Fall is almost here, and college/grad/med/etc. students are moving to new places. Some of those places are less stationary than others. However, it's easy for new arrivals to feel as though earthquake risks are for other people and not for people who might be in a place for just a few years. With that in mind, I wrote the following article last fall for The Synapse, the student newspaper at the University of California, San Francisco, where I'm a professor. I am reprinting it here in Quaketips because it really applies to anyone who is about to move to a quake zone and will get around to figuring out the deal with earthquakes "after finals are over," or "never because I'll graduate and leave." Actually, it's good to know before you get there, so that you can set up your home to at least a minimal standard of quake readiness.
It might get a little surreal toward the end of the article because I mention this blog! It's like standing between two mirrors and seeing an endless loop of reflections...
(Originally published at The Synapse, Sept. 25, 2014)
UCSF IS MOVING
Advice to new and old students alike about earthquake preparedness
True or false: “I don’t have to worry about preparing my home for earthquakes because I’m a student, and I’m only going to be here for a few years.”
Translation: “Earthquakes don’t occur while I’m a student.”
Ok, future scientists/clinicians, let’s evaluate that hypothesis and its corollary, “Earthquakes don’t occur when anyone is a student.” Therefore, because earthquakes occur with regularity in the Bay Area, “Nobody is ever a student.”
I probably don’t have to hit you over the head any heavier than that, but I will point out that during the destructive 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, I was a grad student at Stanford! Once the quake occurred, I was no different from anyone else in that I had to assess damage at home and in my lab.
Fortunately, there was no damage in my home, even though my housemates and I had not taken earthquake preparedness measures, and the only damage in my lab was that something fell on the keyboard of the lab’s Mac (yeah, in the late 80’s, we had “the lab computer”) and ruined the E key, making it impossible to type “Eureka!” and therefore impeding scientific progress and discovery. However, we lucked out; thousands of people were injured with 62 fatalities, and many more had moderate to considerable damage inside their homes.
Welcome to San Francisco...but I mean that sincerely, not facetiously, because most of the problems experienced by people in California earthquakes in the past 100 years have been preventable by taking certain precautions, many of which are not that hard to do. People just don’t get around to them, and so when even moderate events like last month’s [original article was Fall 2014] Napa quake occur, you end up with lots of people in the vicinity with substantial damage in their homes that simply would not have occurred if they had taken the recommended precautions for life in the Bay Area. Although city governments are trying to make structures safer, when “the Big One” comes, even a home that isn’t structurally damaged will contain a lot of damaged possessions unless you have taken your own preventative measures.
Here is some quick “starter” advice for those who aren’t familiar with earthquake safety and for those who have only heard the myths. These are easy and don’t require a bunch of precautions:
1) Don’t hang heavy framed pictures over the head of your bed (and don’t have anything unfastened that could fall over onto the head of your bed).
2) If you are inside during a large quake, know the following:
- DON’T run out of the building (into the danger zone next to the building where most injuries occur),
- DON’T get next to something thinking it will protect you (despite what you may have read in a notorious e-mail chain letter),
- DON’T brace yourself in a doorway (despite what you may have learned as a kid),
- DO get under something sturdy and hang onto it to ensure it remains over you throughout the quake.
- Brace tall furniture to the wall
- Have enough food, water, and other necessary supplies to enable you to be self-sufficient for at least 7 days.
You can read even more at my Quaketips blog. I post articles about how to do things, why some things should not be done, does bottled water really expire, etc. Here’s an excerpt from one of the first articles:
“Those in other parts of the country might say that at least they have advance warning about the hurricanes, etc… We DO have advance warning about earthquakes; we just have it much farther in advance than for other disasters...so, there's going to be an earthquake, do something about it. There, you've been warned!”