Surviving an Earthquake or a Hurricane

November 1, 2011

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(This article appeared in the November/December 2011 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Joyce B. Robinson, Research & Education Department Director

This year’s devastating natural disasters demonstrate the importance of preparing an emergency plan, which can reduce the likelihood of serious injury or loss of life during an earthquake or hurricane. As I write this, we are still “recovering” from this year’s devastating weather effects. My prayers continue to go out to my APWU sisters and brothers and their families who were adversely affected. Listed below are tips to help you prepare before the disaster strikes:

Check for Hazards - Repair all cracks and structural damage in your home. Securely fasten shelves to walls. Place large, heavy, and breakable items on lower shelves in closed cabinets with latches. Hang pictures and mirrors away from beds, couches, or other places near where people sit. Repair defective electrical wiring and leaky gas connections. Strap water heaters to wall studs and bolt them to the floor.

Identify Safe Places – If you are inside when disaster strikes, drop to the floor – stay under sturdy heavy furniture or against an inside wall, away from where glass could shatter or where heavy furniture could fall over. If you’re outside, stay in the open; keep away from buildings, trees, telephone and electrical lines, overpasses, or elevated expressways.

Educate The Family - Teach children how to call 911, the police, or fire department. Tune to radio stations for emergency information. Learn how to use the shutoff valves for water, gas, and electricity.

Have Disaster Supplies - Buy a battery-operated radio and flashlights, purchase extra batteries, a first aid manual and kit, as well as a non-electric can opener. Have a three-day supply of food, water, clothes, medical supplies, cash and credit cards, extra clothing, and sturdy shoes.

Develop an Emergency Communication Plan - Develop a plan for reuniting after the disaster in case family members are separated. Have someone out-of-state serve as the “family contact.” Make sure everyone knows the name, address, and phone number of the contact. Designate someone to pick up kids from school or daycare center in case you are unable to do so. Copy all vital records and keep them in a safe deposit box with originals stored safely. Take photos and/or videos of all valuables. Have an extra pair of eyeglasses, and house and car keys.

Follow Safety Precautions - Listen to the radio or TV for information. Use the phone only in serious emergencies. Stay indoors, away from windows and glass doors. Close storm shutters, curtains, blinds, and all interior doors. Secure outdoor objects and brace external doors. Turn off propane tanks. Turn the refrigerator thermostat to its coldest setting, then leave the doors closed. Fill the bathtub and large containers with water for flushing toilets and cleaning. Never run a generator inside a basement, garage, or other enclosed structure, even if the doors or windows are open, unless the equipment has been professionally installed and vented.

When to Evacuate - Evacuate if you are directed to do so by local authorities.

Avoiding Injury – To avoid injury, don’t move until the earthquake or hurricane stops. Do not use elevators. If you’re in an automobile, stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires. Proceed cautiously once the earthquake or hurricane ends. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged.

Return home only when authorities say it is safe. Open cabinets cautiously and clean up spills immediately. If you live in coastal areas, be aware of possible tsunamis and stay away from beaches.

Contact the gas company, an electrician, or a plumber, as appropriate, if you have a gas leak or if you experience electrical or water damage. Avoid drinking tap water until its safe.

Contact your local Office of Emergency Services, your local American Red Cross chapter, or visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency Web site, for additional information.

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