DOWNEY - Downey residents were abruptly awakened early Tuesday morning by an earthquake centered in Pico Rivera in the area of the intersection of the San Gabriel River and Whittier Boulevard. This area is approximately three miles north of Downey.Fortunately, emergency responders did not find any major damage. As expected, the Emergency Communications Centers for both the Police and Fire Departments received a number of calls immediately after the quake. There were reports of some damage to the I-5 freeway pavement in the area of Lakewood Blvd. Several news helicopters covered the incident scene. However, Caltrans officials later reported the pavement problem may have already existed. Tuesday's quake and the recent disasters in Haiti and Chili serve as serious reminders of the importance of emergency preparedness for all of us. We need to have emergency supplies at home, at work and in our vehicles. We also need to have plans in place to replace (or live without) those things we take for granted. Electrical power, telephone service, immediate shelter, communications with family members and sanitary services are a few of the issues that require some planning. We also need to be aware of the predictable, potential problems we can face in our community. We certainly know our area is prone to earthquakes. We also know there are actions we can take to lessen the impact of an earthquake. Besides the actions mentioned above, for example, we can secure our water heaters with metal strapping (or replace them with tankless models). We can anchor the larger furniture and entertainment units we have in our homes that could topple over on us during an earthquake. We can also learn how to shut down our water, natural gas and electrical supply if any of the three utilities give us problems after the shaking stops. We can also choose to sleep 'away' from wall-mounted items and overhead shelves with items that can fall on us during an earthquake. Another issue to consider is what is the best action to take while the actual shaking is occurring? Most authorities recommend the practice of 'duck, cover and hold'. This action consists of a person getting to the ground, crawling under a sturdy desk or table and then holding on to the object. Many times there isn't something to 'duck under' but there is something to 'crouch against'. The key in both situations is to get to a spot below the surrounding objects. This action will result in the taller, more substantial objects absorbing the force of any falling items. Experts do not recommend crouching next to exterior walls with windows as the glass may break and fall on the well intentioned victim. There have been other strategies mentioned to protect you during an earthquake. Some of these alternative strategies recommend fleeing the building immediately or getting as close to the exterior of the building as possible. As noted earlier, often times, breaking glass, exterior utility problems, physical trip hazards and falling debris create serious dangers as the shaking persists. The rationale for immediately fleeing from a building during an earthquake is frequently that the building may collapse. While this could happen, it rarely does. Generally, building codes in the United States have stringent engineering standards. These standards have made our structures much safer than those in other countries. In general, when considering what to do when the ground begins to shake, think about protecting yourself from falling objects, avoiding harm and hunkering down until the shaking stops. Once the shaking stops immediately evaluate the area around you and decide if it is safe to move away from the area. Once you are safe, and able to move, you can begin the process of evaluating the conditions of the people and structures around you. There will be follow-up articles on more emergency preparedness activities and actions. If you have a question regarding this article or Downey emergency preparedness in general, you can e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Mark Sauter is deputy city manager in charge of emergency preparedness for the city of Downey.
********** Published: March 19, 2010 - Volume 8 - Issue 48