The stories and pictures from Sandy’s wake are heartbreaking. The loss of life, the destruction of property, and the prolonged disruption of routine seem overwhelming. I’m sure you join me in wishing for the prompt return of electricity, transit, and normalcy to the millions whose lives have been turned upside down.

This is a good time to make sure that we’re prepared for a natural disaster. In California we know with certainty that we’ll be hit with a major earthquake. We just don’t know when, and unlike with severe weather, we won’t get a warning. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a very informative web page about how to prepare before an earthquake, what to do during an earthquake, and how to stay healthy after an earthquake. I urge you to take some time to review it.

Before an earthquake, it’s important to assure that there is drinking water and non-perishable food stored for each person in the household for three to five days. Tall heavy furniture (book shelves, bunk beds) should be secured to walls, as should heavy appliances (refrigerators, water heaters).

I was surprised to learn that what we should do during an earthquake has changed somewhat since I learned these instructions. I’m quite phobic about earthquakes, so my typical behavior when a mild 2.0 magnitude earthquake shakes me awake in the middle of the night is to leap out of bed, stand in a doorway, and scream “EARTHQUAKE!” like a panicked child. This annoys my wife who would have slept through the whole thing, but also, apparently, doesn’t even protect me. In modern buildings doorways are no safer than anywhere else.

During an earthquake, if you are inside do not run outside or to other rooms during the shaking. Drop down to your hands and knees. Cover your head and neck (or your whole body if possible) under a sturdy table or desk or next to low-lying furniture. Hold on to the furniture that you’re sheltering under until the shaking stops.

If you are outside during an earthquake, stay outside and avoid buildings and utility wires.

After the earthquake, avoiding spoiled food and contaminated water is critical. Also, power outages and disrupted natural gas lines will lead to people using camping stoves or charcoal grills for cooking or heating. Remember never to use camping stoves, outdoor grills, or electrical generators indoors. Several people have died of carbon monoxide poisoning on the East Coast this week because of poorly ventilated combustion sources.

The CDC website has much more detailed information. You owe it to your family to make preparations now.

Learn more:

Earthquakes (CDC Emergency Preparedness and Response)
During an Earthquake (CDC Emergency Preparedness and Response)