Preparing for an earthquake and other disasters |

Preparing for an earthquake and other disasters

Sam Bauman
Appeal Staff Writer

Readers may wonder why a book review (more or less) appears on the Home and Garden page of the Nevada Appeal. The book, “A Crack in the Edge of the World,” by Simon Winchester (HarperCollins Publishers, 464 pages, $27.95) is ostensibly about the disastrous earthquake the struck San Francisco April 18, 1906.

But it’s a lot more than just about the temblor; it looks at earthquakes worldwide, at plate tectonics and just where more shakers will hit.

And northwestern Nevada is one of those high-risk areas (see map), with a major fault beneath Lake Tahoe. So it behooves every homeowner to become familiar with the tragedy of “Baghdad on the Bay” so that he or she will not become part of a Carson City tragedy.

Winchester, a transplanted Brit who lives in New England, started his book by driving across the country, making stops at sites that could bear on his subject. He’s a gifted writer, able to translate complex science into plain English, with a nice touch of wit. His journey takes him to New Madrid, Mo., an unlikely site of one of North America’s major earthquakes, and on the edge of California, where he paused to camp and see Mount Diablo in the Golden State.

Three-quarters of the book is about the earth and its surprising fragility. The sections on San Francisco are perhaps the most vivid, brought to life by comments from those involved in the disaster. Which disaster, incidentally, was caused more by runaway fires than the quake. Something to remember here.

Winchester makes clear the two kinds of earthquakes we face. In one, the edges of two tectonic plates rub against each other, causing displacement in the horizontal surfaces. In the other kind, one tectonic plate submerges beneath another, lifting the surface of the earth vertically. The earth is not all that solid and is constantly moving internally and externally.

Whichever strikes, the damage can be mammoth. Witness the recent hit in Pakistan and India where more than 75,000 died (and still counting). San Francisco totaled 500 dead at first, but the toll finally reached more than 3,000.

So not to be part of such a toll, what can the homeowner do?

Winchester doesn’t go into this, but the U.S. Geological Survey, where he spoke recently in Menlo Park, has some suggestions.


“Drop, cover and hold on.” Get under a table or desk, or close to an interior wall. It’s a myth that standing in a doorway is best. Avoid exterior walls, hanging objects, mirrors, large appliances and cabinets filled with heavy objects. Don’t go outside until well after the shaking stops.

In bed – Stay there. Cover the head with a pillow. Be careful getting out of bed; there may be broken glass be on the floor.

In a high-rise building – “Drop, cover and hold on.” Stay away from windows, do not use elevators and don’t be surprised if the water sprinkling systems start to spurt.

At work – “Drop, cover and hold on.” Know your company’s earthquake safety plan.

In public building or theater – “Drop, cover and hold on.” Protect the head and neck by ducking down and protecting your head with your arms.

Outdoors – Move to a clear area. Avoid fallen power lines. Stay away from large buildings. Driving, pull over and set the parking brake. Don’t park under overpasses, bridges, etc.


First, move heavy furniture, such as book cases, away from beds.

Make sure that hanging objects, such as pictures, are not above beds or sofas. Hang all pictures on closing hooks.

Hold collectibles, pottery, and lamps in place with removable earthquake putty or quake jell, available at home and garden stores.

Store heavy items and breakables on lower shelves. Secure both top corners of tall furniture to wall studs.

Secure water heaters to wall studs or masonry with steel straps and lag screws. Make sure the water and gas connectors are flexible cooper wire.

In the kitchen, use latches to secure cabinets holding glassware and dishes. Secure major appliances to walls using earthquake appliance straps.


A little planning can go a long way in a quake. Some suggestions from the USGS:

• Keep shoes and a working flashlight beside each person’s bed.

• Locate safe spots in the house, under desks etc.

• Pick a safe spot to meet outside the home after shaking stops. Make sure everyone in the family knows where it is.

• Pick an out-of-area contact where family members may call to keep in touch. Make sure each family member has a list of important phone numbers.

• Keep copies of important documents in a safe place – insurance policies, deeds, bank boos, financial records.

Disaster kits should be on hand for each family member. Include a whistle (to alert rescuers to your position), first aid kit, spare eyeglasses, bottled water, cash, snack foods, lighting such as a flashlight and spare batteries or light sticks.

The USGS has a lot more to say about surviving earthquakes. Its booklet, “Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country,” is available free. Phone (800) 275-8747. The web site address is

— Contact Sam Bauman at or 881-1236.

Memo to the Federal Emergency Management Agency:

Please read pages 304-319 in “A Crack in the Edge of he World” by Simon Winchester.

It details how San Francisco began recovery from the massive earthquake of April 18, 1906. An Army general had troops at the mayor’s service in less than two hours after the quake. Los Angeles had an 18-car train on the way to San Francisco the next morning. The city recovered without a federal agency to help or hinder. May be helpful.