Preparing for “The Big One”

With the recent earthquake that hit Mindanao, the big question now is: Are we prepared for the coming of “The Big One”? 

Some experts believe Southern Mindanao, or Davao Region for that matter, is not spared from the destruction of a big earthquake that may be triggered by the Surigao-Mati fault. 

If you are not aware of what “The Big One” is, then it is high time to know because it can spell a big difference in your life – of being safe or not when the ground snakes and the earthquake comes at the least expected time.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvolcs) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), The Big One is “an earthquake with a magnitude of no less than 7.2 in the Richter scale.”

The DOST-specialized agency has come up with the Valley Fault System (VFS) Atlas, a collection of maps based on studies and researches on the country’s faults. Faults are breaks or zones of weaknesses in rocks along which displacements had occurred or can occur again. They may extend for hundreds of kilometers downward, even down to the base of the lithosphere. Faults showing signs or documented history of recent displacements are called active faults.

“The key to people’s awareness and preparedness for earthquakes, appropriate land use, contingency planning for disaster response, and design of houses, buildings and infrastructures, is the location of active faults,” says Dr. Renato U. Solidum, Jr., Philvolcs director.

The VFS Atlas serves as the guide in making the communities safe and secure from the possible negative effects of an earthquake.  “By making our people aware of the hazards they can plan and implement preparedness programs like earthquake drills and retrofitting their houses,” the DOST says in a statement.

According to the Grolier Encyclopedia, about 6,000 earthquakes are detected throughout the world each year. Of this, 5,500 are either too small or too far from populated areas to be felt directly. 

Another 450 are felt but cause no damage while 35 cause only minor damage. The remaining 15, however, can exact great toll sin death and suffering, besides heavily damaging houses, buildings, and other structures.

“The only way to avoid disasters caused by earthquakes is top repare for them,” wrote Maria Elena Paterno in her book Earthquake

This must be the reason why Philvolcs urged every Filipino to evaluate the structural soundness of home, office, and building they frequent. “Determine the safest areas both inside and outside,” said a Philvolcs primer.

The primer also recommends that every home must be prepared for the eventuality. “Secure heavy furniture to prevent sliding or toppling over by affixing them to walls or floors with brackets or tying to grillwork. Keep heavy objects on lowest shelves. Check hanging objects (like ceiling fans, mirrors, heavy picture frames). Affix bolts or hooks on cabinet doors especially those in the kitchen to prevent them from flying open and allowing breakable items to spill out. Keep only very necessary chemicals and flammable liquids in unbreakable containers. Store them on low shelves.”

The Philvolcs primer also suggests setting up an earthquake readiness plan at home. “Make sure your children, elderly members and house helpers are properly instructed on what to do. Practice drills with them. Familiarize yourself with First Aid procedures. Keep a manual handy in case you forget. Make sure everyone knows the locations of and how to switch off the electrical and water mains. At home (and at work), master the quickest, safest way out,” it says.

The primer also recommends preparing a small bag –no more than 5-6 kilograms – for each member of the family. Among those that should be packed inside the bag are two changes of clothes, a blanket, a towel, basic toiletries, sturdy shoes, flashlight, batteries, a bottle of water, biscuits candy, a small radio, any medications for chronic ailment suffers, first aid kit, contact phone numbers and addresses. Important papers (passport, recent medical records, bank books, insurance papers, etc.) must also be included.

What should a family do during an earthquake? The primer says: “Stay calm. Call out instructions to children or others who seem to be in panic.”

If you happen to be inside a building that is structurally sound during an earthquake, you must stay there. However, if you have doubts about the building, leave immediately by the safest, quickest route.

Once you are outside the building, look for an open area where you can stay. But you must stay away from power lines, telephone poles, and trees. If objects are falling, brace yourself in the doorway of a building.

If driving, pull over and stop. You should not cross bridges, over or underpasses. If on a mountain road, pull over and stay clear of ridges. If by the sea, move inland to higher ground.

After an earthquake, check yourself and other members of the family. In addition, check for fire, chemical spills and act on them right away. In case of doubt about leaks or damage, switch off all electric main fuse and turn off gas tanks.

If you must evacuate, take your small bag with you and leave message with a contact person as to where you are headed. Do not go sightseeing. Be prepared for aftershocks. Do not enter damaged buildings because aftershocks can finish them off.

It is said, and you should heed this, that natural calamities like earthquake happen when you have forgotten about them.