By Gordon Williams

When you hear about an earthquake in another state or country, take the time to review your plans for surviving a quake here in Washington. As the state’s Emergency Management Division points out, “Washington is earthquake country. It’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ an earthquake will strike us.”

First step is knowing what to do before an earthquake hits. An excellent  source of  information is the Red Cross earthquake application — available free from both the Apple store and Google Play.  Here your advance planning  should accomplish two things:                 

First, prepare you for how you will live in those first post-quake days when power is out, roads are blocked and you must get by on what you have stockpiled at home. You want to have flashlights and radios with plenty of batteries, or maybe a hand-crank radio which needs no batteries.

And you will need provisions enough to feed your family until stores reopen.  The Red Cross app suggests enough non-perishable food and stockpiled water (a gallon a day per person) to provide for the family for three days. 

Second, show you how to quake-proof your home by securing everything that could injure or kill someone during a quake. The Red Cross app explains how to do that.

Bolt and brace water heaters and gas appliances to wall studs to keep them from falling over in a quake.  Tall pieces of furniture—bookcases, china cabinets and the like—should  be bolted to wall studs. Anchor overhead lighting fixtures to ceiling joists. Put strong latches on all cabinets to keep the contents from crashing out in a quake.

Some of this work will require a construction professional. Have the person examine your house for potential trouble spots. Are sliding glass doors, awnings and canopies, car ports, porches and decks all secure enough to survive a quake. Is your home securely anchored to the foundation? 

Place heavy objects on lower shelves so no one is hurt if they fall. Take down pictures or mirrors that have been hung above places where people sit or sleep. Finally the Red Cross app suggests you learn how to shut off all gas valves in the house and keep a wrench handy to close the valves in a hurry.

Next you should  know how to how to stay safe during a quake.  That’s where drop, cover and hold on comes into play. At the very first tremble drop to your knees, crawl under a table or desk to protect yourself from falling objects and hold on to something sturdy until the  quake ends. If there is nothing to crawl under for cover, stay against an interior wall with no windows. If you are in bed, curl up and stay there and cover yourself with whatever is at hand.  A pillow is better than nothing.

You may have been told that a doorway was a safe place to be during a quake, Not so. The Red Cross app warns that, “doorways are no stronger than any other part of the structure.” 

Don’t venture outside until the shaking stops.  Before leaving the building,  look around and up to be sure there is nothing that might fall on you.

Check for any fires and put them out. Fires are the most common post-quake hazard. Your home should have one or more fire extinguishers and you should know how to use them.  Beware of live electrical wires that have come down. Turn off electric power and leave it off until all downed power line are taken care of and until a professional says your electrical system is safe.

Check gas lines and connections for leaks. Spray a mix of water and dishwasher soap on all gas fittings. Bubbles could indicate a leak. If you hear hissing from a propane tank it could mean a leak. Call the fire department at once.

Assume the quake will be followed by one or more aftershocks. You dropped, covered and held on during the  first shock, Do exactly the same at each aftershock.

Finally you should know what to do if the quake occurs when you are away from  home. Here’s advice from the Washington Emergency Management Division on coping with an earthquake in a variety of settings:

–Anywhere: Drop to your hands and knees, cover your head and hold on to something sturdy.

–In a high-rise: Drop, cover and hold on until the shaking stops. If you do then evacuate, use the stairs, not an elevator.

–In a classroom: Drop, cover and hold on . Be aware of special dangers posed by such facilities as labs.

–In a store: Drop away from shelves. If possible, cover next to a shopping cart or under a clothing rack.

–Driving:  Pull over, stop and set the parking brake. Avoid overpasses, bridges and power lines.  

–In a wheelchair: Lock wheels’ and  cover your head and neck.

–Near a shoreline: Move quickly to higher ground once the shaking stops.

Since earthquakes are a fact of life in Washington, it’s wise to learn all you can about keeping your family safe during a quake. Each time you hear of a quake somewhere else, let it serve as a reminder to review and practice your own plans for surviving an earthquake close to home.

For more information about earthquake preparedness, visit:

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