My very first Los Angeles earthquake found me dozing on the living room couch on a lazy Sunday afternoon. When the shaking began, this Midwestern girl had no idea what I should be doing to protect myself. I sort of ran around in circles, screaming, “Oh my gawd! It’s an earthquake!” The shaking lasted about a minute and I quickly learned that it was only a baby earthquake. It was nothing compared to the 1994 Northridge Earthquake and it certainly was not the mythical Big One that could cause all of Los Angeles to break off into the Pacific Ocean.
Fast forward ten years and I’m still not far from running around the room wondering what to do. Sure I have a little disaster kit with some packaged food and I keep a case of water handy, but what would I really do if the Big One hit and my family had to survive on its own for a few days?
Thankfully, I remedied my lack of preparedness by participating in the The Great Southern California Shake Out . The Shake Out was the largest earthquake drill in U.S. history. I initially registered for the drill out of peer pressure. I found out that 4.8 million other Southern Californian’s were doing it and I didn’t want to be the only lame-o I knew not participating. Plus, do you remember images of people waiting to be rescued after Hurricane Katrina? I definitely do. I got to thinking about what would happen if things were so bad here in Los Angeles that no one could get to me or my family for a couple of days.
My commitment to the ShakeOut was finally solidified when I had the chance to chat with Mark Benthien from the Southern California Earthquake Center . Mark’s a native Californian who chased science dreams instead of Hollywood glamour. In fact, Mark was so into earthquakes that he even did his tenth grade science fair project on them. He was interested in what he could do to save lives and reduce economic losses due to earthquakes so he decided to become a seismologist and attended UCLA, majoring in geophysics.
While working for a seismologist after the Northridge Quake, Mark started doing a lot of work out in the community, putting seismometers in people’s backyards. He found he liked communicating with and educating people about earthquakes more than being a seismologist, and, thankfully for us, he’s now one of the driving forces behind the ShakeOut. Fortunately, Mark shared some tips for preparing for a quake before it hits.
1. Identify potential hazards in your home and begin to fix them.
Mark told me that most earthquake victims are killed by objects that fall, like bookcases tipping over. Bolt your bookcases to the walls to lessen the chance that they’ll topple during shaking. People are also killed by objects that flies off walls and shelves. That means you may want to re-think that huge picture of you and your honey that’s hanging over your bed.
2. Create a disaster preparedness plan.
Mark shared that this is a step that so many people begin but fail to complete. It’s essential to have a disaster preparedness plan in the case of any emergency. People can start with having one contact person that everyone phones to let them know you’re safe. It’s also important to have an agreed upon meeting space. Sometimes you can’t get home but if you can get to a school, library or other public space, you can agree to meet your loved one’s there.
3. Make disaster kits.
Creating disaster kits with first aid supplies, fresh water and canned and dried foods is an essential component of ensuring your survival. We take for granted that we can get a glass of water from a faucet at any time. But during the aftermath of an earthquake, pipes often burst, making water unavailable. It might also be impossible to cook on a gas stove due to ruptured gas lines. The power might go out, resulting in refrigerated foods spoiling. Most experts recommend that you have three days worth of water and food for each person in your household.
4. Identify building structure weaknesses and fix them.
This is easier said than done if you’re a renter like me. However, renters can always point out weakened or cracked walls or foundations. There’s nothing wrong with asking your landlord about what earthquake retrofitting has been done on your building. Doing so could save your life or the life of a neighbor in the case of an earthquake. When you own a building, you have the freedom to make it as safe as you’d like by taking steps like securing furniture into walls and fastening hot water heaters so they don’t tip over.
Once the preparations are over and the earthquake hits, you’ll have a better chance of surviving if you: Drop to the ground, take cover under a table or desk (no running in circles) and hold on. If you’ve done all the pre-quake preparation, and you follow the during-quake safety tips, you’re much more likely to come out of the earthquake alive.
All of us hope the next big quake takes place a long, long time from now. Statistically though, The Big One probably will happen within our lifetimes. I’m just glad that thanks to the Southern California ShakeOut, I’m finally prepared!
Originally published on LosAngelista 
Updated February 5, 2010