Michele M. Wood, PhD, serves as the Chair for the Department of Public Health in the College of Health and Human Development at Cal State Fullerton. Dr. Wood’s work on earthquake preparedness includes designing and implementing the National Survey of Disaster Experiences and Preparedness, and evaluating “Great Shakeout” earthquake drills. Dr. Wood also serves as a Subject Matter Expert for the U.S. Geologic Survey, the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES), the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC).
According to Dr. Wood, “Perhaps the most concerning thing about the 7/5 Ridgecrest earthquake is the fact that large earthquakes happen periodically in California, and they can be extremely destructive, especially when they happen in heavily populated areas.” The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), along with several universities and state offices, has been developing and testing ShakeAlert, an earthquake early warning system that has been designed for the U.S. West Coast (https://www.shakealert.org). The goal of ShakeAlert is to provide enough warning for members of the public to perform protective actions before heavy shaking arrives. Dr. Wood has been working with these and other groups to design and test risk communication messages to support ShakeAlert, which is scheduled for rollout later this year.
Although ShakeAlert has the ability to reduce earthquake related deaths, injuries, infrastructure damage, and longer-term economic losses, many of these benefits will only be fully realized if members of the public already know what to do when the ground shakes. This makes earthquake safety and preparedness more important than ever because of the potential EEW has to reduce the likelihood of death and injury during very large earthquakes.Preparing for earthquakes means knowing what to do and taking action before, during, and after large earthquake events.
There are many precautions we can take before a large earthquake happens. Storing 2 weeks of water and supplies is important. Making sure to secure water heaters, heavy furniture and objects will reduce risk of falling objects and injuries. Having appropriate safety gear, first aid kits, and fire extinguishers are all necessary to be ready for a disaster. Dr. Wood elaborated, “Remember, after a very large earthquake, telephone lines, the internet, water, gas, electricity all are expected to be down. Roads may be damaged and unpassable. This is why it is so important to have an earthquake safety kit, or more than one, so you can have access to first aid and other items at home, work, and in your car.”
For more information on earthquake safety read the Seven Steps to Earthquake Safety.
The main cause of injuries during an earthquake are the risk of falling or being struck by falling objects. During an earthquake it is important to avoid moving around the house, or leaving the building, both of which will increase the likelihood of being seriously injured. Experts advise to Drop, Cover, and Hold On.
Drop refers to dropping to the ground, preventing you from falling and making you a smaller target for falling debris.
Cover means take cover under a table, desk, or any large furniture that will help protect your head and neck for falling objects. If you are in bed, even a pillow can be used for some cover. If nothing else is available use your arms to cover the head and neck areas.
Hold On refers to grabbing onto heavy furniture so you don’t slide away from cover during strong shaking. The Earthquake Country Alliance has more information about how to Drop, Cover, and Hold on Safely.
In the wake of a large earthquake, it is a good idea to discuss safety with family, friends, and neighbors. Working together with the community after a large disaster is a key to keeping people safe. Planning how to recover without access to power, water, and other resources can make a big difference in helping us stay safe in the aftermath of a large event. The more we plan ahead, the better we are prepared when the “big one” strikes.
Dr. Wood suggests that it is important to be aware of your situation and surroundings, “Think about the places where you spend most of your time—at home, work, and anywhere else. Identify the safest place to take cover in each room ahead of time. How can you prevent yourself from falling, make yourself a small target, and protect your neck and head?”
Drills like the Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill are an excellent idea and can help people practice how to protect themselves ahead of time, so when an earthquake occurs, they will know what to do.