The strong shaking will stop. For an M 6 to M 7 earthquake, strong shaking will last less than a minute—in most cases less than thirty seconds—but it might seem the longest minute of your life. A subduction-zone earthquake can produce strong shaking of one to four minutes, but it, too, will stop.
The earthquake mantra is duck, cover, and hold on. Duck under something such as a table or desk, and cover your face and neck with your arms. Hold on until the shaking stops. Teach this to your children, and make it part of your own family earthquake drill.
The greatest danger is something collapsing on you. So get under a big desk or table. Stay away from windows, chimneys, or tall pieces of furniture such as a refrigerator or china cabinet. Standing in a doorway is not a good option unless you happen to live in an adobe house in a third-world country. The doorway might be in a wall that isn’t braced against shear, and both wall and doorway could collapse, sandwiching you in between. Do not run outside, because you might be hit by debris or glass falling from the building.
If you can’t get under something, sit or lie down with your feet and hands against a wall. Turn away from glass windows or mirrors. Don’t hold or pick up your dog or cat; it will be so confused that it might bite you. Stay where you are until the strong shaking stops. If a vase is about to topple from a table, don’t try to catch it.
Should you be at a stadium or theater, cover your head with your coat and stay where you are. Do not rush to the exits. The behavior of the California crowd, when the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck at the beginning of the World Series game in October 1989, was exemplary. There was no panic, and people did not trample over others trying to get out of the ballpark. There were no injuries. The important thing to remember is that there is no reason to leave. After the shaking stops, there will be plenty of time to head for the exits.
At work, get away from tall, heavy furniture (Figure 11-10) or get under your desk. The fire sprinklers might come on. Stand against an inside wall. If you’re in a tall building, do not try to use the elevator; it probably won’t work. If the lights go out, just stay where you are. If you’re in a wheelchair, lock your wheels and stay where you are. If you’re out in the open, move only if you’re close to a building where debris could fall on you.
Should you be outside in a business district with tall buildings, get as far away as you can from the buildings, where plate glass could shatter and masonry parapets could come crashing down on you. Stay away from tall trees. Watch for downed power lines.
If you’re in your vehicle (with the seatbelt fastened), pull over to the side of the road. Do not stop under an overpass or on a bridge. Watch for places where sections of the roadway might have dropped. Clarence Wayne Dean, a California Highway Patrol officer on his way to work on his motorcycle, was killed when he drove off the end of a freeway overpass that had collapsed from the Northridge Earthquake. If wires fall on your car, stay in your car, roll up the windows, and wait for someone to help you. You might be waiting a long time, but the alternative—electrocution—makes the wait a safer if more boring choice.