We are living in 'shifting' times. Every so often, somewhere or the other in the region, the Earth decided to shift position. Maybe it is a natural geological phenomenon or she is getting really tired of carrying the load. Whatever, the reason earthquakes are happening more frequently and it is time we take stock of what to do when it comes visiting.
Ever since childhood we have been told to evacuate the building or home in the event of an earthquake. Really? It might have been true in the olden days of thatched homes and bamboo structures. But in today's day and age of concrete high rises, may not be a smart move.
Evacuating during an earthquake is a bad idea. And here is why.
Question ... how long does a typical earthquake last?
It varies really depending on the magnitude, how far the epicentre is, how deep within the earth it is, etc. But typically an earthquake lasts just seconds. Aftershocks might last quite a bit longer, though usually they are of lower magnitude.
Myth ... the ground will open up and 'swallow' people.
Earthquakes almost never 'swallow' people. Cracks might and do appear during an earthquake but they are not big enough for people to fall through to the centre of the earth.
In hilly areas or mountainsides, earthquakes might result in landslides or mudslides. These can take people away though, but it is a result of the slide triggered by an earthquake.
Myth ... earthquakes kill people.
Earthquakes rarely kill people ... people die due to things falling on them.
And the biggest myth of all ... scramble out of the building in the event of an earthquake.
Typically it will take you a few seconds to realise that the earth is shaking. Then it will take another few seconds to make up your mind to evacuate the building. More often than not, the tremors would have ceased even before you get to your front door.
Even if you follow the "Standard Operating Procedure" of evacuating a high rise building, you will not be allowed to use the elevator and will have to walk down the stairs. Panic might be common and in the attempt to get out of the building, people might jostle for space resulting in a possible stampede down the staircase.
Even if you manage to get out of the building, chances are, you will be standing next to it and not in the centre of the road. This would mean that you are right bang in the path of falling debris from the side of the building ... wall tiles, broken glass from windows, air conditioning units, bulbs, lamp posts, and these are more likely to injure you.
When an earthquake strikes, REMAIN INDOORS.
Do not be passive though. Remember, earthquakes do not kill people, but things falling on them do. Take precautions to ensure that nothing falls on you.
Get under a sturdy table. In today's business environment guided more by aesthetics than safety, most tables are likely to be made out of glass tops or other flimsy but "good looking" material. These are eminently bad places to take shelter under. Find a table top made of wood if possible and crouch under it.
Alternatively, stand under a door frame. The frame is made of strong material and will be able to (possibly) withstand falling debris, a collapsing roof, for instance.
Many or most buildings have load bearing beams going across rooms, on the roof. Stand under such beams. With false ceilings, it might be difficult to identify where the beams are located. It makes sense to carry out pre-earthquake drills to let people know the safe areas within an office space.
If the earthquake is big and roofs and structures do collapse, you will still be largely protected by the cover you found yourself under. Even if the roof beam of the building collapses, you might get pinned under it, but will not be crushed under it.
When rescue parties arrive, you will be shaken and stirred, but alive to see another day.
Always keep a EDC Kit (Everyday Carry Kit) on your person. A small inexpensive item like a whistle can direct rescue parties towards you, when you have been pinned under tonnes of rubble for hours. Tired, hungry, thirsty, covered with dust, you will not be able to shout for help. And even if you can shout, it may not be loud enough or distinctive enough for rescue parties. Maybe there are other people in a similar predicament and all of them are shouting at the same time. A whistle will be distinctive and much less energy sapping.
These are some tips on what to do during an earthquake. These are happening regularly and unlike cyclone season or flood season, there is no earthquake season. They can happen anytime, anywhere. Remember the basics ... particularly the fact that evacuating a building during an earthquake is a bad idea.