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Paramedics Corner
The New Madrid Seismic Zone, Part III: Preparedness

Returning to the beginning of the earthquake scenario, the family who was awakened to the ground shaking and the weird motion; It is 3:00 A.M. and getting colder by the minute. The kids are now up and are expectedly frightened. You have no explanation, because there is no power to turn on any news; and worse yet it grows colder on the late December night. The telephones are silent.

As dawn begins the day, the situation gets worse. You walk to your friend’s house, who you remember has a battery operated radio. He was always bothering you about those pesky emergency planning people, the ones you thought were always scaring people about things that would probably never happen, at least not where you live, “won’t ever happen to me,” you would always think. Besides, there are people to take care of everything….

The friend explains to you there was a magnitude 8.5 earthquake down by New Madrid, Missouri. There are a lot of people trapped and missing in that area. St. Louis has massive fires, and Memphis is catastrophic. No one knows how many people are dead. As you walk back you notice traffic is moving slow. Your friend said something about highways, bridges, runways, and rail being damaged. He was glad he has several days of emergency water, food and medicine stored. People are out, going to the stores in a panic to buy up all the supplies they can. You waited too long. Most of the store shelves are empty. The ground shakes again. It is frightening and little do you know these ground shakes will continue for several weeks.

“Will the earthquakes come again? Yes. This is an active seismic zone.”—Carolyn V. Platt, “Nightmare on the Mississippi,” in Timeline. (Timeline is a publication of the Ohio Historical Society). The possibility of a repeat of the Great 1811-1812 earthquakes is foreboding. Scientists believe this could happen anytime, maybe tomorrow morning…maybe tonight.

September is National Preparedness Month. There are nation-wide initiatives to encourage citizens to be prepared for earthquakes and other disasters. For details the reader can go to www.ready.gov, www.redcross.org/preparedness/NPM/ or www.fema.gov/areyouready/ for a lot of good information.

To begin earthquake preparedness for people here in Pulaski County an explanation is due regarding seismic building codes and home preparedness. If our estimated intensity zone was closer to the expected epicenter this story would include a complete article on this issue. Most experts, almost unanimously agree that the single most important process a county or city can take to prepare for future earthquakes is to implement and enforce seismic building codes. This one step would save lives more than anything else that can be done. This becomes quite political and economic factors begin to emerge.

The other component not being completely covered, but I will be glad to in another article are “Preparations around the Home.” This includes things like reinforcement of homes, basement walls reinforced, water heaters firmly attached to the walls, replace heavy light fixtures with lighter ones, outside weak trees should be cut down to prevent them from falling on power lines, on people, or houses; putting strong latches on cabinets, bolting or affixing tall furniture to walls (not usually real popular with avid interior decorators), insuring all large and/or heavy objects are removed from high places, and so forth. Essentially, a good plan is to take a tour of your home and imagine fairy-tale giants lifting and shaking your home. Then ask: What would be damaged by the shaking? In what ways could my family or I be hurt or killed as a result of this shaking.

I will start with some seemingly simple ideas, but ideas that could save your life, and those of people you love. To begin simply make some plans and think primitive. Pretend you and your family are going on a 10-day to 14-day primitive camping trip. First, prepare a kit: When you go to FEMA or other sites the recommendations you will read emphasis preparations for 72-hours or 3-days. However, many emergency managers, including this one, now recommend a plan for 10-days to 14-days.

· Flashlights and extra batteries. One flashlight for every adult. Critical, because earthquakes happen without any warning, therefore you need emergency light to prevent injuries and to immediately look for gas leaks before you start lighting candles. Fires will be an enormous problem from gas lines breaking.

· Water: You need at least one gallon of water per day per person. This will be for drinking and for sanitation. So, to begin our earthquake/survival kit, we need a plan for water. With your stored water, include storing some Regular Clorox Bleach. In case you run out of water, or have none stored, you can use water from tanks and water heater. Tape an instruction card with the water. To make water safe to drink put 8 to 16 drops or ¼ teaspoon of bleach in a gallon of water. If you have quart containers use 2 drops per quart. You can use ½ teaspoon for 5 gallons. Also, boiling water can be done if you prefer, or if no bleach. Boiling water is great, but uses up your fuel and you lose some of the water. If boiling, remember 10 minutes. If a disaster occurs, immediately close the value on water heater. This will give you many gallons of water to use. Do it quickly before contaminated. You can freeze several gallons of water in your freezer and store several gallons in your kit.

· Food is next: Put non-perishable foods in your kit. Canned and dried foods. Throw in something good, some candy, the kids (and you) will appreciate a treat if power out and you are forced to survive several days. Besides, these are a good energy source.

· While on the subject of comfort stuff, throw some games and books in the earthquake box. The kids might get very bored (no TV, no electronic games). They might actually read some good old classic novels, such as Moby Dick, Treasure Island, or explore the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. For the ladies try: Gone With the Wind, or Jane Eyre, wonderful classic novels. Guys, Moby Dick is great, so is Ivanhoe, or Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

· Food preparation items: include a manual can opener and a grill or camp stove. Don’t forget charcoal and lighter fluid, and matches (kept in safe—waterproof container).

· Shelter: in case the home is damaged, a tent, sleeping bags, blankets, warm clothing with changes, and good sturdy footwear.

· Tools: an ax, handsaw, crescent wrench or shut-off wrench to turn off household water and gas; hammer & nails, pry bar, and 100 feet of rope.

· Battery powered radio and/or TV. NOAA Weather radio. Extra batteries.

· Toiletries: Toilet tissue, trash bags, toothpaste, soap, shampoo.

· Candles and matches.

· First Aid Kit: A first aid book, soap, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, aspirin and other over-the counter medications your family uses; small bandages, sanitary napkins, scissors, knife, and any special medications regularly used by your family, and extra eyeglasses.

· Maps of the area.

· Fire extinguisher

· Whistle: In case you get trapped, to help someone locate you.

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