Unfortunately, we have seen once again the destructive power of earthquakes in the latest tragic tremor (6.3 on the Richter Scale) in L'Aquila in central Italy. As of this writing, over 150 people are believed dead with 1,500 or more injured. With some 10,000 to 15,000 buildings damaged or destroyed, over 100,000 people have been left homeless.
Disasters can happen at any time of day. This quake occurred at 3:32 a.m., so most were caught in their sleep -- at their most vulnerable. The stories emerging speak of many fleeing in their pajamas and barely making it out of their houses and apartments as they crumbled around them. This speaks to such easy preparedness steps as having a pair of shoes or slippers at your bedside, a light source (light stick or flash light) handy, and a robe or some other covering close by to grab for warmth in case of a need to evacuate without warning. It also speaks to having your emergency supplies were they can be easily grabbed as you exit your home or workplace.
Basic services were immediately disrupted. It is clear from images of damaged streets and infrastructure that water, sewer and electricity were instantly cut off to many homes. As I viewed images of regular citizens helping in the rescue efforts (digging through debris with their bare hands), I noticed one young man with a military style canteen strapped around his waist. I realized that he was probably among the few that was prepared to hydrate himself during the initial hours of response. I was reminded that without emergency supplies on hand, we may be left without survival basics for hours, days or longer after a major disaster.
Don't expect the government to be able to immediately respond to your basic needs. One civil protection official was quoted as saying that the key priority was to provide shelter for everyone by nightfall. One can only imagine the challenge of trying to shelter over 100,000 people "by nightfall". One can also image that attempts to provide food, water, and sanitation facilities would be less than 100% successful, at least in the short-term.
Access to basic tools will allow you to aid in rescue efforts. As video images show many people working with their bare hands to assist professional responders in clearing rubble in an attempt to find survivors, it is apparent that they lack no willingness to do all they can to help rescue others. It is also clear that simple tools and supplies like gloves, shovels, picks, sledgehammers, axes, etc could significantly aid their efforts. Having your own basic emergency tools will significantly increase your usefulness should you remain among the able-bodied people who survive the disaster.
Medical facilities may not be immediately available to treat injuries. Sections of the main hospital in L'Aquila had to be evacuated because they were at risk of collapsing in the aftershocks. People were being treated on the street and in the hospital courtyard. Many bloodied victims had to await treatment as the facilities and personnel that were available were overwhelmed by the massive need for medical attention. Each of us should think about having basic first aid supplies on hand to stop bleeding, help someone to start breathing again, splint a broken limb, etc.
Obviously, basic training in first aid, CPR, and other skills will be invaluable as we help our own families, neighbors and others in the absence of immediate professional medical attention after a disaster. Be aware that many basic home first aid kits are designed for minor day to day "cuts and scrapes" and provide little to help in more advanced, yet basic life saving situations. Trauma first aid kits and supplies will be of greater help in a true disaster. I keep a lot of trauma bandages and supplies on hand at home as even untrained individuals can help stop bleeding if they just have the right basic supplies. I also figure that I can help resupply professionals if supplies of such basics as blood stopping bandages run low in the initial hours of response.
Here are some links that provide more information on how to prepare for an earthquake and how to respond if you are hit by one:
The greatest lesson from every disaster we witness around the world is that the time to prepare to be secure in an emergency or disaster is BEFORE one strikes. No measures taken after the fact will fully compensate for lack of preparation before the event.
What are you doing to be prepared for an earthquake or other disaster? If you are already prepared, how can you encourage and help others to be prepared at home, at work, at school, or on-the-go?
Comment or email me to let me know what you are doing to help make "Every Life Secure" (even your own).
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