Moving Mountains – Comprehensive Earthquake Safety Guide for Families
Of all the natural disasters that plague the planet, none can seem more ‘abominable’ than the earthquake. As an element that embodies stability, seeing the solid ground quiver and fracture is nothing short of unnatural. If every natural disaster is intensified at a global ‘doomsday’ scale, an earthquake is the only type that can force humans to evacuate the planet for safety.
Speaking of which, the popular documentary series Doomsday Preppers featured earthquakes seven times in its entire four seasons. While these seven televised survivalist households might be ridiculed by ordinary Americans, their paranoia still has a valid basis.
For the past 10 years, three genocidal earthquakes have proven that unassailable point:
- The 2010 Haiti earthquake (100,000 casualties)
- The 2011 earthquake-tsunami in Japan (18,550 casualties)
- The 2015 Nepal earthquake (8,964 casualties)
Every family must know what to do before, during, and after an earthquake – especially the likes of those three that struck recently. Figuratively speaking; ‘If the mountains move, one should move mountains.’
Chapter - 1
Prior to any plan of action or preparation, one must at least know in detail what he/she is dealing with. Formulating a systematic earthquake preparedness strategy usually takes considerable research. All these efforts lead to one ultimate non-negotiable goal – survival. All the critical knowledge base begins with asking the three right questions:
- What exactly is it?
- Where does it usually happen?
- How terrible is it (when it happens)?
Earthquake: True or False
An earthquake is a direct result of the movement of the surface of the earth. As far as contemporary geology is concerned, the very platform (crust) that sets mountains and valleys in place is being constantly shifted by the rhythm of the earth’s fluid outer core (mantle). Earthquake is a product of motion, friction, and vibration at a very massive planetary scale.
It is easy to assume that earthquakes only happen on flat solid ground judging from the excruciatingly obvious name. However, tremors also affect both rugged highlands and underwater. The former results in landslides (or avalanche during winter) and the latter can cause a tsunami. In worse cases, earthquakes near active volcanoes could engulf nearby settlements in scorching lava.
Science can pretty much give anyone overwhelming volumes of knowledge on how earthquakes happen. But in strict survival terms, these are pretty much the only facts worth keeping in mind:
- Earthquakes are deadly.
- Earthquakes can happen anywhere.
- Earthquakes can happen anytime.
- Earthquakes are beyond anyone’s control.
In order to validate and reinforce truth, it is equally important for one to point out misleading information. When it comes to earthquakes, these are the following myths that the average American are still likely to believe:
- There is nothing anyone can do about it.
- Scientists can predict when it happens.
- The earth can open up and swallow people.
- Houses are safe because of new building codes.
- Small earthquakes prevent the big ones.
- Earthquakes happen in hot and dry weather.
- Earthquakes are only a West Coast problem.
- Earthquakes are becoming more frequent.
- It is safe to move once the shaking stops.
Lay of the Land
As mentioned earlier, earthquakes can happen anywhere and it is not just a problem experienced by people living in along the Pacific Coast. While earthquakes are geographically indiscriminate, there are patterns revealing certain areas with comparatively notable threat projections.
Earthquakes mostly happen around fault lines/zones – geographical partitions of terrestrial surfaces (tectonic plates). Just like volcanoes, faults are hosts for seismic waves that prove a bane to any civilized territory. Cities and towns along these veins are very vulnerable.
There are up to 28 active fault lines/zones within the United States and around 9 others remain dormant (for now). In line with the studies conducted by the US Geological Survey (USGS), around 42 states are at risk. These following major terrestrial rifts, however, prove to be most terrifying:
- Cascadia Zone
- Estimated magnitude: 9.0 to 10.0
- Location/s: Oregon and Washington State
- Last earthquake: January 26, 1700
- Denali System
- Estimated magnitude: 7.0 to 8.5
- Location: Alaska
- Last earthquake: November 3, 2002
- New Madrid Fault
- Estimated magnitude: 7.0 to 8.0
- Location/s: Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee
- Last earthquake: November 9, 1968
- Ramapo System
- Estimated magnitude: 5.0 to 5.5
- Location/s: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania
- Last earthquake: Early Jurassic Epoch
- San Andreas Fault
- Estimated magnitude: 7.8 to 9.0
- Location/s: California
- Last earthquake: September 28, 2004
Judging from the broad lay of the land, people living in any of the five previously mentioned rift territories may need to take safety planning more seriously. Simply knowing where one lives keeps the path of ‘survival assessment’ straight and true.
Damage & Destruction
While it is easy to accept at face value that earthquakes are deadly, not many people can truly get the picture of how fatally dangerous this natural disaster is. Unlike the graphic scenes featured in movies (San Andreas) and video games (Assassin’s Creed: Rogue), the loss of lives is not merely restricted within the brief timeframe that the ground being smacked by seismic waves.
However, being the most immediate cause of death of an earthquake victim, it pays to understand how its intensity is measured. The Richter Scale and Mercalli Scale are the current methods of quantifying the destructive force an earthquake unleashes. One must take note that there is always a direct link between an earthquake’s intensity and its periodic statistical likelihood.
Earthquakes occurring in the aforementioned major fault lines/zones are characterized by the magnitude’s high numerical value and the broadness of the geographical scope. The Ramapo Fault System is relatively low-magnitude and extremely rare by comparison, yet it is also important to consider how the damage exponentially amplifies along with the degree of ‘civil footprint’ (e.g. skyscrapers, subway infrastructure, etc.).
Anyone who manages to survive the immediate shockwaves has yet to be cleared off the casualty statistics. Human survival is also extremely endangered by fractured ‘social fabric.’ When an earthquake destroys roads, buildings, and pipelines, it also…
- Halts production and distribution of basic goods.
- Increases the occupational pressure of first responders.
- Weakens the overall law enforcement capability.
All these conditions (and more) create a perfect atmosphere that easily breeds mass desperation and panic. The ensuing effects multiply with population density simply because crowd control is not easy. The more people living in a tremor-struck locality, the more chaotic it gets.
In addition to the struggle for food, water, and medical care in the midst of shortage; desperate people (especially those who lost their homes and loved ones) will most definitely commit violent crimes. These dangers directly contribute to the other half of the entire death toll.
Chapter - 2
Safety Precautions An Earthquake
One of the key facts to remember about earthquakes is that its occurrence is simply beyond anyone’s control. But contrary to the first aforementioned myth, any person’s chances of surviving this disaster are more than excellent if he/she prepared for it.
In the absence of proper preparations, ‘doomsday’ is only a matter of time and magnitude. Disaster-prevention is always preceded and governed by good strategy. In this respect, an excellent strategy comprises the following basic foundations:
- Securing the home
- Securing the belongings
- Securing the self/persons
One of the most prevalent terms highlighted in the second broadcast season of Doomsday Preppers is the ‘Initial Survival Time.’ At the end of each episode, the featured survivalist team/household is scored according to how long their strategic approaches will keep them alive. While these assessments can hardly predict exact outcomes, it demonstrates how the ‘personality equation’ (unique values and traits) can make a huge difference.
Granted, there are a lot of tactical approaches that make sound survival strategy possible. Nonetheless, it takes only two things to make all of these possibilities happen – effort and investment. Success comes down to how much one would give.
House Retrofit – Securing Home
In terms of home defense, the most common misconception is the belief that houses are safe simply with the existence of new building codes. Most people fail to understand that building codes simply provide specific guidelines.
According to an analysis published by the University of Portland and the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS), small buildings that typify the average American houses are especially vulnerable to high-frequency seismic waves. As far as building codes are concerned, houses must withstand earthquakes that produce intense vibrations.
New building codes provide a definitive answer to this crucial question: Can my house survive an earthquake? With the help of a certified structural engineer, homeowners can assess if their house needs retrofitting based on these three basic criteria:
- The age of the house
- The location of the house
- The construction materials used
In terms of age, homeowners must have their house retrofitted if it was constructed before the 1980’s. The older the house, the more extensive are the overhauls to its key structural points (e.g. foundation, flooring, sills, and cripple walls). The average cost could run anywhere between $4,000 and $7,000, depending on the scope and complexity of the retrofit.
Aside from the design principle, age also determines the integrity of every type of material used. Case in point: an old brick house will totally collapse from a short but brutal ground shaking of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. Under slightly similar or comparatively milder tremors, these are the three common forms of maximum damage for an outdated house without proper retrofitting:
- Sliding: the entire structure slithers off from the foundation
- Overturning: the entire structure detaches from the foundation and tips over
- Racking: the main walls or the lower cripple walls buckle and collapse
In line with the aforementioned major fault lines/zones, it is possible for a resident to apply for government grants to significantly reduce costs – provided that he/she lives in an earthquake-prone location. California has a very robust program called Earthquake Brace & Bolt that provides around $3,000 to $5,000 worth of retrofit funding for candidates with eligible ZIP codes.
While not all states within the major terrestrial rifts offer as much generous financial assistance, certain organizations that specialize in earthquake resilience somehow provide cost-efficient solutions to retrofitting projects. In Portland (Oregon), a non-profit group called Enhabit assists homeowners by liaising them with an ideal contractor.
Once your home is made strong enough, you should find a safe place on every room under a furniture or against an interior wall. The place should be away from any heavy objects or furnitures that could fall on you.
Interiors Mitigation – Securing The Belongings
Securing the home is not only limited to upgrading house structure according to the new building code. Homeowners must also be able to safeguard the interiors in the midst of violent shaking. During earthquakes, household items can be inherently dangerous in several different ways.
Large heavy objects can collapse and crush a person inside the house under its sheer weight. If not, they can block the main doors and trap the residents inside. Suspended objects also run the risk of causing a concussion (if not death) when they fall over someone’s head.
Breakable items, on the other hand, can cause multiple wounds and lacerations to its hapless victims. Some of these small objects may have flammable or toxic contents. In the United States, almost every major earthquake is a fire hazard. Up 15% to 50% of all post-earthquake fires are caused by natural gas leaks and nearly 40% originates from electrical ignitions.
Safety demands more than just proper relocation and containment of potentially hazardous stuff. The material strength of storage compartments also warrants a closer examination. Experts recommend the following specific improvisations:
- Heavy or crushing
- Place large objects away (or adjacent off-angle) from the main exit.
- Lock large objects (e.g. cabinet) with tension poles or L-brackets.
- Rig overhead lights and ceiling fans with the seismic bracing system.
- Place large sound system on a desk instead of a suspended platform.
- Keep steel pots or pans inside a cabinet instead of the hanging rack.
- Sharp or breakable
- Hang framed images at a lower level away from the bed or couch/chair.
- Secure framed images with closed hooks or museum-grade putties.
- Replace glass cabinets with non-breakable barriers (e.g. hardwood).
- Store breakable food containers (e.g. milk jar) inside a fridge lock.
- Store precious items (e.g. china) in shock-proof strongboxes.
- Store kitchen knives inside cutlery drawers instead of knife racks.
- Lock items in close storage (e.g. drawers) with padlock latches.
- Lock items in open shelves (e.g. bookcase and trophy ledge) with hedges.
- Secure the television or desktop monitor with special seismic-proof straps.
- Flammable, toxic and charged
- Bolt propane tanks onto 6-inch thick concrete platforms.
- Secure water heater with heavy-duty shelving brackets and metal strapping.
- Replace compact connectors (e.g. gas pipes) with flexible varieties.
- Store household chemicals (e.g. pesticides) inside bottom counters.
Securing The Self
In theory, every person’s home is his/her castle and last safe refuge. Unfortunately, there is only so much one can do to barely curb the damages of an earthquake reaching an intensity of 7th Mercalli Scale.
One of the first things to consider in a good emergency evacuation concerns a list of basic necessities evacuees must carry with them.
For convenience’s sake, anyone can purchase pre-made emergency kits complete with supplies and necessary tools. The quantity and volume of items are often determined by two calculable factors – duration and the number of persons using it (e.g. 72-hour kit for 2 persons). The one inviolable condition when it comes to the selecting pre-made equipment is that the brand must be certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
It is also possible (and arguably better) for any person to customize his/her own survival gear item checklist. These are the recommended items for evacuees who prefer a DIY mode of inventory, according to FEMA standards:
- Food supply
- Non-perishable: canned, dehydrated or dried.
- Salt-free and must have high liquid content.
- Preferably the type that doesn’t require labored preparation.
- Water supply
- One gallon per day, per person.
- Double the volume for a hot climate.
- Contained in air-tight food-grade storage.
- Portable radio
- Battery-powered with a hand crank.
- NOAA weather radio with tone alert.
- Alternative: a two-way communicator.
- First aid kit
- Battery-powered LED type
- Preferably at least 800 lumens.
- Must have spare batteries
- Alternative: headlamp or lantern
- Dust mask
- Preferably the N95 or N99 types
- Alternative: Full face gas mask
- Home tools
- Clothing and bedding
- Change of clothes
- Thermal jacket/sweater
- Poncho and liner
- Hat, scarf, and mittens
- Sleeping bag
- Personal hygiene
- Utensils (e.g. mug, can opener, and spoon)
- Wet wipes and garbage bags
- Steel kettle and cloth/coffee filter
- Non-scented bleach and dropper
- Water disinfectant tablets
- Cash and documents
- Valid ID’s (e.g. social security)
- Debit and credit card copies
- Insurance policies and financial records
- Must be stored in waterproof containers
Experts highly recommend a relatively prolonged evacuation window, even for fleeing residents with a clear destination. This timeframe is intended for those who are forced to travel on foot. If an earthquake fails to completely destroy roads and highways, it can definitely cause traffic roadblocks due to a combination of panic-stricken mass exodus of civilian vehicles and hectic influx of first responders (e.g. police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances).
A standard military-grade duffel bag can contain most, if not all, of the list of items mentioned. Fortunately, a new backpack model by HoverGlide can bear as much cargo while effectively reducing the overall weight resistance by 82% while walking and 86% while running. This incredible feat is made possible by applying ‘suspended load technology.’
Apart from weight, a more pressing concern regarding the survival gear is accessibility. Granted that every checklist item is secured in one or two packs, homeowners must also know where to put them. Nothing can be more ‘ironically depressing’ than fleeing empty-handed simply because the survival gear was buried under the rubble, engulfed in flames, or sunk into the liquefied soil along with the entire house.
Having an earthquake-proof home and comprehensive survival gear does not completely guarantee a continued existence. Hence, a crucial part of self-preservation also comes down to excellent physical and mental fitness.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity affects around 93.3 million American adults from 2015 to 2016. A person with the highest likelihood of dying from several ‘preventable and premature deaths’ hardly qualifies for self-rescue. If one has to emulate a very ideal persona with a realistically achievable baseline standard, it would be a local firefighter.
Being able to accomplish athletic feats gives anyone an advantage when faced with the physical rigors of natural disasters.
Bugging Out: Skills Training
Physical fitness only comprises half of the overall concept of self-preservation. The other half entails sound mental health, and nothing cultivates this better than relevant skills training. Surviving a natural disaster not only favors the strong, but also the smart and courageous ones.
It is important to understand that the link between physical and mental health is closer than most people would think. The brain-defined neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a gene protein located in the memory and learning center of the brain (hippocampus), is able to affect neural plasticity (growth and expansion). An Australian study in 2017 confirms how physical exercise makes people smarter due to its direct involvement in increasing the BDNF.
With regular physical workout increasing the brain’s processing power, the next crucial step is installing a useful program. For those who have little to no working knowledge of dealing with emergency situations, acquiring survival skills are an understated priority.
One of the crucial things to learn when it comes to surviving a disaster is the proper use of the first aid kit – whether it is closing of wounds or resuscitating an unconscious person. And in terms of losing consciousness, nothing is more notorious than cardiac arrest. So how competent are American adults in this particular skill set?
- 90% of all people suffering from out-of-hospital cardiac arrest end up dead
- 70% of all of all out-of-hospital cardiac arrests happen at home
- Only 33% of employed people have received basic first aid training
An earthquake is a nerve-wracking natural disaster. People with a heart condition (especially elderly residents) are susceptible to losing consciousness during the initial high-intensity seismic waves even in the absence of related physical injuries. A heart that stops beating only has 4 to 6 minutes window of survival – and it takes one trained companion to make a huge difference.
The final (perhaps also the most overlooked) part of skill-based self-preservation concerns the most unnerving and difficult to bear: violent self-defense. As mentioned earlier, severe earthquakes that ruin modern infrastructure pushes unprepared people to become desperate. But it is also important to consider that violent criminals already exist without natural disasters.
The two most prevalent violent post-disaster crimes include robbery and rape. While the former is often driven by the severe shortage of resources, the latter is urged by the mere opportunity to break social taboos. To avoid becoming an unfortunate victim, one must learn how to…
- Fight at close quarters
- Engage with single or multiple attackers calmly
- React quickly against surprise melee attack
- Accurately hit vulnerable areas with unarmed strikes
- Use makeshift objects as a weapon or shield
- Fight with a tactical firearm
- Aim, control trigger, and reload under pressure
- Shoot moving targets while on the move
- Know where to hide for cover against enemy fire
- Know where to target lethal and non-lethal areas
Apart from the survival gear checklist authorized by FEMA, self-preservation may require a person to bring a firearm and enough ammunition. Fortunately, all 50 states have passed laws that allow qualified (licensed) persons to carry concealed weapons (CCW) in public. Reviewing specific CCW laws per state keeps armed civilians from being at odds with the law.
In terms of the choice of firearm, one must take into account the necessities and constraints entailed in surviving a chaotic post-disaster environment. In accordance with CCW conditions, a defender’s ideal firearm choice must also be handy, easily hidden and drawn at a moment’s notice.
Fixing An Alternative Offsite
Evacuating the treacherous home interiors after a massive earthquake only works best if one has a clear alternative destination in mind. Most people would often imagine a house when they think of an offsite refuge. As with any additional real estate property, the wisest investment comes down to choosing the best location.
Based on the National Seismic Hazard Map outlined by the USGS, there are less than a handful of areas in the country where seismic damages to civil infrastructure are relatively mild (if not negligible). As it happens, these states prove to be an excellent substitute location for prospective real estate buyers with an average annual salary of $40,000 to $50,000:
With alternative offsite homes, fleeing residents can decrease the overall length of their journey – especially with the frequency of ‘simulated evacuation drills’ (e.g. surprise weekend vacation in the country home). Familiarity with the terrain allows one to map out more viable detours.
Another important advantage one can acquire from alternative offsite lodgings is that they also optimize the barest volume of a 72-hour emergency supply. A well-stocked country home can allow prepared evacuees to maintain the momentum of movement as it effectively eliminates the dire urgency to stop for camping and resupplying (e.g. hunt, scavenge, or forage).
Not every optional site, however, always has to be a replacement house with several years’ worth of mortgage. Single-space storage units are significantly cheaper strictly in terms of stockpiling valuable goods. One can always find temporary living quarters (e.g. hotel, apartment, or a friend/relative’s house) several blocks from a chosen storage unit site.
Storage units may also serve as an off-site garage. In terms of temporary living space, an RV or a truck-towed mobile house removes the need to pay for a separate rental fee. This option is very suitable for those who prefer to spend the remainder of their transient relocation off the grid.
Unlike homes with superior insulation and functional utility, only the non-perishable variety of food items can be stockpiled in storage units. But on the plus side of things, they rarely require security expenses. After all, property criminals (e.g. burglars, arsons, vandals, etc) always prefer a building with multiple vulnerable entry points.
Most importantly, an alternative offsite location is a perfect repository for physical copies of valid ID’s, debit and credit cards, insurance policies, financial records, and other important files. Experts highly recommend duplicating key documents in software format and storing them in web-based cloud technology.
Prepping with Pets
Age and physical condition directly affect how residents can evacuate from an earthquake-wrecked home. But even for able-bodied individuals, the presence of pets poses a risk in terms of overcoming time constraints. In worse cases, an untrained agitated animal can react in ways that unintentionally ruin a good evacuation strategy.
According to the 2017-2018 national survey by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), up to 68% of all the US households own pets. The two most popular animal companions are dogs (60.2 million homes) and cats (47.1 million homes). Both proved to be the most vulnerable species due to their proliferation in urban settings.
In the presence of their owners, the success of group evacuation may depend on how well pets cooperate. It is important to consider the apparent language barrier between humans and animals. Such an obstacle requires training programs that align with the general goal of collective survival.
Families can truly benefit from having a highly-trained service dog – canine companions with the competence level of first responders. While it is possible for anyone to teach their four-legged best friends necessary survival tricks, professional instruction is still a gold standard. In terms of training dogs, their ability to retain information is largely dependent on the following factors:
- Age: preferably early adulthood.
- Physical condition: neither injured nor ill.
- Energy balance: regular exercise provides a healthy outlet.
- Training schedule: short period but consistent frequency.
- Breed: some varieties are easier to train than others.
With 10,000 to 30,000 years of domestication, dogs are comparatively easier to train than cats. Despite that, the one comparative advantage cats have in an emergency scenario (if they are successfully trained to come when called) is their physique. They are small, agile, and lightweight enough to be hurriedly bagged inside a pillowcase (Evacsack).
Considering the plain inability to forecast the arrival of a massive earthquake, it is practically impossible to book a pet shelter beforehand. It is the one type of natural crisis wherein experts cannot recommend preemptively scheduling an appointment to kennels or pet hotels.
In the absence of their owners (or trusted neighbors), four-legged animal companions are pretty much left to their own instincts to crawl under the cover of a solid surface (e.g. bed, table, or steel cage). Without human assistance, the most feasible projection concerns the recovery of the lost or trapped pets after the massive earthquake.
It is important to consider that pets are several times more helpless without their owners. Here are some of the preemptive safeguards to ensure a successful evacuation and rescue (either by their owners or patrolling first responders):
- Identification & Documents
- Pets must wear collars/tags with complete details.
- Pets must have GPS-tracking microchips installed in them.
- Secure a copy of the pet’s updated health records.
- Keep contact details of local emergency offices.
- Keep contact details of chosen veterinary caregivers.
- House Safeguards
- Close the windows to stop pets from fleeing the house and roaming astray.
- Keep pet snakes and critters caged in secured pens when no one is home.
- Avoid putting toxic or flammable chemicals around the pet’s frequent hiding place.
- Seal off areas where small pets might be trapped in (e.g. vents or cracked walls).
- Homes must have visible rescue alert signage/sticker.
- Specific Training
- Pets must learn to respond to vocal commands.
- Pets must learn to socialize with trusted neighbors.
- Cats and small dogs must be acclimatized to their carriers.
- Large dogs must learn to guide a small flock or a large herd.
- Large dogs must learn various basic service/support tasks.
Needless to say, one must secure their animal companion’s valuable goods when fleeing. The 72-hour survival gear and the alternative offsite inventory must already include consumable supplies (e.g. food, water, soap, medicine, etc) and essential equipment (e.g. food & water bowls, first aid kit, litter box, brush, etc.).
Chapter - 3
Safety Measures An Earthquake
As far as experts are concerned, moderate earthquakes around magnitude 6.0 would last roughly around 30 seconds. But a massive earthquake in the Cascadia Zone is estimated to persist for up to five minutes – more than enough time to level a poorly-built pre-1980’s home to the ground. The longest recorded duration lasted up to 10 minutes during the 2004 Sumatra earthquake.
Each second of tremor exponentially amplifies the latent damage. It takes less than 10 seconds for any person to save his/her life at the event of an earthquake.
Only three actions are strictly recommended within that crucial moment:
- Drop on all fours
- Prevents one from losing balance
- A stable starting point to a crawl
- Cover the head and the neck
- Protects vital organs from injuries
- Enables safe movement towards a shelter (e.g. table)
- Hold on to a sturdy object
- Prevents being thrown away from a secure cover
The Drop, Cover, and Hold (DCH) has been a proven and tested means of self-rescue during an earthquake. This simple three-step method has been the single-most recognized survival technique acknowledged by the official US and international rescue teams, as well as specialists from legitimate organizations (e.g. FEMA and American Red Cross).
Considering the remarkable level of validity behind the DCH method, it is crucial to find out how experts could justify their support. Just like any vital life skill, practical techniques or doctrines must be backed by reality-based working concepts, preferably qualifying military-grade standards. Here are a number of reasons why DCH remains to be the most recommended system in the world:
1. Damage Reports
All truths are based on facts, and presenting standpoints derived from empirical data is the most logical place to start. Engineers, health care experts, and a broad array of academic professionals have been trying to uncover how past earthquakes have precisely injured and killed its victims. Here are conclusions from three several high-profile studies of seismic epidemiology…
- 1994 Northridge earthquake (California, USA): Most of the hospital-admitted injuries are caused by falls or being hit by objects.
- 2013 Lushan earthquake (China): The most frequently injured anatomic areas are the lower extremities and the head.
- 2002 Afyon earthquake (Turkey): The exact location of the individual during the earthquake is a crucial mortality risk factor.
The DCH method seems to address all these fundamental patterns of mild and/or severe seismic injuries. The subsequent points in this part of the article definitively explain how this effective three-step technique solves these aforementioned problems.
2. Basic Applied Physics
The effectiveness of the DCH method highlights one of the most fundamental laws of motion: inertia. The effort of bracing against an earthquake accurately illustrates the principle of resisting a movement caused by an external force. Success means neither being brutally thrashed nor thrown out of an upper floor window.
Whenever the surface rocks back and forth, a person in a solid crouching/kneeling position is practically unassailable due to a more stable center of gravity. Two firmly planted lower legs have a greater mass distribution than a pair of ‘perpetually balancing’ feet. After finding cover and holding on to something sturdy, the chances of being forcefully tossed and flailed are very slim to none.
3. Protection by Anatomical Design
Curiously, the DCH technique emulates mankind’s most primal defensive posture. Whether it is a child in the midst of a schoolyard beat-down or a soldier in a foxhole pinned down by the enemy’s suppressing fire, it’s no accident that people would instinctually curl into a fetal position. The body is hardwired to expose its strong parts in order to protect the vulnerable areas.
The hands and forearms shield the back of the head and the person’s eyes, nose and mouth face down, opposite the usual trajectory of falling objects. Apart from the protective angle that hides the front torso, the anchored knees and lower legs defy the dangerous lateral movement – therefore preventing an individual from suffering head injuries and lower extremity fractures.
4. Anyone, Anytime and Anywhere
Other than how it brilliantly taps into the laws of physics and biomechanics, another key advantage of the DCH is that it applies to anyone, anytime and anywhere. In essence, the basic principles still work even for those with impaired gross motor skills.
Certain situations may force individuals to adapt and make slight variations without deviating from the fundamental principles of DCH. Here are examples of alternative scenarios wherein the exact steps are ostensibly modified…
- While in the bed:
- Face down and lie on the stomach
- Cover the back of the head with a pillow
- Hold on (to the headboard leg)
- While outdoors:
- Avoid hazards (e.g. trees, power lines, signs, etc)
- Drop (crouch) and move (crawl) towards a clear area
- Stay still and cover the head
- While driving:
- Slow down the vehicle to prevent road collisions
- Avoid hazards (e.g. trees, signs, bridges, overpasses, etc)
- Pull over to a clear location on the side of the road and set the parking brake. Make sure that you’re not parked on a bridge, under power lines or near unstable cliffs.
- Remain seated with seat belts tightened and hold on to the steering wheel
- If a power line breaks and falls over your car, don’t try to get out of the car. Wait for assistance.
Chapter - 4
Safety Measures An Earthquake
“Everyone has a plan until they got punched in the face.” Those are the famous words of Mike Tyson, the former world heavyweight boxing champion. He may not be the first person anyone would approach for academic insight, but ‘The Baddest Man on the Planet’ is definitely no stranger to the psychological toll of receiving hard blows. As it happens, earthquakes also hit hard and fast.
In the face of enemy attack (whether natural or man-made), the military is apt to use three strong words as their holistic lifestyle ethos: improvise, adapt, and overcome. This principle is so captivating it also strongly resonates with the civilians dealing with a variety of life struggles.
Initial trembling and aftershocks indiscriminately maim or kill its victims. Curiously, however, it forces some determined individuals to become triumphant survivors. Whether or not they are consciously aware of it, those who outlast a natural disaster have learned to:
- Improvise their plans
- Adapt to the chaotic situation
- Overcome all its challenges
The first 30 seconds to 10 minutes of bracing for a massive earthquake is the most critical moment for every individual. But it is important to bear in mind that getting through the initial tremor is just the start of the overall struggle for survival. The worst is far from over.
After this brief timeframe, there is an expected significant change in terms of the physical surroundings and/or the social atmosphere. Specific courses of action may no longer apply for a number of compelling reasons (e.g. poor house retrofit/mitigation, physical illness during the disaster, or simple immobilizing fear/shock).
This three-word philosophy keeps individuals focused if they are thrown into a situation that completely derails their survival strategy. In a ‘man vs. nature’ conflict, the latter always has the overwhelming advantage. Hence, the losers of this struggle are called ‘victims of natural disaster.’ An unfair fight requires a completely different (if not extraordinary) mindset.
Rule Of Threes In Survival
Strategies and tactics concerning longevity in a post-disaster environment are always subject to modifications. But regardless of how the exact methods are adjusted to accommodate new danger parameters, there are rules that all individuals must never break. In a post-disaster scenario, human survival is strictly subject to the sacrosanct Rule of Threes:
- 3 minutes to live without breathable air
- 3 hours to live without shelter
- 3 days to live without drinking water
- 3 weeks (or 30 days) to live without food
The Rule of Threes features core elements of precision and stability in terms of sustaining the human body’s physical needs. Hence, priorities become much simpler as it forces people to examine and align their ways and beliefs with the ultimate goal of overcoming death. A checklist of tasks is strictly narrowed down to these four essentials.
Under normal circumstances, it is easy to disregard the serious implications of limited access to key life-sustaining resources. Hence, natural disasters tend to cut down a fraction of a person’s potential lifespan (especially for the unprepared). The core of all post-disaster dangers is scarcity.
As far as the Rule of Threes is concerned, it is every person’s goal to outlast the 3-week or 1-month deadline in the midst of post-disaster hardships. Every move or decision made within this restricted survival timeline is geared towards the efficient use of time, energy and limited supplies.
The Survival Timeline
The Rule of Threes teaches individuals the importance of strict deadlines, and how some things in this world can prove delays to be too deadly. This scheme comprises the core of a much larger and complex system. There is also a deadline for tasks that are crucial to survival but has little or nothing to do with acquiring the aforementioned basic physiological needs.
For the purpose of this article, an integration of the Rule of Threes and a comprehensive checklist of security tests will be called the ‘survival timeline.’ What individuals do after they have braced themselves from the earthquake’s surprise attack is where their actions (or reactions) bear a direct impact in their uncertain lifespan.
Critical 24 Hours
While thirst and hunger can wait for days, breathlessness and exposure need to be addressed immediately. Curiously, exposure seems to be the least apparent threat to individuals who are not very well-versed in survival knowledge.
Exposure is best understood in terms of how the conditions of the immediate environment affect a person’s health. Extreme temperatures and degrees of moisture can directly alter the core body temperature and compromise survival. In the context of an immediate earthquake aftermath, exposure is a concern that is strictly relative to one’s current location.
In accordance with the Rule of Threes, it is (arguably) efficient to divide the 24-hour survival timeline into three chronological segments. There are things one must accomplish strictly within these designated schedules:
Under 3 Minutes
In line with the need for breathable air, survivors must prioritize clearance of possible injuries. Any wound that ultimately causes blood loss requires immediate medical attention. There are also certain injuries that (albeit temporarily) hinders the person’s gross motor skills. One can only administer first aid on injured companions if he/she can see clearly.
If the severity of the earthquake has knocked the interior lights out, the proper use of med kit is only possible with a good flashlight or headlamp. After treating the wounds (or fractures), seriously hurt victims must only be moved if the immediate surroundings threaten to collapse.
In worse cases, some unscathed individuals could lose consciousness – either from a throat trauma or cardiac arrest. The standard CPR timeline allows first aid hands to operate within 4 to 6 minutes window of survival. It is more than enough time if he/she follows the 3-minute rule.
Under 3 Hours
It is only safe to attend to other concerns if the people in the vicinity are cleared of disabling trauma. Fortunately for those who are able to properly retrofit, mitigate and perform the DCH maneuver against a massive earthquake; they may not likely require urgent medical attention. Three hours is sufficient time for any able-bodied individual to conduct inspections.
Needless to say, navigating the surroundings is dangerous (not to mention stupid) if one is barefooted. Earthquakes are notorious for leaving debris, with glass being the most likely harmful particle obstructing one’s path. It would be a big shame to suffer a torn sole tissue and bleed excessively just right after emerging unscathed.
If there aren’t any small fires that needed to be extinguished, one should immediately check for gas leaks. One must keep in mind that it is absolutely forbidden to use matches and lighters for illumination when inspecting these hazards.
It is possible that the house/building may have had its fair share of utility damages involving broken pipelines and disjointed wires. Unfortunately, nobody has the luxury of time and energy to conduct a thorough inspection. The most expedient course of action involves immediate shutdown of main valves and electric switchboards.
Until professionals are able to get a closer look at the utilities, leaving them disabled is the best course of action. Speaking of professionals, they are the only ones authorized and skilled enough to restore the gas flow to service. Granted, gas valves are challenging enough to disable as it requires the use of a crescent wrench.
While prior steps were made to ensure that destruction of household items is kept at its absolute minimum, there is a strong possibility that breakable stuff inside storage containers still won’t make it. A great deal of caution is necessary whenever individuals decide to inspect cabinets in order to salvage surplus food, medicine, and other important supplies.
In case a person is trapped under the rubble, three hours is an ideal timeframe for one of his/her companions to run for help and return with more muscle and expertise for rescue excavation. A trained service dog can adeptly crawl out of a collapsed house/building and call for help, saving its owner’s life when nobody else is around.
Unfortunately for a trapped solitary survivor, the only course of action left is to stay still, blow the whistle, and hope somebody is around to hear. Unless one keeps a face mask in his/her pocket, shouting for help can cause suffocation due to large volumes of inhaled dust.
At the End of the Day
Notwithstanding certain complications that can derail a clean exit, it benefits every survivor to be able to leave the premises within three to four hours. If there is anything more dangerous than the initial earthquake, it is the subsequent aftershock. In fact, aftershocks tend to be more intense than the main tremor when they occur within earlier hours after the first wave.
Fortunately, the magnitude of aftershocks significantly decreases at the passing of time. In principle, the chances of being buried under the rubble are unlikely if the next wave strikes beyond 24 hours. Unfortunately, aftershocks are exactly just as unpredictable as the initial seismic barrage that spawned it.
While securing oneself outside the endangered premises, the rest of the hours are best spent reflecting on the next big question. ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ For those who are fond of not taking risky bets with their own safety, there is no question that finding a temporary living space elsewhere (alternate offsite) is the best course of action.
It is beneficial for individuals to take note of key details relayed from emergency radio broadcasts. Without television or (possibly) internet access, the AM or CB frequency is the only viable source of information. Current facts about the local traffic, weather forecast, and public service updates can help shrewd evacuees navigate a safer path and travel rate in their exodus.
For those who live in coastal areas, it is not enough to simply vacate the endangered zone. Safety requires an immediate departure to higher ground. A massive earthquake is almost always followed by an ever far deadlier tidal wave. Fortunately, tsunamis are predictable and a torrent of emergency text messages and radio broadcasts can alert the residents before they hit.
Before the day ends, it is important for survivors to make several successful correspondences. Evacuees must coordinate safe rendezvous points for any family or household member/s situated elsewhere (at least within the town or city) during the earthquake. Some of the distant friends and relatives are more than willing to offer aid after being notified of one’s safety.
Speaking of calls, it is also important to board an offsite pet shelter/hotel in advance. After all, some apartments do not allow animal companions in their lodgings. Knowing that beloved pets are being looked after takes a huge load off their owner’s shoulders while they are busy sorting out the next big steps following the end of their expedition.
Lastly, one must be able to take full account of their 72-hour survival gear in preparation for their planned exodus. It is possible that not every item originally inventoried can be salvaged, especially if one has to consider the incredible scale of destruction an earthquake leaves at its wake. At the very least, having scarce supplies is better than going empty-handed.
Grueling 72 Hours
Whether or not evacuees have already reached their destination, three days on foot have already covered a substantial mileage. This journey has already expended three days’ worth of food, water, and waste disposal supplies. For those who can bear the rigors of outdoors trek, it is possible for food supplies to remain completely unspent throughout this leg of the journey.
Obviously, the two most pressing concerns one must address are exposure and water shortage. Shelter was not a relevant issue around the premises of the earthquake site. But in the open wilderness path, maintaining core body temperature every three hours is a critical errand.
Hot, Cold, Wet, Dry
Depending on which geographic region the trek takes place, it is important to pay attention to peak afternoons and dusks. In some areas of the country, noontime march can expose individuals to extreme heat waves while night time temperature can drop as low as sub-zero degrees (Celsius).
It is also important to consider humidity as a critical health-risk, especially in terms of being a viable breeding ground for a broad variety of infections. The dampness and dryness always increase the potency of temperature extremes, causing a number of adverse symptoms.
Apart from wearing the right clothing, survival also entails the ability to build a good bivouac site. Adults require at least 6 hours of sleep per 24-hour interval, although a body thrust into survival mode can withstand 5 days and nights of sleep deprivation. One can optimize every precious opportunity for short rest if the makeshift sleeping quarters are safe and comfortable.
Drinking water also helps control core body temperature and a 72-hour journey is a very long time to suffer dehydration and heat stroke. Accounting the person’s age, level of fitness, the strenuousness of physical activity, and the temperature extremes put all together; three days without water can certainly kill a diabetic 72-year old senior citizen in a 10-hour trek.
Considering that escaping the fault zone could take more than 24 hours to complete on foot, a single hand-carried container is obviously insufficient. The last three items mentioned under the ‘personal hygiene’ survival gear checklist is designed to perform the three best methods of water purification.
Survival requires resupplying from untreated sources (e.g. stream) that are a potentially disease-ridden. In terms of eliminating biological contaminants, the best method entails a combination of sifting and boiling. It only takes 60 seconds of full bubbling heat to clear bacteria off the water, but higher altitudes (5,000 ft above sea level) need 3 minutes of simmering heat.
Precise dosage is vital if one has to opt for water purification via bleaching (after filtering). Let the bleach solution settle for 30 minutes, ideally allowing the peroxide odor to permeate. It is possible to determine whether or not the water source is still polluted beyond help if another 15 minutes of bleaching couldn’t produce the ideal disinfected scent.
It often seems very difficult to absorb the fact that the human body can survive without food for three weeks or an entire month. However, there is an insanely vast difference between the terms ‘hunger’ and ‘starvation.’ The former merely describes the discomfort caused by delayed food intake. The latter pertains to a significant shift in the overall metabolism and energy consumption.
A protracted fasting that spared human lives is usually undertaken in the absence of rigorous activities. The memorable three-week hunger strike by Mahatma Gandhi serves as a stark example of this rough estimate. It is crucial to point out that while Gandhi was merely days or hours closer to being medically pronounced dead during his longest fast, he wasn’t…
- Walking for at least 8 to 10 hours a day
- Carrying a 72-hour survival gear during treks
- Building a bivouac campsite before nightfall
- Performing house chores during breaks
A complete three-week fasting in the midst of daily arduous labor is nothing short of suicide. According to outdoor fitness experts, 60 to 120 minutes of brisk backpacking requires an average intake of 21 to 25 calories per pound. In order for evacuees to have enough strength to carry a 55-liter backpack, they need to consume around 3,000 calories per hour.
It may be possible to skip square meals for a maximum of 72 hours if it is being supplemented (at least four times a day) with candy and sports drink. Energy bars are lightweight high-calorie foods requiring zero preparation – a perfect fuel for bone-weary journeys.
One must maintain a healthy diet even in hectic post-disaster incidents. Aside from concentrated simple sugars (to boost energy levels) and electrolytes (to boost hydration), the definition of ‘healthy’ is also equated to a speedy recovery from fatigue. This diet, along with applying cold compress during camping breaks, makes another day heavy grind (physically) less taxing.
A time for recovery begins during the first several weeks after a massive earthquake. For those unprepared (and helpless) individuals who found themselves herded in temporary rehabilitation centers, this stage will be the beginning of the busiest post-disaster days. When everything is settled, it is time to start over from scratch.
For the preppers who typify this survival article, the time for recovery is all about sorting out unfinished business. It is safe to assume that, during this period, evacuees have already managed to secure a temporary living space and a steady stream of resources. They also start over again, but this time it is an existence defined by victory – not tragedy.
In this part of the survival journey, preppers are going to be ruminating on another big question as they look forward to the future. ‘Should I move on or go back home?’ It is important to review the overall accord of the surviving group/family regarding this subject. It is highly likely that some members (particularly the children) were too traumatized to even consider returning.
Earthquake & PTSD
Speaking of psychological trauma, the US Department of Veteran Affairs has documented an extreme prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder among earthquake victims. According to their report, adults and children respectively have as much as 92% and 95% probability of suffering PTSD depending on their exposure to the chaotic event and aftermath.
Behavioral experts have estimated an average period of 12 months for any individual to cope up with a typical post-disaster anxiety. But for those suffering PTSD, total recovery may take longer than 18 months. This chronic ordeal is expected of those who suffered extensive injuries, got trapped for days, or even victimized by opportunistic criminals during their exodus.
Obvious symptoms of PTSD include uncontrollable flashbacks of traumatic events, nightmares, and emotional distance. Less evident signs are characterized by insomnia, irritability, absent-mindedness and persistent lack of concentration. Left untreated, PTSD may eventually spiral out of control and spawn self-destructive behavior (e.g. substance abuse, aggression, and suicide).
It only goes to show that even if a huge earthquake failed to maim or kill some of its victims, it is still capable of inflict long-term damage to some survivors. Getting screened for PTSD would be the first step in the right direction, followed by treatment if mental trauma is diagnosed.
PTSD therapy is a two-fold process involving medications and psychotherapy. Between the two, the latter requires a great deal of effort, commitment, and consistency. A mental physical will recommend either one or a combination of these several types:
- Cognitive therapy: reflective discussions that aim to identify and sort out thinking patterns.
- Exposure therapy: mental and emotional strengthening by safely exposing patients to sources of anxiety and teaching techniques designed to overcome them (e.g. ‘what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger’).
- Stress inoculation: mental and emotional strengthening through reinforcing a state of preparedness against stressful situations (e.g. healthy paranoia).
- EMDR: the eye movement desensitization reprocessing is aimed at training the mind to ‘visually’ redirect and/or absorb traumatic thoughts and replace them with positive ones.
Though their theories are far somewhat too academic and impersonal, they are highly recommended by health experts. There are also alternative psychotherapy procedures that prove to be (allegedly) just as efficient. One good example is a humanitarian project conducted by a team of experts who helped victims recover from the 2015 Nepal earthquake through ‘art therapy.’
A similar approach may be employed in order to hasten complete psychological recovery while undergoing treatment. Victims can immerse themselves in productive labor, particularly the type that builds self-esteem. As an extension of exposure therapy, they can also volunteer to assist social workers in their effort to rehabilitate other injured parties (healing through empathy).
No matter what method of psychotherapy survivors would prefer, all efforts are geared towards recovery. Successful PTSD treatment is comprised of these several related goals by…
- Teaching skills that address these symptoms
- Helping patients think positively about themselves and the world
- Discovering ways to mitigate at the event of arising symptoms
- Treating negative byproducts of traumatic experiences (e.g. substance abuse)
Earthquake & Financial Coverage
If a massive earthquake has spared survivors of their limbs and spirits, its last-ditch effort to cause damage is to hurt their pockets. Some survivors are lucky (or prepared) enough to be spared the medical bills. Unfortunately, nobody is completely exonerated from the burden of recovering the substantial loss of wealth – especially in terms of the monetary value of real property.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, the 1994 earthquake in Northridge (Los Angeles, CA) have incurred an overall loss equivalent to $44 billion. It ranks as the fifth costliest natural disaster in the nation’s history, with the 2005 Hurricane Katrina still leading the list. Unfortunately, even billion’s worth of government relief is not enough to completely restore the lives of all victims.
There are survivors who have not considered buying earthquake insurance considering the extent of their preparations. But for those who have included it in their overall lifetime security investments, it is important for them to understand their real value. Earthquake insurances…
Don’t pay for:
As it happens, the exact amount of insurance coverage is a very sketchy territory to explore for those did not know the limits of their investment. Knowing the fiscal technicalities and abstractions of the insurance companies is (arguably) futile and unrealistic. If the objective is to receive a fair underwriting of figures, a simpler solution lies at ‘meticulous documentation.’
In this specific context, there are certain perks to being a hoarder of personal photographs. This kind of behavior works well if the person in question also could not help but organize stuff. Hence, a photo album of shots taken inside and outside the house is a helpful addition in the list of important documents worth preserving during earthquake preparations.
These photos would serve as solid evidence one can affix to their formal claims. However, it is important to include images that will serve as an exact comparison to newly taken snapshots of the damages in the house. Filing them as ‘before and after’ is crucial in terms of establishing a more justified financial coverage.
Needless to say, one must return to the ravaged home in order to take pictures of the extensive damages – regardless of whether or not the family/household intends to reconstruct the house. Those who have no plans of returning to their former lives could simply acquire the insurance money as a payout.
Other than pictures of pre-earthquake angles and damages, it is also critical to include figures into the documentation. As mentioned earlier, any material proof living expenses after the disaster can be paid out as well. One must keep receipts and other transaction papers. Arranging these papers chronologically would also make it easier to peruse the insurance claims.
How to Safely Return Home?
Survivors only have two final decisions in life that are worth considering following an earthquake. They either find a new home or return to the residence that stood against the aftershock. The one prevalent uncertainty for those who decide to re-occupy their homes is safety. Reclaiming the residence after an earthquake requires painstaking caution every step of the way.
Part 1: Assessment
Before even entering an earthquake-ravaged home, it is important to examine how badly damaged the structure is. In all 5 categories of structural damage estimated by the European Macro-seismic Scale (EMS) system, only 4 scenarios make re-occupation possible:
- Grade 1: Negligible to Slight Damage
- Grade 2: Moderate Damage
- Grade 3: Substantial to Heavy Damage
- Grade 4: Very Heavy Damage
Though all of these categories require architectural repair, Grades 1 and 2 are completely habitable as the building is not at risk of collapsing. Grades 3 and 4, however, require residents to vacate the premises until extensive restoration is completed. Ideally, any attempt to explore the premises should be preceded by a routine inspection from a certified structural engineer.
In some cases, Grade 4 damage might also force the original inhabitants to demolish the residence. At this point, up to 50% of the main structural elements have failed. This prognosis is made apparent by the appearance of visibly tilting or leaning structure and foundation. Residents who are determined to explore the premises are strongly advised NOT to do the following:
- Move huge objects (e.g. furniture)
- Walk through the stairs
- Forcefully open jammed doors
- Step or stand on sagging floors
Part 2: Cleanup
If done independently, a careful physical assessment of the house can be the most nerve-racking step in home re-occupation. However, a thorough general cleanup is relatively more exhausting and has its own share of physical hazards.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be strictly accounted for prior to clearing the seismic wreckage off the home interiors. A complete PPE is designed to eliminate/control hazards, maximize safety use, and reduce exposure. These components include:
- Head, eye, and face protection
- Hard hat
- Impact goggles or Face shield
- Respiratory protection
- Dust mask (N95 or N99) or Full face gas mask
- Protective clothing
- Industrial gloves
- 10-inch work boots
- Hearing protection
- Fall and space protection
- Full body harness
- Self-retracting device
- Anchorage device
The last PPE is crucial for tasks that require cleanup/repair at elevated (at least 3 feet high) or tight-space areas (e.g. crawl space). In order to reduce time and workload, residents can also hire removal teams to adeptly relocate heavy objects, especially luxury items like a grand piano.
Other than trash, dangerous pests and invading wild animals must also be eradicated inside the house. Hiring animal control can significantly reduce the potential risks of injuries. Snakes, for instance, can turn a temporarily abandoned home into its habitat in the aftermath of the tremor.
For a thorough extermination of potential vermin, fumigation must precede all muscle work. This process can either be done via DIY or an appointed professional. The entire complex process, including the final aeration of chemical residue, is usually completed in at least 3 days.
Considering the hazards of a thorough cleanup, it is very important to keep children and pets away from the ‘work site.’ Family members who aren’t included in the cleanup must remain in their temporary lodgings for the time being (until the wreckage removal is complete). Any recovered personal belongings (e.g. utensils, toys, books, etc.) must also be thoroughly disinfected.
Lastly, one must maintain a healthy consistent pace, carefully appropriating time for rest and movement. Fatigue results in excruciating injuries, such as a slipped disc following a sudden and poorly executed deadlift.