Whatcom County is earthquake country. They have happened, and they surely will happen again.
No one knows when, where or the magnitude, but the one thing families can do – or should do – now is get prepared.
It will take a commitment of time, money and energy, but it could be your lifeline.
Earthquakes can strike at any time, and everyone needs to be prepared, at home, at school, in the workplace, while shopping, in houses of worship or just taking a walk in the park, according to Whatcom Unified Emergency Coordination Center. Mother Nature does not pay any attention to the calendar, the weather or the readiness of our communities.
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Being prepared at home is the single most important thing to help the community when an earthquake strikes, said John Gargett, deputy director of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, Division of Emergency Management. While first responders (fire, law enforcement, medical services, public works) plan to respond, they will also be affected and may not be able to respond immediately. Individuals may very well find themselves at home without emergency services support.
Many organizations including the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross offer a wealth of information on earthquake preparedness ranging from “drop, cover and hold on” to recommendations for structural modifications to homes, Gargett said.
In a recent public outreach and education meeting, a question was asked by a person who rents her home, “What are the three easiest things I can do to prepare my family for an earthquake?” Simplistically the three easiest are to survey, supply and reach out:
Survey home and family
▪ Look for things that might fall over.
▪ Know how to shut off the utilities.
▪ Discuss earthquakes with the family.
Supply for the family’s needs
▪ Have extra food, water and first aid kit/medicine.
▪ Keep the gas tank full.
▪ Have blankets, sleeping bags and warm clothes available.
Reach out to your neighbors
▪ Know your neighbors.
▪ Know your neighborhood.
▪ Know your community.
Being prepared for an earthquake is the responsibility of each one of us – you are critical to community resilience.
Being prepared extends to the school your kids attend, Gargett said. Being familiar with the plan on the shelf at the school is important. Just as in the home, first responders may not be able to respond. Knowing what your schools are doing will help ensure that you and your family will be prepared.
According to the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, “School buildings are, unfortunately, often damaged or collapse in earthquakes.” The reasons for this are many, but knowing what your school, or your child’s school, is doing to mitigate any potential risk, how they will respond and how they will communicate are important. While most K-12 schools are required to practice earthquake preparedness, this generally comes down to “drop, cover and hold.”
As parents, and as students, in addition to “drop, cover and hold” exercises, three actions should be taken – research, evaluate and participate:
Research plans, procedures, structures
▪ Does the schools emergency plan specifically address earthquakes?
▪ Have first responders trained in the schools for earthquakes?
▪ What is the communication plan following an earthquake?
Evaluate the building, district and staff
▪ Are the buildings up to earthquake code?
▪ Is there a multi-day supply of emergency supplies?
▪ Has school staff been trained for emergency response to earthquakes?
Participate, reach out and find what your neighbors are doing
▪ Work with the school to update the plan.
▪ Volunteer to be a role player in school emergency exercises.
▪ Educate your kids, other students and yourself on earthquakes.
In January 2017, there were earthquakes in Sudden Valley, Birch Bay, and Ferndale, according to Gargett.
“Those (were) too small to feel, but we will have a significant earthquake, it is a geologic certainty,” he said. “We just do not know when or how big.”