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DOWNEY – The East Coast storms and subsequent flooding have taken center stage on the national news platform since late last week. The life loss and the damages from the storm have been tragic and have overshadowed the effects and experiences from the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that occurred on the East Coast just days before the storm.
Thankfully, with severe storms predicted, many of the communities had a chance to take some action before the storm arrived. Many people evacuated, others, who decided to stay, gathered supplies and many buildings were secured. Unfortunately earthquakes don’t give us the same type of warnings.
For us here on the West Coast, the news coverage of the 5.8 magnitude earthquake was short-lived. It was unfortunate because there were many lessons to be learned and reinforced as a result of the hardest hitting earthquake in Virginia in 100 years.
I was forwarded an e-mail on Aug. 23 from someone in Washington, D.C. who had experienced the earthquake while at work. The e-mail was very interesting and yielded a good number of lessons for all of us. The author of the e-mail had completed CERT training and was aware of many emergency preparedness concepts. Her observations seem credible.
For this article, let’s consider how we would react and respond to a similar scenario.
Many on the East Coast hadn’t previously experienced the 15-20 seconds of shaking caused by an earthquake of this magnitude. Consequently, the earthquake caught them off-guard. Many did not know the basic immediate action of ‘Duck-Cover and Hold-on’.
This standard earthquake procedure consists of getting to the ground immediately when an earthquake is felt, then moving under (or next to) a formidable object. The ‘covering’ part is in reference to your head and neck. Be sure they are protected by either the object you climb under or by your hand/arm.This position of safety should be maintained until the shaking stops. Moving across a room or trying to exit while the ground is still shaking is not advised as you have a good chance of falling or being struck by debris. Getting to the ground under your own power is much better than falling to the ground.
Once the shaking stops, it is time to asses the surroundings, determine if there is a reason to evacuate the building, and take action. If you are leaving the building, bring your keys and immediate belongings like a wallet and whatever else you may need outside (jacket, umbrella, etc). Don’t waste time picking up everything on your desk, just the essentials. Perhaps you have a backpack at work or school with a few emergency supplies in it to support you for the next couple of hours.
Evacuation plans for all buildings should be understood by everyone. In Washington, DC, many building occupants apparently didn’t know their evacuation plans or routes. This caused confusion and slowed building evacuations.
Once outside their buildings, many reportedly stopped in the alleys, driveways and areas in-between buildings to talk over the earthquake. Standing just outside an exit and adjacent to, or near, tall buildings immediately following an earthquake is not a good practice. It is best to leave the building immediately after the shaking stops (using a safe route) and then to proceed to an area away from the building and off the street. Post-emergency vehicle operators can be erratic, especially after an earthquake. So stay off the driveways and roadways around your building. These post-incident actions will help to improve the safety for everyone.
Once you are out and away from your building, walk to your pre-designated meeting place. Hopefully you remember where this ‘safe’ spot is and have a ‘roll-call’ list for reference as your co-workers arrive. Someone will have to ensure the roll-call is performed (best if this is already assigned). Many workers will likely be pre-occupied with their own concerns while at the meeting place. Typically, people are trying to contact family members. Do your best to get the roll-call done quickly. Be prepared for people to want to go home. It happened in Wash. DC. It will happen here. If employees have done some emergency preparedness work at home, they may be more willing to stay at work.
Finally, be prepared for communication problems. In Wash DC the cell phone system went ‘down’ almost immediately. There were simply too many users. Text messages may work when the phone system is down. Pay phones may work too, but they are hard to find and frequently vandalized. The lesson here is we need to know about the communications systems and have options. Do we (workers and families) always have a hard-copy list of our important phone numbers? Do we have an out-of-area phone number that everyone can call to report in? Do we know how to text message?
The actions we take today, and this week, to prepare for a major emergency will likely improve our post-emergency experiences. Please learn from the Washington, DC earthquake and make it a point to improve your emergency preparedness at work. Most of the issues (and suggested remedies) noted above apply to our home environment as well.
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Published: September 01, 2011 – Volume 10 – Issue 20