Chapter 11 focused on steps you can take to make your home and its contents more resistant to earthquake damage. This chapter presents ways you can prepare yourself and members of your family to survive an earthquake and to help others survive as well. It’s analogous to the fire drills in school or aboard an oceangoing ship. We’re pretty sure our school or the ship will not catch fire, but we conduct the fire drills all the same. Fire drills are built into our culture. Earthquake drills are conducted in most schools, but they are often not taken seriously—even by the school officials who conduct them.
What can happen to your house in an earthquake? Shaking could cause a chimney to collapse, plate-glass windows to break, tall pieces of furniture to fall over, or a garage to cave in. Liquefaction or landslides beneath your foundation could cause your house to move downslope, breaking up as it does so, and snapping underground utility lines. This happened in the Marina District of San Francisco in 1989 and in parts of the San Fernando Valley in 1994. A severe winter storm might result in dozens of landslides, but a large earthquake might result in thousands, some more than a mile across. If you live on the coast, your house might be in danger of a tsunami, in which case you have only a few minutes to get to high ground, above the tsunami run-up line.
Some steps outlined here are not unique to earthquakes. Many are the same steps you would take to survive a terrorist attack. They would apply if you were marooned by a flood or a landslide that cut off access to your house. But a large earthquake like Northridge or Loma Prieta differs in a large number of people impacted. The 9-1-1 emergency number would be overwhelmed and essentially useless, as it was in the earliest stages of the Nisqually Earthquake. You could lose your phone service, electric power, water, sewer, and gas for days or weeks. Police and ambulance services would be diverted to the most serious problems such as collapsed apartment buildings or major fires. Access to your house or from your house to the nearest hospital could be cut off by a damaged bridge or a major landslide.
For these reasons, be prepared to survive without assistance or any public utilities (gas, water, sewer, electric power, or phone service) for up to three days. If you are at work, or your children are at school when the earthquake strikes, you need to have a plan in place outlining what each member of the family should do. Designate a contact person outside the potential disaster area that everyone should contact if your family is separated.
Prepare an inventory of your household possessions and keep it away from your house, in a safe deposit box or with your contact person outside your area. This inventory will come in handy when you submit your insurance claim (Chapter 10).