Earthquake preparedness

The best offense is a good defense

Seismologists can’t predict when an earthquake will strike, but you can take certain precautions to make your home or property a safer place to be during such an event.

Press Clewe, program manager of the Washoe County Division of Emergency Management, says it is important that people develop a disaster plan.

“We have a very strong possibility of a having a Richter magnitude 7.1, 7.2 earthquake, and it will do damage and people will get injured,” he says. “[People should] do the necessary home, family and business preparedness to help them survive that earthquake.”

Here are a few safety tips you can follow, according to the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology’s handbook, “Living with Earthquakes in Nevada.”

• People should practice the “duck, cover and hold” method—that is, ducking under something sturdy, such as a table or desk, covering your head and face with your arms and hands and holding on to that table or desk so that it does not move away from you as the ground shakes. Stay away from windows, mirrors, fireplaces and chimneys.

• You should identify safe spots in every room, such as sturdy tables or interior walls. Teach everyone in your family how to turn off the gas, which they should do only if they smell, hear or see a leak.

• Establish an out-of-area contact person who can be called by all family members to relay information.

• Store supplies and maintain an earthquake kit. The kit should include first-aid materials and instructions, medications and medical consent forms, flashlights, radios, batteries and personal hygiene supplies, among other things. It is also recommended to keep emergency cash and copies of important documents on hand.

• Since the power and gas could be out for several hours, or even days, keep extra blankets, camping equipment, flashlights and a charcoal or gas grill for outdoor cooking readily available.

• You should maintain a several-days’ supply of water and food that doesn’t require refrigeration.

“You don’t have to have a huge cache of food; a very modest one will do, enough to last three days,” Clewe says. “You don’t need to store hundreds of gallons of water, but a few gallons would be pretty handy.”

Clewe doesn’t recommend using water from swimming pools for drinking, but it can be used to flush toilets if there isn’t enough water pressure in the house. A hot water heater can be a good source of drinking water, he adds.

• Another safety measure people should take before a quake occurs is to secure items that could dislodge during major shaking. For instance, you should brace water heaters to prevent gas leaks, which can start fires, and anchor tabletop items such as VCRs or vases with straps or nondrying putty. You can find these items at most hardware stores.

• Identify evacuation routes in your home or office and remove heavy items such as furniture that could block your escape path during the quake. Make sure to arrange a rendezvous site where your family or co-workers will meet.

Once you have confirmed that everyone is present and out of danger, you can focus on helping neighbors in the area who may need assistance. Stay away from damaged or collapsed buildings, since they can fall during aftershocks. Don’t call 911 unless it’s to report an emergency. If it’s a non-life-threatening injury, expect to wait for assistance.

“People need to make sure that they can protect themselves, because more than likely when they call 911, they won’t get immediate service,” Clewe says. “They’ll be put on a priority list. … [T]he person who has an open chest wound or [had] a heart attack, they’ll get first priority.”

Practicing regular drills should help keep you and your family safe during a quake and keep property damage at a minimum. You can obtain earthquake safety handbooks from the city of Reno, Sparks offices, the Washoe County Division of Emergency Management offices and the NBMG publication sales office in the Scrugham Engineering and Mines building on the UNR campus.