Making the most of the Great Washington ShakeOut

By Gordon Williams

Washington is earthquake country, which makes October 21st a red-letter day if you live within the reaches of the American Red Cross Northwest Region. That’s the date of this year’s Great Washington ShakeOut and an estimated 1.1 million residents of Washington and northern Idaho will spend time practicing the skills needed to stay safe the next time the earth trembles.

There are two ways to make the most of the ShakeOut:

First, set aside a few minutes for you and your family to practice the “drop, cover and hold-on” techniques you will rely on to keep safe during a quake. You can do that on October 21st–or any other time–as long as you do it.

Second, now that you are thinking about earthquakes, survey your home to spot and correct anything that might make you vulnerable to death or injury from a quake. While you can’t stop earthquakes from occurring, you can do a lot toward making your home quake-proof.

If you join the ShakeOut, you’ll have plenty of company. The estimate of over 1 million participants is just for Washington State. The event is global and around 23 million people worldwide are expected to take part.

First, let’s run through the mechanics of drop, cover and hold on. At the first tremble, drop to the ground, find cover under something sturdy enough to protect you from falling debris. Then hold on to something secure until the shaking stops. That cover might be a table or desk. If no cover is readily available, lean against an interior wall that is free from windows or objects that might fall. If you are in bed, curl up and cover your head with a pillow to minimize the risk of being injured by something falling on you.

The Red Cross—a supporter of the ShakeOut– has lots of advice to offer about safety during a quake:

If you are inside, stay there until the shaking stops. Use stairs and not an elevator when you do venture outside,

If you are outside, find a spot away from buildings and power lines and drop to the ground.

If you are in a car, pull over, away from bridges or power lines–with the seatbelt fastened.

If you are near the seacoast, move quickly to the highest place you can find–high ground or a tall sturdy building–in case the quake triggers a tsunami.

Link to: Red Cross Earthquake Safety

Make sure all family members–even the youngest–know how to respond during a quake. You should already have a home evacuation plan for getting everyone to safety in a home fire. Practice carrying out that plan twice a year and include drop-cover-hold on as part of your drill. Pick a spot in each room that might serve as cover, if needed

Next, follow the advice of the Red Cross in making your home as earthquake-proof as you can. The general rule here is: If something might fall down in a quake, make sure it can’t fall down.

All water heaters and gas appliances must be bolted to wall studs to keep them from toppling in a quake. All tall furniture pieces–book cases, cabinets, dressers– should be bolted to wall studs. But then, tall pieces should always be firmly attached to studs if there are children in the home, to make sure they are not pulled over by a child trying to open a high drawer.

Make sure there are no heavy objects such as pictures or mirrors hanging above where people sleep or sit. Put sturdy latches on all cabinets to keep their contents from spilling out. Put heavy items on the lowest shelves so they don’t fall on anyone if they do spill out. Anchor overhead lights to ceiling joists.

Don’t leave your safe spot until all shaking has stopped. Assume that the quake will be followed by aftershocks. Drop, cover, and hold on during each after shock.

If the quake caught you away from home, the Red Cross advises staying away until authorities tell you it is safe to return. Exercise extreme caution when you do return home, says the Red Cross. “Be sure to carefully inspect walls, floors, doors, staircases and windows to check for damage,” says the Red Cross Earthquake Safety Checklist. Avoid touching power lines that are down, but still live.

For more about the ShakeOut, including additional resources and activities, go to shakeout.org/washington.

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