As you probably know, earthquakes are quite common in Japan, maybe more so than any country in the world. If you’ve ever experienced an earthquake, it can be a bit unsettling (especially for foreigners). But when the bigger ones happen, the same idea runs through everyone’s mind…that panic, that fear, that “What Should I Do?” moment.
Earthquakes are different than other natural disasters because they are difficult to detect in advance and they have the potential to do significant damage in a short time. Because earthquakes happen so quickly, knowing exactly what to do, and taking action as fast as humanly possible can mean the difference between life and death. As with any natural disaster, there are no guarantees, but you want to make sure your chances of survival are as high as humanly possible.
BEFORE THE EARTHQUAKE
1. Have a plan in advance: Do you know where you’re going to go when the earthquake is over? Do you know what you’ll do if you’re inside? Outside? Know what to do, because you’ll need to move fast.
2. Have Equipment Ready: Have several areas in your house set aside for five major things:
• Flashlights- When a major earthquake happens, it’s highly likely that you could lose
power. Having flashlights that are test and working is a good idea (I have flashlights
that operate without batteries…you turn a crank generator and get great light)
• First Aid Kits- If you, a family member, or other survivor are injured, these first aid kits
can be extremely useful. Know what’s in the kit and how to use it. If you need
assistance, the Red Cross holds first aid seminars, in the US anyway (I don’t know if
these seminars are free, but they are worth every penny). The great news is that there is
also a Red Cross Chapter right here in Japan http://www.jrc.or.jp/english/index.html.
The site can be translated into English.
• Battery-operated Radio- Post-quake, the radio will keep you updated with news and
details of what to do. You need one.
• Non-perishable Food Items- Have a stock of canned goods, peanut butter, pasta, beans,
bottled water, etc. If after a major quake, rescue efforts take a while, you’ll need food
and water. Know where to get them.
3. When you set up your house or apartment, make sure things are secure. If you’re living in Japan, you will experience earthquakes (as a matter of fact there was another one this morning around 3:00am…the second one this week!). When you set up furniture in your home, make sure it’s secure. I’m not necessarily saying you should bolt everything to the floor, but just make sure there are no major hazards (fire, glasss, etc.) should an earthquake happen.
DURING THE EARTHQUAKE
4. Stay calm, but move fast. I know this is a bit cliche, but it makes a difference. Earthquakes can be scary, and it’s okay to be scared, but don’t panic or you decrease your chances of survival.
5. Take cover. Falling objects are one of the primary dangers during a major earthquake, so find a desk or a table and get under it quickly!
6. Turn off gas items. Fire is another major hazard during an earthquake. Gas stoves are quite common in many Japanese apartments, if you just turn off the gas valve after each use, you won’t have to rush and do it during an earthquake. But make sure it’s off.
7. If you’re inside stay inside. I remember hearing story last year about a man who died during an earthquake simply because he went outside… he was killed by a falling object. This sad part was that there were few casualties during the quake.
8. If you’re outside, take cover. Find a something to cover yourself. If there is nothing. DROP (get down) and COVER (your head and neck).
9. If you’re driving, stay in your car, it will serve as your cover. Try to pull over to a safe area. Stay away from bridges and overpasses, as they can collapse during a quake.
AFTER THE QUAKE
10. Go to your designated meeting area that you established during the pre-earthquake steps and use your radio for updates.
This isn’t necessarily the exhaustive list of things to do during a quake, but they can be life-savers.