Saturday, March 12, 2011

Preparing for Earthquakes and Tsunamis

As I write this the disaster over in Japan is still going on. The images of the water just destroying everything in its path, throwing millions of tons worth of buildings, cars and transatlantic cargo ships as if they were mere toys. There’s really nothing left to do at that point other than do whatever you can to save your life. What you could have done was prepare before you have a 10 yard wall of water destroying everything coming your way. Well, preparedness is what this website is all about.

Earthquakes and Tsunamis

It happened in Chile not that long ago, now Japan. Can you really be surprised? No, these things just happen and they specially do happen in locations with a history of seismic activity. In these particular areas, it must be a priority to be prepared as well as possible. It was Japan’s turn now, but it just as easily could have occurred in California. The San Andreas fault is a constant reminder that the “big one” could occur at any moment.

So what to do?

Learn. Don’t waste your time and learn as much as you can from real events. Chile and now Japan are full of lessons for the survival minded individual.

Have a Plan and put it into Action: There’s people that just stay dumbfolded when the quake starts. If you hear the accounts, most of them are already used to living in a place of seismic activity so they just hope that it will pass. But then it just keeps getting worse. At this point you should have a plan of action.
 Older buildings are easy; get the heck out of them as quick as possible, using the stairs, never the elevators, and moving as close to walls and other supporting structures as possible since that’s where you’re less likely to have debris fall over you. More modern buildings and apartments are a bit more complicated. Most of them, specially if built on seismic terrain, are already designed to withstand powerful earthquakes. What’s usually advised is to stay in a doorway. This makes sense from a structural point of view but the doorway may not be load bearing at all, you really need to know about construction and structures to know if your in a safe spot or just waiting for plaster and wood to collapse all over you. Generally speaking, the closer you are to the structure the better, that’s why a doorway may be a way of placing yourself within the load bearing structure itself in a way.
 The other factor to keep in mind is that many accidents occur by falling objects when people reach the streets, so it may be better to stay inside to avoid collapsing plaster, signs, glass and other debris. Don’t go outside if you hear and see glass breaking and objects falling. You must already have an open space area to go to planned in advance. Think of parks and other open spaces (staying away from trees, sings and light posts). Here is where you stay until you gather more data. A small radio in your Grab Bag will provide information of what’s going on and if its safe to get back into the buildings or not. Based on the magnitude of the quake they call tell in general terms if buildings are safe.

The Bug out Bag: Or Grab Bag, or Emergency kit. This is the bag you grab when you leave in a hurry and you must have the essentials to survive.
Imagine a Tsunami is 30 minutes away, you only have a minute to brag a bag and make a desperate run for your life. Lets think for a second here, what would you need to survive and the get back on your feet if you’re lucky enough to make it out of it alive?
1)Water: After running for your life, just a couple hours will go by before you’re in desperate need of water. Don’t bother putting this bag together if you don’t have a liter per person in it.
2)Food: You need it but not as much as water so be smart about how you use your space and weight. Remember, you must be able to RUN with this bag (therefore I suggest a backpack). A few energy bars, Cliff Bars or PowerBars, whatever you favor. Also, energy drink powder to use along with the water. Try having ready to eat foods that don’t need cooking or water. 
3)Documents: We keep ours in a small plastic handbag. This way they are all together ready to go. You may end up needing your passport, birth certificate, ID etc. Have a laminated sheath with bank accounts, insurance info and important phone numbers. These items are used often in our case so we keep them in a small bag kept handy.
4) In the previously mentioned  bag, keep your emergency stash as well. Remember when we talked about a one month worth of expenses minimum cash stash? You might want to make that two in case you have to afford a place to stay in for some time.
4) Dry Clothes: A spare set of clothes in a sealed plastic bag.
5)Baby wipes: As good as a spa bath compared to having nothing at all to clean up a bit when there’s no water.
5)Handgun and ammo: If nothing else, at least have a gun ready in it with 3 or 4 extra mags. The Earthquake in Chile showed how violent people get when desperate.
6) Basic emergency gear: This will include (but isn’t limited to ) a multitool, some paracord, a small first aid kit, LED flashlight and batteries, thumb drive with copies of your documents and essential data, small portable radio, emergency Cell phone charger (battery pack or solar, as well as an ordinary car charger)
7) If exposure can get you killed in your location, you’ll need a sleeping bag and tent. There’s ultra light alternatives but I’d do without them if living in template climates and just add a few emergency space blankets for the Go Bag. The tent and bags can be added if you manage to leave in your vehicle.
8) If there’s infants involved you already have a diaper bag ready. Keep a bit extra in it so as to make it the baby’s “go bag”.
9) Office and car kits: Have somewhat similar kits in case you’re not home when disaster strikes. You may not keep your passport and other documents but you may have copies of them or scanned copies in a waterproof thumb drive.

Vehicle: Preferably you have a 4x4 SUV, compact enough to navigate around the debris, but still 4x4 ready. I’ve found out that small 4x4s are the easiest ones to pull out when they get stuck, just with a couple guys that have done it before a few times and know what to do. Roads may be collapsed or broken and you may end up needing the 4x4 capability to escape. Always take the car and get as far as you can with it before abandoning it and continuing on foot. Off road capability means you can get further away and stick to your vehicle longer that those stuck with sedans. Pre positioned gear in your car makes things easier, and have at least a gas tank worth of fuel in jerry cans. If you never let your vehicle get below half a tank, that means you have 1 ½ tanks of gas to escape. More would be better, but usually that enough to get you to high ground before the tsunami hits.

Escape Route: Have a route already planned to get you to high ground to at least two possible locations. Take the time to study your area and see if any of the roads you’re planning on using may collapse during a quake. As before, an alternative route is needed so as to stick to the 3 is 2, 2 is 1 and 1 is none philosophy. Try learning from previous quakes in your area and learn about the plates and faults to understand which routes could be compromised.

Plan B location and Contacts: Have a location already in mind, it must be high ground, and a gas tank away or less.  Even better, have two possible locations. These could be family members or friends, but in any case you must talk this over and not just show up. You could arrange a mutual deal where you watch his back and he does the same for you in case either of you suffer a disaster and are forced to evacuate. Having money and basic supplies already means you’ll just be requiring a roof over your head for a few days, and you wont be as much of an inconvenience as if you were not prepared at all. But make it clear “ in case this or that happens, I can go to your place for a few days and you can come to mine if it works the other way around”.

Events such as these are terrible. Ultimately staying alive is what matters, but watching your home, all your possessions, your city, all being destroyed is not a walk in the park.
Chile evacuated some town just in case, and even with their own disaster so fresh, many refused to leave, unable to tolerate the idea of losing everything they have to water or looters yet again.
Prepare for these things. Tsunami, earthquake, industrial disasters, war, fire, you never know when you may be forced to leave your home during a disaster.
Take care everyone.



SiriusBlack said...

Situation calm on the outskirts of Tokyo. No gasoline in the gas stations, food running out at the supermarkets (plenty of vegetables and rice, no bread, massive run on instant noodles). Rolling brownouts announced on TV, starting tomorrow -- power out for three hours every day. Trains running normally here but many stoppages in Tokyo. I've heard of some expressways shut but can't confirm.

Meg said...

Last night was watching Wolf Blitzer interview an American journalist in Japan and the journalist mentioned that everyone in Japan keeps what he called a "Go Bag" which they can grab in case of emergency. I doubt everyone carries one, but it was an interesting comment to hear on mainstream news!

SiriusBlack said...

Closing of expressways confirmed -- not all, but certain expressways in certain directions. Traffic congestion reported "exceptionally heavy" in the Tokyo-bound direction right now (Monday morning). Authorities warning of "strong possibility" of another major earthquake in the next three days.

FerFAL said...

SiriusBlack, where are you located? Everything and anything you could tell us, as well as your general impressions of what went down would be much appreciated!

SiriusBlack said...

Thanks FerFAL. As you know, I've started a thread on the forum. But briefly, I'm in a small town in northern Saitama, about a couple of hours outside Tokyo. Today there were supposed to be rolling blackouts but none occurred. I'm going to ask around to see if this was the general case or if my neighborhood just happened to be lucky.

Bill in NC said...

Don't live where a tsunami could hit.

People who didn't literally run for their lives died - not even time to grab your 'go bag' before the water hit.

Similarly, don't live next to railroad tracks - you can't outrun the cloud of chlorine gas from the derailed tank car!

Anonymous said...

I would caution against the "run outside" advise. I was in a quake (7.2) and the only people I knew that got hurt, it was because they were trying to get outside. One broke her ankle on the front stairs, when she would have been perfectly fine sitting on her couch.

If you think the building could collapse and kill you in a quake, you should probably not be in there, and certainly don't live there!

I also question the use of a vehicle to escape the tsunami. You shouldn't need a tank and a half to get to safety, and roads will probably be congested (assuming needed bridges and overpasses are still up). Best to have a back up plan to the car option.