<< Getting ready for earthquakes

By Stephany Yong, 15, Walnut HS
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After writing this story, I wanted to talk to an earthquake expert to learn more about how teenagers can prepare for one. I interviewed Kate Long from the earthquake program from the California Emergency Management Agency. I found out that common sense and communication can help us stay safe during the inevitable earthquakes we will experience living in Southern California.

What can teens do before an earthquake to ensure their safety during an earthquake?
There are some pretty easy things you can do now, before an earthquake, that will make a big difference in what you and your family’s lives will be like after a big earthquake.

It turns out people who practice what to do during an earthquake have a better chance of avoiding being hurt or killed.
After a big earthquake your phone probably won’t work … not even your cell. What if you’re at school, Mom’s at work, Dad’s at home, and you don’t know how to reach each other? A family communication plan can help. Designate a friend or relative from outside of California (say, Aunt Lola). Have everyone in your family keep Aunt Lola’s phone number with them. When phone service comes back on, everyone can call Lola to make it easier for your family to reunite.

Things around you (like books or dishes or even the TV), don’t just shake or fall down during a big earthquake—they can actually fly across the room. Something as small as a picture frame could injure you. Secure your stuff so it can’t hurt you. For example, you can put heavy things on lower shelves. You can buy an earthquake strap at the hardware store that will keep your TV from falling and breaking.

Where should you go during an earthquake (inside or outside)?
Wherever you are, remember to DROP, COVER AND HOLD ON. Since the ground may start shaking so violently that it knocks you down, the best thing to do, if you can, is immediately get down and protect your head from heavy objects that may be airborne. You may have the urge to run, but moving around can actually be more dangerous than staying put. If you’re inside, stay inside. If you’re outside, stay outside.

What should you do during an earthquake if you’re home alone and hurt?
First, you should always move cautiously after a big earthquake, even if you are not injured. Stay in your  “drop, cover and hold on” position and check your surroundings before you decide what to do. There could be broken glass and toppled furniture in your path, so move slowly. If you go outside, look for an area clear of things that could fall like power poles or trees. We recommend you keep shoes by your bed because cut feet are a common injury among people who run outside immediately after the shaking has stopped.

Use common sense about moving if you are injured. You may need help, and it’s OK to call for help from neighbors. Don’t just talk to your parents about earthquake plans, talk with your neighbors too. Many neighborhoods even make a plan together about how they might help each other after an earthquake when the electricity and water aren’t working.

Any other precautions to protect our homes?
For less than five dollars, you can make sure your computer survives the quake. Just buy a strap at a hardware store. Think about the things around your bedroom that you don’t want to break, or that you don’t want to fall on you. Is there a big bookcase? A mirror?  A trophy?

What are some earthquake myths that aren’t true?
Getting in a doorway is no longer recommended. If you’re in it, the door might hit you. It’s better to drop, cover and hold onto a solid piece of furniture. The likelihood of things dropping on you is more than the house collapsing.

Are there any common misconceptions about earthquake safety that the public may have?
People have a misconception that they can’t make a difference. The main message we have is you can do things now before the earthquake that will make a difference in your life after the earthquake. Plan, know what to do, and have a kit in the car as well.

It’s extra hard for young people because it’s hard to worry about something you’ve never experienced. But because you’re young and live in California [you can expect] with almost certainty that some time in your lifetime you will experience an earthquake—not as bad as Northridge [the highly destructive quake in 1994], but one with a lot of widespread damage.

Besides an emergency kit, is there anything else every household should have?
Every household should have a fire extinguisher, and everybody in your house should practice using it … even the little kids. Practice using a fire extinguisher as part of your family, school or neighborhood Great California ShakeOut earthquake drill [on October 15].

Click here to read Stephany’s story about how the quake last summer motivated her and her family to better prepare.

L.A. Youth’s previous stories about earthquakes …

I gave my room a quake-over. Katherine, 15, re-arranged her room to make it safer. (October 2004)

Planning for quakes: you’ll be glad you took the time. Ashley, 16, says it was simple to have an earthquake planning meeting with her family. (October 2004)

What to do in an earthquake: an interview with an expert. A City of Los Angeles emergency preparedness coordinator answers Katherine’s questions about earthquake safety. (October 2004)