source to use.
Call, text, or email your out-of-area contact to report your condition. Ask them to tell others.
Text and messaging apps work better than voice calling.
Landline phone may work using wall jack to bypass power outage.
Preserve cell phone battery power: shut off all non-essentials, only use when necessary, cand keep phone charged by car battery, solar panel, or emergency radio crank.
Alert neighbors of your status (Safe or Need Help/Where to find me) by posting large sign.
Check on your pets and your neighbors, especially those with special needs. young children, or elderly members of household.
Be prepared for aftershocks, perhaps planning to camp out in yard or detached garage.
Ration use of resources except for drinking water.
Plan to use or share first what will spoil.
Keep refrigerator and freezer closed as much as possible if power is out.
Put your fire extinguisher in front of house for others to use if necessary.
Locate and secure important items such as first aid kits, flashlights, batteries, money, ID, warm clothing, food, grab and go emergency bag.
Make your way to the designated neighborhood Emergency Hub to volunteer or ask for help.
Keep your neighbors informed, supported as needed.
Help keep spirits up with reassurance, and any special talents you have to offer, such as music and song, smiles and humor, group activities.
Most of us don’t want to think about the serious disasters ahead of us. It’s easier to hope we’ll be spared, and things won’t be so bad. But just last month the UW Dept of Geological Science released more information about their earthquake research in the PNW. It's worth noting that severity rises exponentially. For instance:
9.0 quake is 30 times bigger than a 8.0 quake
9.0 quake is 900 times bigger than a 7.0 quake
9.0 quake is 18,000 times bigger than a 6.0 quake.
Let’s join together to get prepared. Beyond getting your household in order, find a handful of people on your block to start conversations and help each other take some specific steps. This will spur you to draw on the wealth of emergency preparation resources available, including periodic neighborhood trainings and practice drills.
To get involved in the Madison Park/Madison Valley Emergency HUB work, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Active volunteers have access to our MP/MV Hub Google drive with terrific resources archived.