Matt Springer has been giving presentations around San Francisco about home earthquake preparedness since 2008 (for more information about the presentation, go to his earthquake preparedness website). This Quaketips blog is devoted to posts ranging from technical "how-to" articles to more philosophical "should-you" topics. New articles will be posted at most about once a month, so people who subscribe won't be subjected to lots of e-mail.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

So how did Matt react to the largest jolt in 10 years? (1/4/2018 Hayward fault quake)

As those in the SF Bay Area could not help but notice, we had a small but intense earthquake in the early morning of January 4th, a 4.4 on the Hayward Fault located near UC Berkeley. As far as I'm concerned, it was still late night January 3rd because I was still up, working in my den at home.

I have not been posting much recently because I've been so busy, but wanted to make this quick post because it's interesting to note how I reacted during this quake, given how much I think about these things.

First of all, the article title that mentions the largest jolt in 10 years is referring to the way it felt to me, here in the Outer Richmond District of San Francisco, near the ocean and the offshore San Andreas Fault. The 6.0 Napa quake in 2014 was quite a bit larger than this 4.4 and it did far more damage, but to me in San Francisco's Mission Bay district at the time, it was pretty mild and I even slept through most of it, just groggily waking up at the end. In contrast, this was sudden and intense where I was. Some people have described it as rolling but in my home, it shook us with a very fast side-to-side motion, not gentle at all. In fact, it was distressing enough that for the first time since the 5.4 quake further south in the East Bay in 2007, I was seriously considering that this could be the beginning of a major quake.

(By the way, for anyone who was here in this earthquake and has not experienced a larger one, it would be worthwhile to review my article about small quakes and what they mean.)

So how did I react? Did I practice what I preach? Well, yes and no. I successfully made use of "situational awareness," which I wrote about 2016. This is the practice of being aware of your surroundings and making last-minute judgement calls about what needs to be done that may not be consistent with the default generic advice. Milo the Dog was in the den with me resting on a cushion on the other side of the room, and the first thing I did (to my credit) after the few seconds of realizing that this was actually happening was to look at him. He was freaking out and looked like he was about to bolt, and not knowing what would happen next, I did what I had told myself I would do in the past: I scooped him up in my arms and prepared to take him with me to get under the desk, rather than have him run into some less safe place. The quake ended before I could even start to get under the desk.

Ok, that's good. But actually I did NOT do the other things that I had practiced in my mind many times before, the steps I planned to take if a quake occurred while working at my laptop in my office. My plan has been to first shut the laptop lid (the laptop is not stuck down for obvious reasons and this would help protect it from damage), and to grab my iPhone on my way to wherever I went so that it would be with me. I did neither of those things; didn't even think about them until the quake was over.

I guess that must mean I put Milo ahead of all other considerations, which is nice, but it would have taken 1 extra second to shut the laptop and grab the phone, and would still be worth doing. Of course, remember that if I had had a flame going somewhere, like a candle or something simmering on the stove, the first thing to do would be to put it out.

The other thing that kind of annoyed me is that I forgot to follow the current advice ("drop, cover, hold on"), which is to drop down to the floor and cover your head before moving to wherever you need to go.  This prevents you from being knocked down by the shaking or hit by something before you get to your safe spot.  Darn it, we keep saying the words and doing the drills but in that moment, I was focused on Milo and the need to get to him as quickly as possible.  I actually think that if I had dropped down, I might not have reached him before he ran, so it was probably the right thing to do, but if the quake was much larger, this could have been a problem.  Perfection is difficult to achieve!

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  1. I'm wondering about preparing for a quake and not being at home when it hits. Questions like, what do you do when you pets are home (9th floor apartment) and you're not there to get them out? Your preparedness kit is at home in SF, and you're at a meeting in Oakland when the quake hits? I look forward to attending one of your in-person presentations and thanks for the blog!

    1. Thanks for the excellent questions. With regard to pets, I think that unless the quake is truly catastrophic, the biggest concern about pets being at home alone during the quake is how the situation there looks AFTER the quake (assuming, that is, that you've taken appropriate precautions to stop things from falling and flying during the quake regardless of who is home). For this, I would refer you to an article I wrote for a hardware store newsletter in 2010, which actually got repurposed as one of the opening articles in this blog in 2011 ( If the concern is how to get them out in an emergency if you aren't there, then that is the same concern for fires and other more immediate evacuation issue, in which case it's useful to have a trusted neighbor who has access to your place who can go in and grab the pet, although the neighbor might not be home either. When there was a big fire in SF's Mission Bay district at a construction site several years ago, the apartment building across the street was damaged and evacuated, and my understanding is that the fire department was breaking into units to look for pets and got them out; each situation will be different of course.

      For the issue of the emergency kit, yes, it's only useful to people who are where it is. If you are across the Bay, then the first things you'll need to deal with is whether you can get home in the first place, and then how well the meeting place in Oakland has prepared; neither of which are really under your control so you just have to hope for the best. But if you have driven to the meeting, having a small kit in the car is still a good idea (see Assuming you can get home, then hopefully you can get into your home; otherwise your home kit still won't be of much use to you (see and remember that there's no one place to keep an emergency kit where it will be accessible in every possible scenario).


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