Yesterday's devastating earthquake and the following tsunami are a reminder that stuff happens when we least expect it. If you live in earthquake country or near a coastline, let's review the simple rules for survival. There aren't many of these rules, yet we have at least 1 US Darwin Award winner today who could not manage to follow them when the wave hit us.
1. The natural elements are very powerful. DO NOT underestimate them.
2. When water is involved, whatever your estimate of caution is, exercise approximately 10 times as much. Example: If you think you can drive through a foot of fast moving water in a flood, don't drive through more than 2 inches. This is because once water is unconstrained and you add energy to volume, there is little that can withstand this force of nature.
3. If you are near a coast line and the water starts to recede -- do not think "oh cool" and wander out on the flats to collect shells. RUN or drive as fast as you can toward high ground. If there is no high ground, try a tall, well-built structure. Remember the warning that when the tide goes OUT in an unusual way, it comes back IN in an unusual way -- most likely a tidal wave that will kill you. Do not be deluded that you can swim it out. The top 10 to 20 feet of the wave and trailing surge is a twisted mass of wreckage being shoved along by monumental forces. Once you are engulfed by it, you are swept away, broken, battered and trapped. It will kill you and you will suffer a lot for at least a few minutes before you die.
4. If you hear that your area is under tsunami warning, do not go down to the beach to take photos. Yes, we have experts who estimate the size of the surge, but the estimate is usually a general one. Your location may experience more or less than the estimate. Is it worth your life to test which side of the estimate is reached? If you want to see or document the event, see items #1 and #2 above.
5. If it's not already too late, do not buy or build a home right on the beach at sea level. Geologically, beaches tend to be short-lived and move around rapidly. Anything built on it will probably fall apart or be washed away within your lifetime. This will be assisted by WEATHER such as storms up to hurricanes, along with the more gradual tides, currents and normal daily winds.
6. If you choose to live in earthquake country, do some research. Make sure your living situation is on solid rock in an area with minimal historic disturbance. I did this when I lived in San Francisco -- lived AND chose my employer based on the USGS report on the 1906 earthquake. In the 1989 quake, I suffered a broken butter dish. Period. That evening, my neighbors and I stood on the roof and watched the Marina District (built on unconsolidated fill) burn. I moved out of the city several months later -- decided I did not want to be there for the real thing.
7. Make sure you are prepared to leave or stay (see my other pages) and to make the decision to do one or the other and live with it. You life will likely depend on it, so think about these things IN ADVANCE so you can act when it happens.
8. Do not ignore all the above with the thought that someone -- your friends, the government, etc. will save you if you get in trouble. That's just irresponsible and annoying.
Part of being prepared involves the space between our ears. Let's use it!!