Friday, July 16, 2010

Earthquake in Montgomery County? Are You Kidding? Some Advice From An Expert!

Yes, it’s true. On Friday, July 16, 2010, at 5:04am, an area extending from Virginia, DC, Maryland, and West Virginia was shaken by an earthquake that the U.S. Geological Survey reported to be a Richter magnitude 3.6 shaker whose epicenter was 10 miles northeast of Rockville and 5km below the earth’s surface.

Many people reported that the noise – a loud rumbling like a strong clap of thunder during a storm – is what woke them. They felt the shaking and noticed windows rattling. My first reaction was similar (saying “what was THAT???”) I felt the shaking for about 20 seconds, which is a very long time.

Since I was in bed, I stayed there. I learned from the earthquake that happened in Northridge, California, in January, 1994, which occurred early in the morning that most people who were injured had cut feet. Why? They jumped out of bed to run to try to escape or check on children – and stepped on broken glass and furniture. You can’t help others if you hurt yourself. That’s why staying put is recommended, even though avoiding running is counterintuitive.

Mid-plate quakes like the one we just had can be felt for long distances. This earthquake was reported to be felt as far away as mid-Virginia and West Virginia. Earthquakes send shock waves through the earth’s crust, and that’s what we feel when a quake happens: the shock waves rolling through the earth under us.

So what do you do when the earth shakes?

First, avoid the temptation to run outside. Remember, the more distance you move during an earthquake, the more likely you are to become injured by falling, having something fall on you, or stepping on something and cutting your feet. STAY PUT!

If you are in bed, stay there. You are safest by pulling the covers over you and placing a pillow over your head. Wait there. When the shaking stops, then use a flashlight you have conveniently by your bedside, and put on the sturdy shoes or boots you have next to your bed. (Huh, don’t have these by your bed? You should – how often has the power gone out at night and you have to check? A flashlight and sturdy shoes within reach are helpful.)

If you are awake, such as at home, at work, or in school, then do what they’ve taught in Earthquake Country: Drop, Cover, and Hold On. Getting under a desk or table, covering one’s head and neck, and holding on to the table is the safest thing to do when the earth shakes (regardless of reason – earthquake, strong storm such as a tornado, or an explosion.)

There are some internet-based fallacies about alternative safety actions to take. For example, some people say, “get in a doorway.” That was fine for old adobe structures in California in the 1800s, but not for today’s construction where doorways provide no more protection than anywhere else.

While it is unlikely that an earthquake of a strong enough magnitude to cause damage in Maryland, it is possible. The most important thing to do is to avoid being injured, so you can help others. Consider asking your insurance agent for an earthquake rider on your homeowner’s insurance policy, since earthquake damage is not covered by traditional insurance designed for fire recovery. Also, regardless of the disruption, it’s always best to be ready: assemble supplies into one place (a “disaster kit”), discuss your plans with your loved-ones, and know where to get information that is helpful and directive.

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About the Author: Rocky Lopes led the American Red Cross Community Disaster Education Program for 18 years (through 2004), where he developed research-based education and outreach through collaboration with scientists, engineers, and research professionals. He has received numerous awards and recognition for his work. He has written articles and chapters in books on earthquake safety and has given presentations and hundreds of conferences in the U.S. and worldwide on disaster safety. He is a life-long resident of Montgomery County, Maryland.

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