With the recent tragic earthquake that struck Haiti, is it possible for everyone to go through such a disaster with their lives – and hopefully their health – intact?
By: Ringo Bones
The somewhat mismanaged and uncoordinated disaster relief of the recent earthquake that struck Haiti has been a subject of much politicized discussion, especially for those who had contributed significant portions of their expertise and money to aid the survivors. Surprisingly, many public service “how to” and “what to” dos on what to do before, during, and after an earthquake are already widely available that would minimize unnecessary death and suffering as a result of an earthquake and other natural disasters. Since almost all of us are susceptible to disaster amnesia – i.e. we tend to forget the previous disaster that would have prepared us for the next one, here are some tips that could protect us from the adverse health hazards of an earthquake.
Before an earthquake strikes, it is important that all of us should support local safety building codes with enforcement for schools, hospitals, offices, homes and other public places. Hospitals should not become deathtraps during earthquakes as a result of substandard construction practices since these are the most vital infrastructure that should still be functioning to treat the injured. When it comes to earthquake preparedness, there’s nothing more important than supporting and encouraging earthquake drills and training for schools, work areas and homes.
As a homeowner or tenant, there are a number of ways that you can prevent and minimize possible death and injuries that might occur if an earthquake strikes. Fasten shelves to walls and remove heavy objects from upper shelves unless they are restrained. Place breakable / fragile or valuable items in a safe place. Remove or securely fasten high loose objects, especially those heavy objects situated directly above one’s beds. If you have defective or aging wiring or leaky gas connections, replace them as soon as possible. Bolt down your heaters and other gas operated appliances. Like the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, fires can be as damaging and as deadly as the structural damage introduced by the quake itself. Another way to minimize electrical and fire injuries and to conserve water during the aftermath of an earthquake is by teaching members of one’s family and household how to turn off the electricity, gas and water at the main switches and valves.
Another good earthquake preparedness measure is the maintenance of at least three days of food and bottled water and an up-to-date medical / first-aid kit. One should teach responsible family members basic first-aid instruction like CPR because medical facilities are more often than not could be overwhelmed immediately after a severe earthquake. Also maintaining flashlights and radios with healthy batteries in the house is very important when it comes to earthquake preparedness. Family discussions about what to do in case of an earthquake and related problems should be done in a calm manner. As much as possible, avoid telling frightening stories about disasters. Remember to have the presence of mind to do what’s needed in order to survive when an earthquake struck while you’re at work, in a store, in a public hall or outside. Prior planning will help you act calmly, safely and constructively in an emergency and enable you to aid others.
An overwhelming majority of earthquake victims are usually caught by surprise, but there are ways to keep one’s life and cool when caught in the middle an earthquake. Remain as calm as possible. Think through the consequences of expedient actions you are about to take. Try to calm and reassure others.
When caught indoors, watch out for falling plaster, bricks, lighting fixtures and other objects. Stay away from objects and structures that might shatter in the middle of an earthquake like glass windows, mirrors, chimneys and outer walls. If the building you’re in is in danger of immediate collapse, get under the strongest table you can find or other secure structures you can crawl under like desks, beds, or a strong doorway. School children should be taught to automatically get under desks during an earthquake. Usually, it is not ideal to run outside, unless of course you are in a heavy poorly constructed old building. Most modern high-rise office buildings are constructed with earthquake resistance in mind, so it is better to shelter under the desk or table to protect oneself from falling debris. Do not dash for exits because stairwells may be jammed with people increasing the likelihood of a stampede and power for the elevators may be cut-off.
When caught by an earthquake outside, avoid high buildings, walls, power utility poles and objects that could fall. Never run through the streets. If possible, move away from all hazards. If you are in an automobile, stop in the safest place you can find and stay there. Being made of steel, automobiles are one of the best places to be in case of falling debris. Never be hastily stampeded into leaving an upright building merely because it groans horribly or cracks start to appear and plaster falls. The only good time to leave a building is when collapse is obviously imminent, which is generally indicated by walls falling as a unit.
After an earthquake, check yourself and those near you for injuries. Do not attempt to move seriously injured persons unless they’re in immediate danger of further injury, like by falling debris and imminent building collapse. As you move around, always wear shoes to avoid foot injuries from debris and broken glass. Check for and rule out gas leaks before you operate light switches, light a match or candles. And do not touch downed power lines.
If your home’s water supply is out, emergency water for putting out small fires of non-electrical nature can be obtained from water heaters, from toilet tanks, from ice cubes, canned vegetables and even radiators from cars. Although water from radiators should not be used for drinking as it may contain antifreeze. Check out the sewage lines for damage before permitting the flushing of toilets.
Do not use your telephone except for genuine emergency calls. This rule applies to mobile phones and satellite phones, and even to Internet traffic as well. Tune to the radio instead for information. Do not spread rumors or be quick to believe them. Rumors can cause great harm and panic following a major disaster. Do not immediately go sightseeing. Keep the streets clear for emergency vehicles. Be prepared for additional aftershocks. Although usually smaller, these may be large enough to cause further damage to weakened structures like masonry structures. Watch out for and stay clear of areas of potential tidal waves or landslides.
Help police, fire fighters, civil defense or relief units only if requested to do so. Otherwise, stay out of damaged areas. Make thorough check of your home for cracks or leaks in chimneys, utility connections or other weakened parts of your house that could cause further fires, asphyxiation or further damage.
Lastly, no set of rules can eliminate all earthquake dangers, but the following rules previously mentioned can greatly reduce injuries and damage to property. You can count yourself fortunate if your only concern after an earthquake is whether your insurance policy payout is adequate to fix your home like before.