Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Earthquake Guide for Kids

When I was 12, studying at home alone on afternoon, my hometown was struck by a 5.5 earthquake. The shaking lasted for a solid 30 seconds, which was about 25 seconds more than I needed to realize what was going on. I got into a duck, cover and hold position under my desk where I stayed until the shaking stopped. Without injury I walked about the house inspecting for any damage and smelling for natural gas. I was very fortunate – no harm had come to me, my family or my home. Chris, a friend of mine who lived nearby, was a little less lucky. His water heater had a gas leak that sparked an explosion and fire. Despite the damage done to personal property, no one was injured as the family was out of the house at the time.

Aside from still having a home, I felt fortunate most of all to have lived in a community that had prepared me for this natural disaster. Talking with my friends, there were similar experiences all around. Shake, duck, cover, hold, wait, check. Living in California, earthquake preparedness is part of our upbringing and part of our culture. Unfortunately, earthquake readiness is not included in your welcome wagon when you move to Santa Barbara.

Notable Santa Barbara Earthquakes:1812 - 7.1 with Tsunami
1925 - 6.3
1978 - 5.1

Just 2 weeks ago Santa Barbara was struck by a 3.0 earthquake. Earlier in the week I had discussed earthquakes with a coworker who recently moved here from Connecticut. I had joked that if the quake was 3 or below, he might not even feel it. Sure enough, the small shock hit and went unnoticed by most. I used the tremor as an opportunity to review earthquake procedures with my family.

Whether you believe in duck and cover, brace in a doorway or the triangle of life, it’s best to know your options. Everyone seems to have anecdotal evidence or a forwarded email from someone about how best to survive. Knowing these methods, practicing and then having the wherewithal to actually use one of them in the grip of terror are all different things. When teaching kids about earthquakes, it’s important to leave them with the confidence that in an emergency they will have the potential to make it through safely.

After showing my daughter how to protect herself from falling debris, we shook her bed and pretended that there were earthquakes throughout the house. After the novelty had worn off, I walked the house looking for anything that might fall on my family during an earthquake. When we moved in, I quake-strapped anything large like bookshelves. Sure enough, I had missed one. Worse still, I discovered that an iron tortilla-maker was moved out of the way onto a shelf in my daughter’s room. In the past, we have used this for play dough. Now, it stood as a hidden threat over my kids. I went to work, first removing the heavy toy and then securing the shelf.

When it comes to safety, I can sometimes get a little overcautious. Still, I believe in preparedness. There are things that we can all do as parents, especially in Santa Barbara, to be prepared. If we do, our children might be as lucky was I was during a large earthquake.

Get prepared for the family:

-- Teach duck, cover & hold

-- Shake the bed and practice a simulated quake with children

-- Discuss the danger of concrete overhangs after a quake

-- Help children identify what natural gas smells like in advance of a leak

-- If you have a tank water heater, get the brace kit and secure it properly

--Buy and install quake straps throughout the house and workplace as needed

--Move heavy items overhead that might fall when shaken

--Buy or prepare an emergency kit with food and water for a minimum of 3 days for the family

--Discuss a safe meeting space in your neighborhood and another in another part of town

--Determine an out-of-state point of contact for post-quake updates (local lines are more likely to be down than long-distance)

--Point out emergency exits at movie theaters or public places (make it into a game)