What You Should Know Before the Next Earthquake

Aug 24, 2014 at 8am


Editor's note: in light of this morning's 6.0 earthquake in Napa, and the fact that there's a 36% chance of aftershocks in the next seven days, we wanted to rerun this piece about what to do in case of an earthquake. 

Why should you keep chocolate or candy in your emergency kit? And where exactly should you be storing it? How can being a Facebook and Twitter addict save your (or someone else's) life during the next disaster? And wait – should you stand in a doorway during an earthquake?

These are questions I've been wondering about, and found the answer to, on SF72, a new social network created by the SF Department of Emergency Management and IDEO. We wrote about it back in the spring when the site was still in beta mode, but SF72 is now fully launched and ready to equip us all with knowledge that can save our lives.  

The first thing you should know? Being connected is the best thing you can do to survive the next disaster. That is, connected in all sorts of ways – online and offline, with loved ones and strangers, and with your networks and a larger community. 

This week, I asked Kristin Hogan, Public Information Officer for the SF Department of Emergency Management, about SF72 and what San Franciscans should really know about preparing for the next disaster.  

Here were some noteworthy suggestions and tips that Kristin shared with me that might help you survive the next disaster:


The top four things you should have in your emergency kit: Drinking water, non-perishable food, can opener, and flashlight (with batteries). 


The best place to keep your emergency kit is somewhere easily accessible and organized. Don't keep it in your closet if you have to dig it out from under a pile of shoes, clothes, and god knows what else. Under your bed could be a great spot, especially for smaller SF apartment dwellers, where storage is a precious commodity. 


Preparing emergency kits with personal essentials is imperative, but here's a suggestion I found interesting: pack chocolates for sharing with others you might meet during (or in the aftermath of) the emergency. That new friend you just met with your sweet treat could have some useful information or supplies they could share with you in turn.


When an earthquake happens, the best thing to do is drop, cover, and hold. Remember all those earthquake drills in elementary school when you had to crawl under your desk, hold on to the legs, and cover your head with your arm? That was actually really good practice. According to SF DEM, developing muscle memory is important for earthquake safety. Actually going through the motions in drills can teach your body to know exactly what to do in that moment of truth.


Doorways aren't your friend in an earthquake, especially in modern houses and buildings. That old myth comes from the time when homes were made out of things like reinforced adobe, and the doorways were actually the strongest parts of the building. These days, doorways are no stronger than any other part of the house, and you have no way to protect yourself from flying or falling objects. That swinging door could also smack you around, in case of a really violent shaker. You are safer under a table.


You might've heard of the "triangle of life" method, or finding shelter in the void space next to a larger object in an earthquake. SF DEM urges people NOT to follow the triangle of life advice, mostly because the greatest danger during an earthquake is from falling objects, and in a really big quake, you might not actually be able to run or crawl to find a "triangle of life" zone. There are lots other reasons you can find here.


In an emergency, don't call out on your phone, but if you have access, use text, Facebook, and/or Twitter to share your status and what's happening around you. Use the hashtag #SF72 in your post, which helps the city to be aware of and respond to the situation at hand. Follow @SF_emergency on Twitter to find out (and share) the latest updates.


Programs like the Fire Department’s Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (SF NERT) provides free training that will allow you take care of yourself, your family, and your neighborhood in the next disaster.

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