Most people in the St. Louis area have never been through a major earthquake, despite the fact that much of its population lives in the potential shock zone of the New Madrid fault.
Knowing what to do during a tornado may have saved scores of lives on Good Friday, but few St. Louisans are prepared for what to do if a major earthquake hits the area, said Mark Rosenblum, with the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA)
That’s part of the reason SEMA is conducting The Great American Shakeout earthquake drill Thursday, which will involve at least 2.8 million people in eight states.
Among those registered as participating in Thursday's drill, scheduled for 10:15 a.m. include:
Not participating in the drill? Everyone can take five steps to prepare for an earthquake:
1. Disaster Kits
A kit that prepares a family for disaster should include food and at least one gallon of water per person for at least three to four days.
Include dust masks that keep you and family members from breathing in large amounts of potentially harmful dust, insulation and other material.
As seen in the Good Friday storms, a tornado can devastate several neighborhoods. But a severe earthquake can cause widespread devastation over several counties, Rosenblum said.
However, stored water should be replenished every six months or so. Water storage units that do this automatically are available. The units have a valve that automatically cut off water once an earthquake hits to prevent contaminated water from getting inside the storage tank.
A well-stocked first aid kit also is a must.
2. Drop the heavy stuff
Most deaths or injuries in an earthquake come from objects or parts of buildings falling on people, so take a look at your house and move heavy items hanging on walls.
“If you have a heavy mirror over your bed, it would be smart to move that because these things always seem to happen at night,” Rosenblum said. “People also put heavy TVs on top of armoirs.”
Make sure tall bookshelves are not top-heavy. Move heavier books and items down on the shelves. Look for other items that could injure others if they fall.
3. Take cover
The best place to take cover is in a doorframe, Rosenblum said. If that’s not possible, try to get in the bathtub or crawl under a sturdy desk or table to keep things from dropping on top of you.
“If you are inside, stay inside,” Rosenblum said. “If you’re outside, stay outside away from trees and power lines.”
He said if building a new home, a disaster room can be built in the basement for an additional $1,500 or so. A disaster room includes a roof that will not collapse, its own ventilation system to filter out dust and the water storage unit.
4. Prepare for aftershocks
“Because of the way the New Madrid seismic zone settles, there usually are three shocks felt,” Rosenblum said. “So, don’t get complacent after the first shock, because you’ve got two more coming after it.”
After the first shock, evaluate whether you are in a safe area, he said. Injured people may need to be moved to a safer area – perhaps even before administering first aid.
“First responders are going to be overwhelmed,” Rosenblum said. “Firefighters will be putting out fires. Police and EMS will be responding to thousands of calls. It could be three or four days before a first responder arrives on the scene, and people need to be prepared for that.”
5. Know where to go
Communication could be cut off completely, as cellular technology and land lines may be affected or overwhelmed with traffic. That’s why families need a plan on where to meet and how to communicate and meet with each other, Rosenblum said.
“Have an out-of-state contact that your family members will call,” Rosenblum said. “If phone lines here go down, they won’t go out state-to-state,” he said. “You can call Aunt Denise who lives in Florida, and she can pass messages on to the rest of the family.”
Entire neighborhoods could be blocked off due to fires or rubble. If family members can’t get home, they can rendezvous at pre-arranged meeting places, like a restaurant or convenience store –or a landmark..
“Have two or three places. If one place is destroyed, move on to the next meeting place,” Rosenblum said. “That way, families won’t be separated like they were after (Hurricane) Katrina.”