One of the main reasons that makes earthquakes so deadly is that they can strike at any time in any location. Of course, seismologists have a greater understanding of the current status of plate tectonics in the complicated region off the coast of British Columbia than they used to, but they still don’t have the technology to predict when a quake is due, and how strong it is likely to be. Large earthquakes generally increase in magnitude the longer the dormant period, which means when The Big One hits, it will likely wreak havoc in and around the area. This means that British Columbia residents have to be fully prepared for disaster, and know what to do during an earthquake wherever they happen to be.
If you ever consider how much time you spend outdoors, in a car, in the kitchen, at work or elsewhere at home, and with the inevitability of a large earthquake happening at any time, it is crucial to have a plan for every scenario you'll be in, so you and those around you are not caught off guard with no idea what to do. To give an idea, the average person spends nearly 14 hours per week outdoors, and the average Vancouverite spends 5+ hours commuting per week. With all that time spent either outside or in a vehicle (for info on indoor scenarios, click here), here are several tips to consider when making your plan for what to do during an earthquake:
If you find yourself outside during an earthquake happening now, the biggest and most important advice is stay outside. It’s so important that it needs to be repeated: if you’re outside and an earthquake strikes, stay outside. Even though the building codes in British Columbia contain some of the strongest guidance for making quake-proof structures, buildings are full of hazards: flying objects not secured to a wall or surface, shards of glass and large pieces of unsecured furniture that can collapse on top of you.
While staying outside is the single most important rule to follow, you also need to know what to do during an earthquake when outside. The following are some of the most important do’s and don’ts during an earthquake if you’re caught outdoors:
DO get low – once you’ve got yourself to a safe space outside, you need to keep as low to the ground as possible. If you can lie down on the ground, do so as it will dramatically reduce your risk of falling or tripping suddenly. A low crouch or simply sitting down will do; anything that reduces your centre of gravity will be good enough. A typical British Columbia earthquake lasts less than a minute, so you’ll only be down for a short while.
DON’T go near buildings – not only is the advice to stay outdoors if you’re already outdoors, but you also need to move away from any buildings as quickly as possible. Windows are the weakest point in any structure and a strong quake can literally shatter a window, spraying the nearby area with dangerous glass shards. Any architectural external features and facades will also be the first things to fall off a shaking building, so it will be essential to keep clear of any buildings.
DO have an earthquake safety kit ready – living in British Columbia means that you should always have several up-to-date earthquake safety kits in convenient locations. One of these should be outside your property in an easily accessible place in case you can’t return to your home for some reason. Your earthquake safety kit should include food supplies for a couple of days, dry clothes, a first aid kit, a flashlight with spare batteries and a list of emergency contact and meet up plans.
DON’T go near power lines – power lines are held up by single poles, making them highly susceptible to collapse and breakage during an earthquake. If you’re near a power line when an earthquake hits, move quickly away as you’ll not only be at risk of being hit by the pole, but you also could be hit by falling electrical cables. If you’re not sure if it’s a power line or a utility line, you should still move away as you don’t want to run the risk of electrocution on top of other earthquake damage.
DO get in your car – finally, if you’re near your car, it’s a good idea to get in for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the car’s suspension will absorb a lot of the shocks, keeping you safe even while the car is jiggling around like crazy. Secondly, cars are designed to withstand high collision forces, meaning that the shell will protect you from falling debris. Finally, your car is equipped with a radio, so you’ll be able to tune into the emergency broadcasts which will give you more advice and meet up points once the earthquake has finished.
Driving and Earthquakes
On the subject of driving during an earthquake, there are a few pointers to follow to keep you safe during an outdoors earthquake:
Stop as soon as possible – driving during an earthquake puts you at risk from flying or falling debris, and the further you move, the more danger you put yourself. Pull over as soon as possible, stay in the car and put on the emergency brake to keep yourself from rolling and moving.
Keep away from any overhead dangers – hazards caused by structural collapse is the biggest danger you face in your car. These include overhead wires, power lines and overpasses, so make sure that you’re well clear of these potential hazards when you pull over.
Leave fallen power lines – there may be a scenario in which your car gets stuck under a fallen power line. In this situation, under no circumstances should you attempt to move the power line yourself. Fortunately, your car acts like a massive Faraday cage, so any electricity will pass around the metal shell of the vehicle. Your best bet is to sit and wait it out until a trained professional can come and rescue you.
Once the earthquake is over, you may continue your journey to meet up with loved ones, but make sure that you’re on the look out for potential damage to the roads, flooding and collapsed bridges on your route.
The hardest part of any earthquake preparation guide is that until one strikes, you don’t know how you’ll respond. This is why you should seek out the QuakeCottage at a local community event. This is a real life earthquake simulator, and while the experience is aimed to provide an insight to what an earthquake looks and feels like inside (think like a stationary rollercoaster!), you can still get a feel for how the earth moving under your feet makes you react. Once you’ve got an idea of how it feels, you’ll build muscle memory that will help you know what to do during an earthquake when outside.