Following the catastrophic earthquake that all but flattened Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince in January 2010, I published a guide on how to prepare for the “big one” or not-so-big-one at home that was geared towards those dealing with temperamental plate tectonics on a regular basis.
For many of you — particularly residents of California, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest — that post was more or less a refresher course in earthquake preparedness but in light of two major earth-rattling events in a matter of weeks — February’s 6.3 magnitude quake in New Zealand and last week’s devastating 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan — I figured that now was an ideal time to republish that original post.
Thanks to stringent building codes and the fact that the Japanese people are at the top of the earthquake-preparedness-game, many homes (and lives) were mercifully spared and the mega-quake itself was prevented from living up to it’s full destructive potential in many areas. The terrifying 30-foot tsunami unleashed on Japan's northeast coast by the earthquake and the tense nuclear situation in the Fukushima prefecture, however, are whole other stories. Below, you’ll find my original post from last year on how you can prepare at home for an earthquake or another natural disaster.
As the grim situation in Japan continues to unfold, you’re probably wondering what you can do to to assist in the relief and rescue efforts. MNN blogger Andrew Schenkel has published a comprehensive post detailing ways you can help now. Additionally, The Impact Your World section of CNN has information on humanitarian organizations on the ground in Japan that you can support as does GOOD. And for a wonderfully written account of the quake, check out this New York Times Opinionator essay, "The Internet Kept Me Company," written by my friend, Tokyo-based American journalist Sandra Barron. And, of course, MNN has you covered on the latest developments on this unprecedented disaster.
Batten down the hatches
- Earthquakes rattle both nerves and the contents of your home. Make sure that overhead light fixtures are anchored securely and that breakable and heavy objects are placed on lower shelves and cabinets, not up high. It also helps to keep heavy, wall-mounted objects like mirrors and frames away from seating areas. If needed, install bolts and latches on cabinets.
- Ensure that there is no faulty electrical wiring or leaky gas connections anywhere around the home. These are both potential fire sources. Bolt and brace water heaters and gas appliances to wall studs. And most importantly, know how to turn your utilities off.
If you notice significant cracks in the ceilings or foundation of your home, don’t ignore them. Consult a general contractor or seismic retrofit specialist
to take a look around and assess if work should be done. You never know, some earthquake touch-ups might result in greater energy-efficiency.
- In the garage, make sure that anything flammable, pesticides, and any chemical products are kept in secure places where they cannot spill.
- Pick out a “safe place” to take cover if an earthquake hits. Indoors, this would be under a desk or any sturdy, large piece of furniture that's away from windows, mirrors, and pieces of furniture that could potentially topple over. Once you've found something to hide under, remember to duck, cover, and hold on. If hiding under something is not a quick option, secure yourself against an inside wall.
Get a kit
- Stash an earthquake kit or two in easily accessible areas of the home. The San Francisco Chronicle has detailed instructions on how to assemble a DIY earthquake kit or you can look into preassembled earthquake kits from companies like Quake Kare, Nitro-Pak, American Family Safety, Earthquake Store, and Earth Shakes.
General 72-hour survival kits are also an option since most contain the same supplies as earthquake-specific kits. StanSport makes a comprehensive disaster kit available at retailers like Walmart
. Whatever kit you choose, make certain that the basics — first-aid supplies, non-perishable food, water (at least one gallon per person, per day), flashlights with extra batteries, cash, sturdy shoes, a can opener, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, and a wrench or pillars to turn off utilities — are included. Also ensure that the kit can accommodate the size of your family and special needs like medical conditions that anyone might have.
- Epicureans experience earthquakes, too … SF Weekly has recommendations on how to prepare “The Ultimate Foodie Earthquake Kit.”
Be aware, not scared
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