South Pasadena police and fire officials uttered those words again and again this past week – a mantra it would be wise to commit to memory in the wake of last week’s 6.4- and 7.1-magnitude earthquakes, which were centered in distant Ridgecrest but nonetheless rattled So Pas and much of the Los Angeles area.
When the earth starts shaking, that should be the immediate game plan, the local experts said: Drop, cover, hold.
But even before that – plan.
Stock up on water, food and other survival essentials, and educate yourself ahead of time about such fundamentals as where the gas and water valves, and electrical shutoffs, are in your home.
“No. 1, first and foremost, do not panic, do not run,’’ Eric Zanteson, operations division chief for the South Pasadena Fire Department, stressed when he was asked to go over the ABCs of earthquake survival for area residents who may have been lulled into a false sense of security after more than 20 years of only modest temblors.
“Second is, drop, cover and hold,’’ he said. “Find a place to get to the floor, get some cover over you (like a table or desk). There was some discussion of, being in a triangle is a better place, but that’s not necessarily true – it’s finding something that will give you some coverage.
“If you’re indoors, stay indoors, don’t run. As the building is shaking, things are falling, and typically folks are going to be a little bit in a panic and have tunnel vision, not necessarily looking at what is coming down around them.’’
The majority of injuries associated with the 1994 Northridge quake – the last real big one to rattle the L.A. area – were to people who weren’t in the structures that collapsed, “but were from those that ran during the shaking and had building structures fall on them – glass broken that they ran into, that they in essence were not able to stay focused and calm and subsequently were injured,’’ Zanteson said.
“So the key is to find that inner peace and drop, cover and hold,’’ he said. “Don’t run, otherwise you’re likely to become injured by your actions as you run through the building and/or the structure, as pieces fall out of the ceiling, walls, glass, mirrors, pictures, etc., doors themselves. You’re basically going to be running a gauntlet.’’
That’s the advice for when the earth is still shaking. But what about when it stops? What if there’s significant damage to the area?
“We always tell the residents that they should have a minimum of three days of supplies with you in a go bag that you can take with you, in your car, in your home, something that you can grab quickly,’’ said So Pas Police Capt. Brian Solinsky.
“Everything from clothing to a first-aid kid to copies of important documents, medications, even including pet medications. Some people neglect to think about that, they’re so engrossed in their own safety that they forget about the pets.’’
Solinsky said that MREs – Meals Ready to Eat, which are prepackaged, long-shelf-life items – are one solution to the food issue in the event of a major or lengthy post-quake emergency.
“That’s what we prefer, because you have an extended shelf life, they’re very easy to carry, if you need to grab them on the go you can, and it takes very little effort to prepare them,” he said.
As for water, he said, “We recommend a couple of gallons a day per person. It’s a little extra, but by the same token there’s hygiene needs as well as for drinking water.’’
But a warning comes with storing water, he said: “You have to be diligent – if you’re going to have any water-storage containers, they need to be rotated out at least every year’’ so the water remains potable.
Durable shoes are another essential, Zanteson stressed — “Especially folks that wear dress shoes, you should have tennis shoes or durable walking shoes in your car.”
In the immediate aftermath of a major quake, Zanteson said, it’s important to assess the situation – first regarding life and injury, then regarding property.
“First off, it’s going to be where your family and loved ones are? It’s always life first,’’ he said.
“Once you’ve got that assessed, you’re going to treat injuries as best you can, stop the bleeding, and then start to get folks … to a spot that is safe, whether it’s inside or outside, depending on how the building has taken the shaking.
“And then you’re going to start to assess the structure itself. You’re going to look for damage that might be significant, you’re going to look to see if it’s off the foundation, whether or not you’ve lost walls, whether it’s structurally still intact.
“You want to assess for the smell of natural gas, too,’’ he said.
That’s why it’s important to educate yourself – ahead of time – about how to shut off gas, water and electricity if the need arises, he said.
“All of this is about preparedness, because once the shaking starts, there’s nothing you can do,’’ Zanteson said. “It’s (about) having everything in place. That’s the most important thing, that’s what we put out there – have all these things.
Finally, he said, it’s important to have a meeting place for family members pre-arranged, in case phone lines are down or jammed.
“Also,” he said, “do you have out-of-state phone numbers that you can call? Because the in-state numbers are all going to be so busy. So if you wanted to verify that a loved one is OK – say you live here in South Pasadena and your loved one works in downtown L.A., then have a protocol in place to contact a friend who’s out of state and check in, and that person can be the relay.
“It has been demonstrated that local numbers will become overwhelmed during the emergency,’’ he said.
Or have a text process in place, he added – because texts use less data and are more likely to go through than voice calls.
Zanteson said that redcross.org and FEMA.gov are excellent go-to websites, full of more detailed information.
He urged residents to read up. And to stock up.
Before the shaking starts.