If a quake strikes, what would your family do?


A quake can hit at any time - People clear the debris at their house in TaBaitGine Township, Mandalay Division, Myanmar, 12 November 2012. Photo: Nyein Chan Naing/EPA

We cannot know when a serious earthquake will strike Yangon or other areas of Myanmar. But, should a quake occur, you will have only a few seconds to respond, to protect yourself and your family.

If you have not prepared beforehand and practiced your response, the chances are greater that you could be killed or injured.

What would you do when your home, office or school starts to shake? Would you run to find your children or friends?

If you say, yes – that’s the wrong answer.

A handful of non-governmental organizations are working with the government and public schools to help with drills and advice about being ready for earthquakes.

So what would you do if you haven't sat in on one of these advice sessions or read the do’s and don’ts?

Here is a quick guide to prepare yourself and your family on how to respond. The information and simple steps could be the difference between life and death, yet few people in Myanmar know the proper actions to take before, during and after an earthquake.

The key to surviving an earthquake and reducing the risk of death or injury lies in pre-planning and practicing what you and your family would do when the ground starts to shake.

During a major earthquake, you may hear a rumbling sound that gradually grows louder. You may feel a rolling sensation that starts out gently, but, within a few seconds, grows violent, or you may first be jarred by a violent jolt.

A second or two later, you will feel shaking and may find it impossible to stand up and walk across the room, the ceiling may be collapsing, furniture may be thrown across the room, and window glass may shatter.

A fire may suddenly burst out in the kitchen. A thought may flash through your mind, where’s my family or friends– what are they doing?

Thinking about how you would respond to an earthquake before it happens means you’ll be less likely to panic and feel more confident that you and your loved ones will know what to do.

Preparing your family for earthquakes

With pre-planning, you’ll be able to respond more quickly to a quake. Tell your family you want to have a meeting to talk about a serious subject, and calmly explain the threat of earthquakes and the importance of working together should an earthquake strike.

Walk through all the rooms in your house and talk about what possible dangers might arise during an earthquake. Ask your family what they would do if they were in one of the rooms and things started shaking, and falling and shattering. This will create an opportunity to have a conversation about how to stay safe during a quake.

The first important rule: Drop, cover, hold on

With the first tremor, everyone should immediately fall down onto their hands and knees as fast as they can and then cover their head and neck with their hands and arms, or their entire body if they can get under a shelter such as a strong bed, sturdy table or desk. Don’t get out of bed and run to another room. Don’t run to find your family members or friends. Immediately drop and seek cover. If you’re injured, it could make it harder to help them later.

Ask them what they would do if they can’t quickly find a shelter to lie under? Explain that if there is no shelter nearby, they should lie down immediately near an interior wall or next to some low-lying furniture that won't fall on them, and then cover their head and neck with their arms and hands.

Hold on to the shelter (or to your head and neck) as long as the shaking continues, and if the shelter moves, be prepared to move with it.

Everyone should stay away from windows or glass that could shatter or any objects that could fall on them. Ask children your family members to point out the nearest places in each room where they could drop down, cover and hold on.

And then make them show you how they would do it.

Practice makes perfect.

Conduct a home hazard hunt

Many earthquake related injuries are cause by objects or furniture falling or sliding onto people during violent tremors. The best approach is to secure the most sturdy (potentially dangerous) items to walls or to the floor, so there’s less chance of movement. Can you put anti-shatter glass or reinforcing film on glass windows or doors? Also, be sure your household furniture and other items don’t block a clear escape route, if you need to exit your home.

Teaching as game playing

Make earthquake training a game or quiz that you play several times a year. Your children will take the information seriously if they see that you love them and are concerned about their safety.

Make training fun. When you say, “The room is shaking!” - they should quickly demonstrate how they would seek shelter.

If you make a game of practicing home earthquake drills, it will help children understand what to do in case you are not with them during an earthquake.

When an earthquake occurs

In Yangon, many buildings, apartments and homes are old and at risk of major damage should a quake strike. During an earthquake, most deaths and injuries are caused by collapsing structures or heavy, falling objects, such as bookcases, fans, cabinets, or air conditioning units.

If you have children, make sure you and they also understand their school's emergency procedures for earthquakes or disasters – if they have such a programme. This will help you coordinate where, when, and how to reunite with your child after an earthquake.

Are emergency items stored in one place?

Ask family members what emergency items they will need following a quake. Flashlights, a first aid kit and important family documents are essential. Can you keep a large container of water stored for emergencies, such as putting out fires or for drinking? Can you keep these emergency items nearby and does each family member know where they are located? If possible, each family member should have first aid training.

After the shaking stops, all family members should go to a safe evacuation area, preferably a large empty space or temple near home but away from buildings. During big quakes, you should expect aftershocks to occur.

Do you have a nearby temple or park that is a good gathering place? Be sure that every family member knows where to go and meet up in case you are separated.

Important family information

Make a list of important, hard-to-replace information and put it in a secure location, which you can easily grab and take with you if you have to evacuate the area.  Include important emergency telephone numbers, such as police, fire and medical centres; the telephone numbers of electric, gas, and water companies; the names and telephone numbers of neighbours; important medical information; vehicle identification number, year, model, and license number of your vehicle, etc.; your bank's telephone number; account types and numbers; and so forth.

Prepare an easy-to-carry packet of the family’s most personal records including birth certificates and ID cards. 

Forethought and preparation

Yangon’s people are industrious. There is no reason to walk around afraid that an earthquake will strike. Most earthquakes are small and do not cause serious damage or loss of life. But a big one can create a major disaster.

You will sleep better knowing you have thought about earthquakes and how to respond should one strike.

More Articles