Chilean Earthquake Behavior
The key is to stay calm
Having a “Chilean earthquake behavior”, is equivalent to “half the way traveled” to face an earthquake successfully.
As a Chilean, myself, I can tell you that it is not difficult. The most important thing here is to stay calm and be prepared in advance with the essentials for this type of catastrophe.
Chile is one of the countries most prone to suffer earthquakes due to its geographical location. It is located right at the limit of the Nazca tectonic plate, which hits the South American plate.
Additionally, it is above the Pacific Belt or Pacific Ring of Fire. It has 452 volcanoes and concentrates more than 75% of active and inactive volcanoes in the world. About 90% of the world’s earthquakes and 80% of the world’s largest earthquakes occur along the Ring of Fire.
For this simple reason, Chile is in constant seismic movement. It can tremble hundreds of times in a day, without the population knowing, since the tremors are imperceptible most of the time.
Increase in seismic activity today
Living the experience of an earthquake can be traumatic for those who have never been in one.
It is what occurs right now, since earthquakes 5.0 Richter magnitude and higher, have become constant and apparently, increasing quantitatively every day. (At this very moment of writing, the M 7.1 Richter, in Peru border with Brazil, occurred).
Even places where decades ago did not tremble, have been affected by these natural phenomena. This is more than enough reason for all of us to be prepared and alert.
We can all cope with an earthquake situation if we are properly informed
But what is the behavior we must have in an earthquake situation? The answer is simple and complies with several guidelines that we must follow and that will help us to get through the experience. In this article, we will concentrate on dealing with it in a before, during and after the event.
However, empathizing with those who have never experienced an earthquake, the best advice is to keep calm, so as not to get into confusions that do not let us act organized and conscientiously.
When an earthquake occurs, time runs in a “strange” way. First, it took us a few seconds to react, since the movement usually starts smoothly, and gradually it increases until (in extreme cases) we are not able to walk or climb stairs.
That is the moment when the seconds become eternal and, at the same time, everything happens fast and we do not know where and how to start our evacuation plan.
Hence, it is so important to remain calm. Otherwise, we will achieve nothing more than to frighten those who are with us and obstruct the situation.
Growing in a “moved land”
When I was a child I enjoyed earthquakes very much. I remember running to safer places, while laughing because that feeling of not being able to do it in a straight line due to the seismic jolt.
I grew up in the city of Antofagasta, in the north of Chile, where we still waiting for a big earthquake that triggered a tsunami (according to experts on the subject).
I remember being in about 5 earthquakes over M 7.0, and a couple of times I saw people going to the hills in the middle of the night, sheltering themselves in case of a tsunami.
Finally, I learned to respect these movements when an earthquake of M 8.0 on the Richter scale, in the city of Antofagasta, surprised me away from home, at 1:10 am on Sunday, July 30, 1995.
No cell phone, no connections available and noisy traffic to return home. I wanted to check that my family was safe, that was my biggest concern and what made me “respect” the earthquakes. On that occasion, fortunately, despite the intensity of the quake, only 3 deaths were reported.
In addition, I was an eyewitness to the earthquake in Chile in 2010. I lived in Santiago, in my apartment on the 19th floor. It was the 3 and a half minutes more “intense” of my life.
The earthquake was perceived with a magnitude 8.3 Richter, in the capital of Chile, although originally the epicenter was in the city of Constitucion reaching 8.8 magnitude.
Chileans behavior when earthquake occurs
For us, Chileans, the tremor must be greater than 7.0 magnitude to think about even moving, evacuating or taking any action to the respect. Therefore, when an earthquake begins, we take it calmly, waiting until it reaches its main magnitude and then, quietly we follow our “protocol for tremors”.
I do not intend to exaggerate with the following but, in Chile, we already adapted our bodies to the sensitivity of the magnitude of tremors. A kind of walking seismographs! Therefore, every time the earthquake ends, we begin to comment on the magnitude of the scale of the movement.
Also, if we are near the coast, we know that if the earthquake is about M 7.0 or more, we must by our own initiative, go to high and safe places to prevent human losses following a tsunami.
In fact, in Chile there are signs that show the safe places in case of tsunami and additionally, simulations are made every so often, so as not to lose our seismic culture.
What to do before, during and after an earthquake?
This event causes many people to panic and act without paying minimal attention to the consequences.
That is why the best medicine today is prevention and preparation to act properly the day earthquake occurs. In both cases it is necessary to know the phenomena that are triggered and the situations, sometimes unexpected, that appears as a consequence of the occurrence of an earthquake.
The main intention of this article is to contribute through my experience with tips that can be useful to anyone who wants to implement them.
I am not an expert on safety matter, therefore, the information contained here is additional to what you must have from the corresponding regulatory entities in your country.
What to do before an earthquake?
Once we know the main effects caused by an earthquake we are able to take a series of measures to reduce the damage they cause.
Either in our home or to prevent the possible shortcomings and difficulties that can cause these damages in the first days after the earthquake.
It can start by identifying the possible situations of danger in the places where our life typically develops: at home, at work, at school, at the supermarket, on the street, etc.
Imagine what events can be triggered by an earthquake and try to avoid them. For this you can go room by room and:
- Secure and attach high and heavy furniture and appliances to the wall, avoiding their overturning during shaking.
- Move the heavy objects to the lower parts of the furniture to prevent them from falling on us. If this is not possible, try to fasten them with rings, wires or velcro to the wall or shelves.
- Place fragile objects in areas close to the ground as well.
- Arrange the furniture so that the house can be evacuated quickly after the earthquake ceases. Avoid accumulating objects that could hinder possible escape routes.
- Replace glass doors with another similar material that is not sharp if broken. It can also be plasticized so that the pieces do not scatter.
- Store chemical products (cleaning, paints, flammables, etc.) in ventilated areas and away from where you keep emergency items such as medicine, first aid kit, water, food, etc.
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- Identify rooms next to trees, public lighting or telephone posts. If one of these falls on your room, it can knock down the wall and drop the whole on top of you.
- Mentally, locate the windows, mirrors or any other glass that can break and eject.
- It is also convenient to Identify the safest areas in each room: walls, pillars, door frames (without glass over them), etc. Large rooms, with large windows and few supporting elements are usually more likely to collapse during earthquakes.
- Try to evacuate quickly in the event of an earthquake. Know what to do depending on the room in your house you are in.
- If you live in a house with several floors, have at least one folding ladder. Better if it is one on each floor.
- Talk to your family and establish a meeting place and who should go and look for the youngest members of the family.
- All family members (except the youngest ones) know the water and gas stopcocks location, as well as the fuse panel in their home. Make sure everyone knows how to operate such mechanisms or cut off electricity if necessary. It may be convenient to label switches, clearly indicating the “open/on” and “closed/off” position.
About the food, first aid and other important points
Make sure you have it on hand, in a safe and easily accessible place:
- Food for emergencies, at least to survive two weeks. This food preferably should not need refrigeration, and requires little or no preparation at all. As an example, among these foods we can point out: pre-cooked canned foods, cereals, nuts, instant soups, cookies, honey, chocolate, etc. Water and powder milk for a similar period of time.
- It should be food that fit the needs and tastes of your family (do not forget those that may require a special diet).
- Store the food in rations to avoid “leftovers” that can not be adequately preserved, due to the circumstances.
- Do not forget the food of the pets, in case you have them.
- Store both food and drink in dry, cool places. Periodically check the expiration date and replace the ones with the closest expiration date. Also place the products with closest expiration date in the first row. Store everything in bags or boxes for easy transportation.
- Kitchen utensils (do not forget can opener). Plastic cutlery and a multipurpose knife. Garbage bags. Barbecue pickups (pine cones from the garden or nearby forest can also be useful).
- Clothing appropriate to each season of the year. Products for personal hygiene.
- First aid kit. Medicines for the chronic patient of the family. Vitamins, bandages and healing. Thermometer. Learning basic first aid is always very useful.
- A toolbox.
- Fire extinguishers.
- Very important: have a whistle, a radio, a flashlight and several sets of batteries (kept in their original packaging). Periodically check the expiration date of the batteries and replace them if necessary. It may be convenient to have these items on the bedside table.
- Proceed similarly to your home, identifying those objects that may be thrown during the shake.
- Organize an emergency and evacuation plan for the office.
- Ask teachers about the emergency plans of the school. What is your responsibility and your role in case of emergency.
- Make sure that students (your children) are taught what to do when an earthquake occurs.
- You also teach your children what to do in case an earthquake happens when they are on their way between school and home. Check the safest routes and where to take shelter in case of.
What to do during an earthquake?
In general, an earthquake can last from a few seconds to something more than a minute. If it is a major earthquake you will first notice a moderate disturbance, but then the ground will vibrate strongly and you may lose your balance. It is also likely that you can not move due to the strong oscillation.
Objects that fall, the disturbing noise typical of an earthquake, doors and windows that open and close with blows or your own fear, can prevent you from moving forward.
Regardless of where you are, try to stay calm and do not let yourself be overcome by fear. In all probability, your first reaction will be surprise or confusion. Then you will realize that it is an earthquake.
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Your answer will depend on where you are, when the earthquake occurs. We consider below the most likely circumstances:
Inside a building
- Continue inside until the earthquake is over.
- Move away from any object that may fall on you.
- Also move away from windows or mirrors whose glass can explode and cut you.
- Avoid going under doors with windows above the door frame.
- Find a table or solid piece of furniture and get under it.
- If you find a hallway, a pillar, a corner of the room or the frame of a door (as long as they do not have a window on it) sit on the floor, bending and lifting your knees to cover your body and protect your head with your hands. If you have a book, newspaper, helmet, a cushion or something to cover your head with, do it immediately.
Follow the above recommendations but also, if you are:
- In the kitchen, leave it immediately. It is the most dangerous room in the house because of the large number of objects in the cupboards that can fall.
- Barefoot (in bed, shower, etc.), throw a blanket or towel on the floor and shuffle on it to avoid cuts with broken glass. Try to go under or to the side of the bed, forming a “triangle of life”, until the earthquake passes. Although there are various opinions on whether the “Triangle of life” method is safe or not, in case of an emergency and having nothing else within reach, the possibility of resorting to this technique should not be discarded.
- If you are in a wheelchair, block the wheels and cover your body by bending over yourself and covering your neck and head with your hands, blanket or other object that you have nearby.
In a public building (supermarket, cinema, library, etc.):
- Do not run terrified towards the exit. It can create a human avalanche that in all likelihood will cause more injuries than the earthquake itself.
- Stay away from windows or glass doors.
- If you are at the cinema or the theater, throw yourself on the floor, on your knees, covering your head and neck with your hands. Also try to do it in the space of your seat, so that your neighbors can do the same in their respective spaces.
- In places with shelves (libraries, archives, supermarkets, etc.) leave the aisles where the shelves are and crouch on your knees, covering your head and neck, next to the sides of the shelves.
- At school, children and students kneel under their desk, putting a book over their heads.
driving a vehicle
- Slowly stop the vehicle on the side of the road.
- Never stop under or on the platform of a bridge. Neither next to poles.
- Do not leave the vehicle until the earthquake ends. And remain crouched in case of being close to any building.
- Try not to block the road.
- In no case try to leave driving desperate, since in a collective panic scenario, you could cause a major accident.
If you are on the street
- Move away from buildings, roads, poles or trees.
- Look for open sites. If you do not have an open site nearby, cover yourself in the entrance hall of the nearest house, preferably under the entrance door frame, without entering the hall of the house.
What to do after an earthquake?
Once the vibration is over, your response will depend on where you are and the damage caused. As in the previous cases, we will consider several possibilities.
- If it is in the dark do not turn on the light or a candle. Use the flashlight.
- Try to open immediately the doors you will use to get out, because with earthquakes, these often unbalance the frame and then, can not be opened easily.
- Close the gas tap and, the light and water supplies.
- In case you notice a gas leak, do not turn off the power switch; doing so can cause a spark to ignite the gas. Do not use electrical appliances that can cause sparks and quickly leave the building.
- Leave your home, even if you do not see any damage to it. Sometimes, the replicas to a strong earthquake, are also intense, and could cause worse damages due to the previous weakening in the structure of the house.
- Avoid to peek out from windows or balconies, which could fail with your weight.
- When evacuating the house, do all the members of the family together. If someone does not respond, they may be shocked and require help. Do not forget to take your pets with you.
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- Absolutely, do not go home to look for belongings that you consider “valuable”. Your life and that of your loved ones are more valuable than anything material.
- In the worst case, if you get stuck in the ruins of your house, try to escape through the gaps between the rubble. If this is not possible, use a whistle to draw the attention of the rescue teams. Keep calm and be patient.
- Now, when you live in a tall building, use the stairs, never the elevator. Wait for a technician to review the damage and determine if it is safe to reoccupy.
- If you return home, do not enter if you notice damage in it.
- Stay away from broken or dropped cables. Watch that children do not approach them.
- Do not use the phone unless it is strictly necessary. It can collapse vital lines of communication from the authorities. The most advisable in these cases is to use the messaging service. This is what is superb effective in Chile, when communicating with loved ones; while the conventional lines collapse almost immediately.
- Turn on the radio and listen to the news and information of Civil Protection. Follow the instructions of the authorities.
- If there is no water supply, do not use the toilet chain. The water in your tank can be very useful.
- Proceed to collect the packages where you kept the things that were indicated in the “About the food, first aid and other important points” section. If you do not have electricity but can access food from your refrigerator, use these first.
- Be careful not to move severely injured people unless necessary. Wait for rescue teams to arrive.
Finally, if you are:
- Working, follow the emergency plan established in it.
- In a vehicle, turn on the radio and try to return home with great caution, avoiding routes that cross bridges. In no case return home if you live under a dam or near the beach.
- On a ship and the earthquake has been violent, a tsunami may be generated.
In case of being away from the port, go immediately to open sea; there, the waves of the tsunami will be much lower due to the greater depth of the sea. If, on the other hand, you are in port, get off the ship and move away immediately from the coast. In no case go to the beach to see the possible tsunami coming.