What to do when the earth quakes

August 27, 2011

In the wake of the recent earthquake ("A tremor in the psyche," Aug 24), I asked people about their initial thoughts on what caused the shaking and swaying. My father thought he was having a stroke. My mother thought it was a truck rumbling by her office. Having served four years of active duty with the U.S. Navy, stationed in the Washington Navy Yard on September 11, 2001, I thought it was a terrorist attack. These generational and location oriented responses led me to my next question, which was what are you supposed to do in an earthquake and what are you supposed to do during and after an explosion.

According to FEMA, to stay as safe as possible during an earthquake, movements are to be minimal until the shaking stops and you are assured a safe exit. If indoors, drop to the ground, take cover by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture, and hold on until the shaking stops. If you are not near a table or desk, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building. Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall. Stay in bed if you are there. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow. Use a doorway for shelter only if it is near you and you know it is strongly supported and load bearing.

Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or attempt to leave the building. If outdoors, move away from buildings, streetlights and utility wires. Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops. If in a vehicle, stop as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses and utility wires. Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped, but avoid roads, bridges or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake. If trapped under debris, do not light a match. Do not move about or kick up dust. Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing. Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort. Shouting can result in the inhalation of dust.

Similarly, during an explosion, you are to get under a sturdy table or desk if things are falling around you. When the objects stop falling, leave quickly, watching for weakened floors and stairways. As you exit the building, watch for falling debris. Do not use elevators. Once outside, do not stand in front of windows, glass doors, or other potentially hazardous areas. Move away from sidewalks or streets that will need to be used by emergency officials. If you are trapped, avoid unnecessary movement to avoid kicking up dust. Cover your nose and mouth with anything you have on hand. Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can hear where you are and whistle, if possible. Shout only as a last resort.

Hopefully, we will never have to implement these tools. However, it is always better to be prepared and to know what to do in these situations.

Jamie B. Seward, Baltimore

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