How to Stay Safe in a Quake
Apparently, you’re not supposed to stand in a doorframe?
By Kevin Cordon, UC Irvine
California is a beautiful place.
I’ve lived here my entire life and really have no reason to complain about anything, so please don’t let me. I’m sitting in a Starbucks looking outside at a sunny, 72-degree day with a slight breeze, in October. You really must hate me. Californians live in a world shielded by paradise weather and beaches, immune to the hurricanes, tornados and blizzards that torment the rest of the country. However, there is one thing that strikes fear into the heart of everybody living here: Earthquakes.
No, not the little 3.0 tremors that have you feeling like you’re surfing a concrete wave for a split second. I’m talking about 1989 San Francisco earthquake material. The ones that actually feel like a disaster and shake you to your core like the elementary school bully trying to take your lunch money. The ones that tear up entire highways and unfortunately bring down entire school buildings, leaving classes to be indefinitely cancelled. That is the earthquake in the back of every Californian’s mind and one that has been recently brought to the forefront by reports of small tremors along the San Andreas Fault, hinting at “the big one.”
Scared shitless by the idea of the “big one” happening at any second, particularly the thought of being in the shower when it happens, I decided I need to get prepared. I immediately thought, “What better way to do that than to watch a movie about that exact event occurring: The Rock’s earthquake disaster flick aptly titled ‘San Andreas’?” I got my notebook out, popped some popcorn and sat down on my couch for my newest class: Earthquake Preparedness 101 taught by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Class is in session.
One of the first things the movie taught me is this monster of an earthquake will have no sense of proper timing. The “big one” could hit at any time: When I’m sleeping, midway through a midterm or while I’m pounding shots at a bar, earthquakes aren’t courteous. The fictional movie earthquake begins while many nice families are visiting the Hoover Dam, only to be washed away when the dam cracks open due to the beginnings of the biggest quake ever. I would hope anybody who survived that madness would realize the entire state of California was about to explode and get as far away as they possibly can. Of course, in disaster movie fashion, Paul Giamatti goes right back to his desk, so he can answer that question they seem to ask the expert in nearly every disaster movie:
“Who should we call?”
1. The “Standing in a Doorframe” Idea Actually Isn’t Safe?
There’s a point in the movie after the first quake where a TV reporter attempts to take cover in a doorway during the stronger second quake. Paul Giamatti, playing the earthquake expert, immediately grabs her and guides her under the table where it’s safe. I remember being told at some point in elementary school that if an earthquake happened, and I wasn’t near a desk, to find a doorway and stand in it. Was I being told a lie?
I looked it up, and my elementary school teachers LIED to me. On the Earthquake Country Alliance website, it specifically says NOT to stand in a doorway because you are still vulnerable to flying or falling objects and may not be able to brace yourself in a doorframe during strong shaking. So don’t do that.
2. Say Goodbye to Cell Phones
Cell phone towers aren’t indestructible unfortunately, and communication during a disaster like an earthquake becomes very difficult. It’s important to know an alternate way to get ahold of someone or at least have some way to connect to the outside world, especially if you get stuck alone. It’s obviously best if at least one person knows where you may be at any given time if you get hurt, like “The Rock’s” daughter did when the British MacGyvers came to save her. Landlines will still work to contact people, like back in the golden days, so if alone, that would be the best way to get into contact with someone.
3. Get Higher
A common theme in the movie is trying to get to high ground which, to most, should just be common sense. Higher ground provides safety from debris from collapsing buildings and gets you out of the tsunami wave splash zone.
Getting to higher altitude also makes you more easily accessible to helicopters, planes and other rescue aircraft. During an earthquake, the air is the only place that doesn’t shake, making it the safest place to be unless you’re near skyscrapers. I sincerely hope that when the “big one” does hit, I’m on an airplane at cruising altitude, leaving my biggest concern to when the beverage service begins. The movie ends with a giant tsunami, wiping out everything and everyone in its path and turning San Francisco into a giant swimming pool.
4. Overall Preparedness Is Most Important
Having an emergency kit is something that a lot of people shrug off as an unnecessary expense, but it’d be hard to survive a natural disaster without one. Basic knowledge like emergency radio frequencies or evacuation procedures are important to know because there will most likely be no warning when an earthquake hits. Already having protocol of where to go and who to contact or meet up with makes everything easier.
Real life is not a disaster movie. In our case, most buildings would not collapse because they are fortified to withstand natural forces, and there probably wouldn’t be any people skydiving out of a plane into AT&T Park. That being said, re-watching “San Andreas” is a reminder that a big earthquake could happen at any time, and unfortunately I don’t think I could count on “The Rock” to come and save me.