What to do when the earth shakes? I felt my first earthquake in 1990 as a college student studying in Costa Rica. It happened as I was leaning over to flush the toilet and I stumble-stepped, losing my balance. At first I thought I was dizzy from a hangover — I was young, after all, living in a tropical country and spending evenings trying to master the Salsa.
But then I saw the picture frames swaying gently. My then-boyfriend, a Californian by birth, immediately knew the movement was not in my head, but, rather, in the ground. I was thrilled! Growing up in Colorado, I'd learned that the earth moved, but that was the inches-only annual uptick of the Rocky Mountains, the meandering course of riverbeds across the Great Plains. Sudden jolts from the solid-earth-as-we-knew-it. Cool!
Some years later, I moved to the Bay Area and, like everyone else here, I've felt dozens of little quakes, including that decent-sized jolt in the South Bay last year.
When my children were tiny, unable to walk or talk, I began to feel quite vulnerable to earthquakes. They no longer seemed cool. Now, the children are 8 and 6, and we have a good supply of water and a hand crank radio and enough food to last weeks. We have plans for what do after, and we know who'll care for the children if both parents happen to be off-island. I feel like we're Boy-Scout-ready for the aftermath.
But this question still lingers: What should I do at the moment of the quake?
I know that the advice used to be to go to a doorway, but that prescription, a bit of research reveals, is no longer current.
Alameda's own Charley Weiland, a Stanford geophysicist studying quakes, tells me that doorways are actually risky: "Doors will probably be swinging wildly, and you may get smacked or have fingers and toes pinched."
The most current advice, says Kelly Huston, deputy director for California's Office of Emergency Services, is to "Stop, Drop, and Hold": Get under a table and hold on, or duck down next to your couch or an interior wall. Protect your head. Students are supposed to go under their desks.
My problem is that I think that, in a big quake, my most compelling impulse would be to go to my children — who, odds are, would be sleeping in the next room. I'd want to be with them, to protect them.
Bad idea, says Huston. "By moving about you put yourself in a position of jeopardy," he says, noting that you add to the likelihood of being hit by a falling object or losing your balance. "Yes, your children depend on you," says Huston, but, just as we're told on an airplane to put our own oxygen masks on first, "parents have to protect themselves."
The key is to teach kids what to do so they respond instinctively. "They should know to duck, cover and hold," says Huston. After the shaking stops, families should go outside, regroup and turn off, as I'm sure we all know, the gas.
Counter intuitive note to self: In case of earthquake, save self. Don't run to the children.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Each week we'll highlight a comment made on the Alameda Journal blog. This week's comment comes from a post about the state's plans to spray a number of Bay Area cities, including Alameda, with synthetic moth pheromones encased in tiny plastic microcapsules to combat the light brown apple moth.
Janis De Lay: "I was raised in Fresno, by a farm implement dealer. I understand the farming concerns, but I live in Pacific Grove now. We were the first sprayed and have been sprayed two times. I have lung damage from Valley Fever and I have asthma, but had not had an attack for more than three years. I became very ill after the spraying, suffering repeated asthma attacks along with flu-like symptoms. These attacks began about two hours after hearing the planes overhead."
For more on the light brown apple moth and all things Alameda visit the Alameda Journal Blog at www.ibabuzz.com/alamedajournal