When the Earth Moves Under Your Feet: Earthquake Survival

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    These days if the ground is shaking beneath your feet, that sensation may not be your imagination. In recent weeks, earthquakes have been in the news, hitting all over the globe. Massive destruction has been done and loss of life has climbed well into the thousands. Some of these earthquakes were much more severe than others, such as those in Nepal. Other earthquakes, such as those in Michigan and Mississippi, were mere tremors in comparison, but regardless of the severity, the danger an earthquake poses is very real.

    Earthquakes occur when sections of earth move suddenly along a fault. Essentially the crust of the earth is composed of pieces, known as tectonic plates, that fit together much like a puzzle. The edge of a tectonic plate is known as the plate boundaries and it is on these boundaries that faults occur and in turn from where the quake originates. When plates move and faults collide, energy is built up until the point at which the plates are able to slip and release that energy through a shift in position at which the quake takes place, known as the epicenter. When this happens, the energy release that occurs is broadcast outward until it dissipates, shaking the ground in the process. In some cases, there are foreshocks before the main seismic event known as the mainshock. Also present after the fact is aftershocks, which can sometimes last for years after the primary earthquake.

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    Surviving an earthquake, as with all other natural disasters, takes preparation ahead of time. Although a large scale earthquake can be devastating in that it can topple structures and crush occupants with little to no warning, earthquakes on a smaller scale are not necessarily a death sentence. Many people live along known fault lines and go years or even decades without the ground moving beneath your feet. Although movies such as the upcoming San Andreas flick are sure to make people nervous about earthquake potential, it is important to remember that many earthquakes that occur will not be quite as sensational as such a movie portrays.

    If you live in an area prone to earthquake, it is important to remain aware of the happenings around you. Since foreshocks can indicate an impending earthquake of greater magnitude, pay attention to any vibrations you may feel, however small. In your home, secure large, heavy objects. This could be as simple as keeping shelves clear of anything that could fall and inflict injury when rattled down from its perch. If possible, consider securing appliances as well as tall furniture that could fall by anchoring it to the wall in the location of a stud. In tune with other survival situations, be sure to have plenty of food and water on hand to get you through until order is restored. You may be stranded for a while, especially if your vehicle is trapped by falling debris or irreparably damaged.

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    During an earthquake, you can often reduce injury by practicing the Drop, Cover, and Hold On method. This entails dropping to the floor on your hands and knees in order to prevent the earthquake from toppling you while still allowing yourself the freedom to move if necessary. Cover yourself with a sturdy structure if possible, such as a heavy table, and if you are in bed, remain there with a pillow over your head. In the event that there is no structure available, hunker down near an interior wall (always avoid windows and exterior walls). Though there has long been propaganda encouraging sheltering in doorways, the modern doorway is actually less safe than a table, so seek a table instead. Lastly, hold on until the quake is over, covering your head with your arms and hands. If you are driving when an earthquake strikes, pull over in an area away from power lines and bridges. Set your parking brake and remain in the car, protecting your head until the quake ceases. If you are in the outdoors, avoid power lines, trees, and other structures, dropping to the ground until the shaking stops. In the event that you are near an ocean, get to higher ground as soon as safely possible due to the threat of a tsunami (a wave or series of waves occurring due to displacement of a large amounts of water). Regardless of your location when an earthquake occurs, as soon as shaking ceases, take a moment to orient yourself with what will likely be disarray in your surroundings before moving carefully to safety.

    Recovery from an earthquake can take time and this is where your survival stockpile will be needed. For those that live in areas prone to earthquakes, the location of a stockpile is just as important as what the stockpile contains. Remember to place heaviest items on shelves lowest to the ground and lighter ones up higher should they fall, anchoring shelves ahead of time wherever possible. Don't forget to plan ahead to remove those with disabilities in the event that ramps and walkways are demolished.

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    Though earthquakes have the potential to do great harm, they are typically infrequent and generally mild. We have seen the devastation of which they are capable, such as in Nepal recently and in Japan several years ago in which a resulting tsunami also brought heavy damage to the country. Since there is no science to accurately predict an earthquake, all we can do is remain vigilant, especially in a time where earthquakes are occurring with alarming frequency. To view a list of recent earthquakes and corresponding magnitudes, click here.

    Do you live in an area plagued by earthquakes or have you experienced one unexpectedly in recent times? What is your plan for any that may occur in the future? Let us know in the comments.

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