Most Oregonians have never experienced a severe earthquake. If you’re a transplanted Californian you may be an old hand at surviving shakers but your native neighbors are, for the most part, uninitiated. I remember a few mild tremors some years back, but nothing that could qualify as severe. Here are some things I’ve learned. First of all if it is on a shelf and breakable, it will be on the floor and broken. If it is vertical and heavy, like a book case or tall filing cabinet, it will tip over. If it can make a mess, it will.
Earthquakes have proved to be impossible to predict with accuracy. Because most of the school buildings in Oregon are nearly 50 years old, they weren’t designed with earthquakes in mind. In fact, one study showed that many schools in the state were 100 per cent likely to collapse in a big earthquake.
The Myrtle Point School District was just awarded a $1.5 million grant to reinforce the high school building against seismic activity. Government agencies, schools and municipalities are all taking the threat seriously. Even moderate quakes have the power to kill people. An older building with a brick facade only needs a minor shaking to bring down the bricks. Most of the people killed in recent years by earthquakes in the northwest have been struck by falling bricks.
Injuries inside the building happen when knick-knacks, china or glassware on display become missiles during an earthquake. If you display such items in your home it is a good idea to get some sticky craft putty from a craft store and secure those potential projectiles to the shelf.
Another hazard is that big bookshelf or china hutch, both are heavy enough to cause injury by falling on someone. Using plumber’s metal tape, secure tall, heavy items to the wall to keep them from falling over.
Then there’s fire. During the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, fires caused more damage than the quake. Gas and water lines ruptured, a spark ignited the gas and because there was no water to fight the blaze, the fires burned unchallenged. This is why all the disaster prep lists tell you to keep a wrench handy for shutting off the gas. For the same reason it’s a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher handy. Most insurance companies in Oregon have stopped offering earthquake policies. If your home catches fire as a result of an earthquake, your insurance won’t cover it. If you can get an earthquake policy, the premiums are high and so is the deductible. As a result, most Oregonians don’t have earthquake coverage.
As destructive as earthquakes can be, and as unpredictable as they are, it is still possible to minimize the negative effects with some simple precautions. As always, if you have questions or comments you may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.