Carson City fire chief urges people to prepare for possible earthquakes
Saying western Nevada is a high hazard zone for potential earthquakes, Carson City Fire Chief Sean Slamon is calling on residents to be aware of the dangers a quake can pose and prepare just in case.
Slamon’s comments come in the wake of a series of big quakes that have rattled Southern California in recent weeks.
Slamon pointed out western Nevada has a history of quakes strong enough to cause serious damage. According to the University of Nevada Seismological Lab, 76 quakes with the potentially destructive magnitude of 5.5 or higher have occurred since the 1850s.
The lab report says that makes Nevada third in the country in number of large quakes.
The last large earthquake to rattle the region was on Feb. 21, 2008, near Wells. According to UNR, the 6.0 quake measured caused $19 million in damage and was the largest tremor to occur in Nevada in the last 30 years.
Concerns for Carson City buildings
Considering that gap, Slamon, along with regional seismologists, points out that western Nevada may be overdue for a good shaker.
And when they happen, quakes sometimes come in swarms. In 1954, for example, there were five quakes magnitude 6 or greater in a period of six months outside of Fallon.
“Some of the biggest concerns in the city itself are our older buildings,” he said. “Many of those are built of bricks, unreinforced masonry.”
He said building codes changed in 1933 after a major quake in Long Beach, California, caused numerous brick buildings to collapse — but Carson City and the surrounding area have a number of brick buildings built before that.
On some of those buildings in town, there are metal plates with a big bolt in the middle on the outside walls. Those bolts are tied into the upper floors of old brick buildings to strengthen the structure’s ability to withstand a quake. One example, Slamon said, is the Brewery Arts Center on King Street where large round disks can be seen just below the second floor level.
He said those historic buildings “are certainly concerning.” Even with retrofits, he said they aren’t as quake-resistant as new buildings.
Slamon said stick-built structures — the average home or apartment building — are much less prone to collapse. They can suffer significant damage, but the wooden walls and roof are flexible enough to stay standing in most cases.
“The biggest concern for the entire community is what happens after the earthquake — that is, gas leaks,” he said. “Fires after quakes cause as much if not more destruction and damage than the earthquake.”
He said everyone should know how to shut off their gas at the meter — a simple matter of turning the shut-off valve 90 degrees with an adjustable (Crescent) wrench.
He said gas and other infrastructure damage — such as ruptured water lines or downed power — would be the biggest concerns.
‘Citizens are going to need to be self-sufficient’
During a quake, Slamon said the rule is “Drop, Cover and Hold On.”
That means get down low, get under something like a heavy table or other protection and hold on to something. Experts recommend waiting until the shaking stops before attempting to go outside unless the building is starting to collapse.
Stay away from shelves with books, glassware and other items that can become flying objects, as well as windows that may shatter, sending sharp pieces of glass across the room.
Slamon added that, in the event of a big quake, people would be pretty much on their own for at least a few days. He said his department normally has just 15 people on duty at any time.
“Just a single house fire requires the entire on-duty to respond,” he said. “In a significant quake, we would not be able to get to everything, so citizens are going to need to be self-sufficient for a while.”
He said since a quake would affect the entire area, other departments in the area would be just as overwhelmed.
That, he said, means people should have basic supplies like bottled water and food that doesn’t require refrigeration, cooking or any special preparation. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends a minimum of 72 hours worth of food and water but preferably two weeks worth. People should also have first aid kits.
The FEMA website at fema.gov/earthquake-safety-home has an Earthquake Safety Checklist free for download.
Slamon said after a quake, phone service may be down and cell service overloaded because of so many people trying to call friends and relatives.
He said texting requires much less bandwidth and may be more reliable.