Playing It Safe: Even the East Coast Must Prepare for Earthquakes

Aug. 25, 2011
Yesterday afternoon, I was working as usual when I started to feel very strange: dizzy and disoriented, like my equilibrium was knocked out of whack. I actually held on to the edges of my desk for a moment because the floor seemed to be moving beneath ...

Yesterday afternoon, I was working as usual when I started to feel very strange: dizzy and disoriented, like my equilibrium was knocked out of whack. I actually held on to the edges of my desk for a moment because the floor seemed to be moving beneath me.

At first, I assumed I was coming down with a sudden, severe case of the flu. Then I wondered if something had happened to our office building. And while the possibility of an earthquake did float through my mind, I quickly pushed it away. After all, this is Cleveland -- we aren't exactly known for our earthquakes.

It wasn't until my coworkers started getting up and commenting on the fact that the ground must have just moved that I took the earthquake idea seriously. (And let the record show that it was EHS Today's very own Sandy Smith who was the first to announce: "That was an earthquake!") It was the first time I'd ever felt an earthquake -- I grew up in Pennsylvania and have lived in low-earthquake-risk areas ever since -- and I was mostly just relieved to know I wasn't coming down with a violent illness.

We now know, of course, that shortly before 2 p.m. on Aug. 23, a 5.8-magnitude earthquake centered near Mineral, Va., rattled the East coast. People felt the tremor as far away as North Carolina and Ottowa, Canada. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake was so widely felt because it was shallow, and because geologic conditions in the eastern states -- namely, older rock -- allow earthquakes to spread more efficiently than in the west.

While the nation's more experienced earthquake veterans on the West Coast poked fun at us newbies to the east for our reactions to the quake, the fact that so many of us are unprepared is no laughing matter. Take my coworker, who had to leave the office early to head to the hospital because her mother-in-law was injured while evacuating a Cleveland office building during the quake. In her rush to leave, she missed a step, fell in the stairway and suffered a shattered wrist.

People in Washington, D.C., New York City and even Cleveland evacuated their buildings and went streaming into the streets when the quake hit, which is not exactly the safest earthquake behavior. According to FEMA, most earthquake-related injuries occur when people try to move to different locations inside buildings or attempt to evacuate. Clearly, this side of the country needs an introductory earthquake preparedness course.

FEMA offers the following earthquake safety tips:

>>During the earthquake, minimize your movements to a few steps to a nearby safe place.

>>If you are indoors, stay there until the shaking has stopped and you are sure exiting is safe.

>>Drop to the ground and take cover by getting under a sturdy table or piece of furniture. If you don’t have sturdy furniture nearby, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.

>>Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls and anything that could fall.

>>Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake strikes. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place.

>>Use a doorway for shelter only if it is in close proximity to you and if you know it is a strongly supported, load-bearing doorway.

>>Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.

>>Do not use the elevators.

>>If you are outdoors when the earthquake strikes, remain outside but move away from buildings, streetlights and utility wires. The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits and alongside exterior walls.

>>If you’re in a moving vehicle when an earthquake hits, stop as quickly as is safely possibly and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses or utility wires.

Thankfully, it appears this side of the country emerged from the earthquake shaken but largely unscathed. The quake served as a reminder, however, that even the East Coast is not immune to damaging tremors. We need to play it safe and be prepared.

For more safety tips and earthquake information, visit FEMA's Earthquake page.

About the Author

Laura Walter Blog | Senior Editor

Laura Walter is senior editor of EHS Today, a Penton Media Inc. publication. She is a subject matter expert in EHS compliance and government issues and covers a variety of topics relating to occupational safety and health. Her writing has earned awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) and APEX Awards for Publication Excellence.

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