The Long View

Drop, Cover, Hold


Because an earthquake could happen at any moment, a wise thing to know is what to do when that earthquake begins. Here are the first of nine steps that emergency management folks in the Pacific Northwest recommend you learn and be ready to apply when you feel the shaking start.

When you enter any interior space from now on, your first duty to yourself and your loved ones is to decide if you will try to run outside or to remain in the room and find a place to get down, cover your head and hold onto until the shaking stops. Expect to be there for 30 to 45 seconds.

The question of whether to run outside or drop, cover and hold is, “Can I get outside in two seconds or less?” If not, use those precious two seconds to get under cover at the first sign of shaking.

Why the urgency? A strong earthquake (any earthquake above a 7.0 is strong enough), will toss things off shelves, table and counter tops with lots of force. You don’t want to be in the path of those objects. You need to get down fast and stay low as quickly as you can. The quicker the better.

Historical records show that a very strong earthquake of the 9.0 Richter scale variety—think megaquake—happens about every 300 to 500 years in our region. The Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, a group of scientists from a broad range of academic disciplines, discovered that the last great Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) earthquake occurred at 9 a.m. Tuesday, January 26, 1700.

These scientists looked back into 10,000 years of Pacific Northwest geological history along the coasts of Washington, Oregon and even up to British Columbia and down to Northern California. Because the last 9.0 quake occurred when there were no highways, roads, railroads, seaports, airports or any other kind of modern conveyance system for goods and services, only the indigenous people living in the PNW at the time knew of it. Their oral history recorded a tremendous earthquake six or seven generations before explorers from the eastern U.S. and Canada first arrived here in the early 1800s.

There was another group of people who also took notice. A very large tsunami traveled across the Pacific Ocean and struck the Japanese eastern coast line with enough force to cause a lot of damage and a lot of deaths. What brought that tsunami to the attention of the Japanese, who have kept meticulous records for about 1,000 years, was the lack of a corresponding Japanese earthquake.

The PNW seismic scientists, some of whom had studied seismic activity in Japan, concluded that such a large earthquake here would have very likely created a large tsunami on the Japanese east coast. Knowing how fast a tsunami moves across the ocean—about 200 miles an hour—the scientists could calculate the exact year, month, day and time of the last CSZ 9.0 earthquake.

The subject can be frightening, even overwhelming. Just remember what to do when you walk into any interior room, because when the next big one hits, you will have only about two seconds to decide.

Curt Scott has a passion for survival and writes from Home.