Many of us watching the devastating images emerging from Japan - and who live on the west coast of Canada - are taking serious pause to think about if we could withstand such a catastrophic event. Fault zones in Canada aren't limited to the west coast. According to the Government of Canada, this country averages about 5,000 small earthquakes per year. A minor tremor struck Southwestern Ontario as recently as February, 2011. Most seismic activity goes unnoticed by us, but occasionally measures high enough on the Richter scale to turn our stomachs and unsettle our feelings of invincibility.
As media coverage of the Japan earthquake and tsunami begins to turn toward our readiness for such a disaster, most agree that the west coast's seismic building codes and upgrades are not up to Japanese standards; but work is being done to construct and upgrade buildings to resist earthquakes. In general, unreinforced masonry buildings and older buildings are at most risk.
While as buyers or renters we can't predict how strong an earthquake will be or how our buildings will perform, we can help to mitigate injury to ourselves and families by preparing ahead of time.
Here are four earthquake preparedness tips gathered from municipal and provincial sources. This is by no means a comprehensive list. For full information on home, school and office safety, visit your provincial or municipal emergency program website, such as that of the City of Vancouver.
Locate the safest areas in your home in advance
These include supporting walls, doorways, inside hallways and spaces underneath stable furniture, such as desks and tables. Avoid windows, tall furniture and heavy objects that could tip over. If things start to move, you will buy extra seconds by knowing immediately where to take cover.
Agree to a family meeting place
In the chaos of a disaster, families and loved ones can get separated. Fire is also a consequence of earthquake damage that can force occupants out of their homes. Have a meeting place established in a safe area near your home, away from power lines and clear from buildings. Most cities have emergency management programs that will also guide local residents to specific locations in the event of disasters.
Have an earthquake kit prepared
You should be ready to be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours following a major earthquake. Emergency preparedness advocates atrongly advise having an emergency kit ready to deploy. The BC Government also offers pre-made “HELP” and ”OK” signs to residents to alert rescuers to the condition of occupants in homes and vehicles.
Protect your home interior from damage caused by falling debris
Anchoring heavy furniture, hot water tanks and appliances to walls and putting latches on cupboards can help prevent extensive in-house damage and injury from falling objects. Seek out professional sources and expertise on how to install in-home reinforcements.
We express our deepest sympathies to the citizens of Japan and Japanese-Canadians who have lost loved ones, or are trying painstakingly to locate missing family members and friends.
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