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Earthquake Afterthoughts and Preparing for the 'Big One'

October 17, 1987

Moderate earthquakes may be lulling us into a false sense of security. With due respect for the feelings of those near the recent epicenter, a 6.1 and an 8.1 Richter magnitude earthquakes are about as dissimilar as a block buster and a nuclear bomb. By way of perspective, the Mexico City quake, major at 7.8 R, was not a great quake and its epicenter was 200 miles at sea.

Great quakes, those over 8 on the Richter scale, such as in Alaska in 1964, can drain an ocean bay, move a city 47 feet laterally and set off mountainous tsunami waves. Great quakes don't let up in 20 seconds but continue tumultuous heaving and thudding for two to four minutes. Just the aftershocks will be more intense than anything we have previously experienced and will take a year to taper off.

In great quakes there may be no emergency shelter for 100 miles, little emergency equipment will be useable and few emergency personnel will be capable of responding--transportation and people are immobilized. In great quakes hospitals can't take care of themselves much less 100,000 victims.

Some considerations on paying now or paying later:

1. State budget surpluses should be set aside for disasters. The Big One will cost the state about $8 billion and that doesn't include private, industrial or local government loses.

2. Earthquake insurance coverage is prudent.

3. Self-reliant families who can possibly afford it, may want to acquire a self-contained recreational vehicle (RV) and stock it.

4. Horses and all-terrain vehicles may become the best methods of transportation after the quake and each major aftershock.

5. Responsible local governments should equip 40-foot semitrailers for bunk-housing, kitchens and medical aid stations.

6. Survival-conscious families may want to take a first aid class with the Red Cross.

7. Those who are unable or unprepared to take care of themselves will be evacuated to camps in other counties.

The bottom line: Planning and preparation takes the chaos out of disaster and saves lives--no family or neighborhood should be without it.



(The writer is a retired disaster coordinator.)

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