What to do if you're driving during an earthquake

It's not a joke - we who live and work in Bellingham and Whatcom County live along the Ring of Fire, which isn't just a great song. There are faults all over the underground, which means that we could one day experience an earthquake and/or tsunami event. Emergency managers up and down the west coast have been preparing for a test exercise that is scheduled to take place this month. Called "Cascadia Rising" the exercise is meant to test our level of preparation for a 9.0 earthquake, which is a very large and intense earthquake, along the lines of what Japan experienced that put into play the Fukushima disaster. 9.0 level earthquakes happen about every 200-500 years. Our last one was about 300 years ago.  

If that set of facts doesn't make you go "hmm" enough, think about what it would be like to be driving in the middle of one. According to Doug Dahl, manager of Washington Traffic Safety Commission’s Region 11 Target Zero Coalition. The average adult spends about 90 minutes in the car each day. This means we have close to a 19 million drivers average on US roads at any given time. So yes, someone will be driving then, and very likely, someone you know.

If it's you? Your experience of the quake will depend largely on the severity of the earthquake. You might not even notice it, as the shock of the movement in the ground would be absorbed by the car just like hitting a couple bumps in the road. But in a major quake, it may feel like you're driving suddenly on four flat tires. If you have read my article about what to do if you get a flat, then you know how to be prepared to that. But all four? Same advice, initially. Pull over. This time, don't stop around tall buildings, bridges, or other structures that could fall on you. Just stay in your car until the ground stops moving, which could be several minutes. 

Once you gather your senses again, it's time to gather some information. Turn on the radio, which in Whatcom County is KGMI AM 790, or any other local broadcast. Avoid calling loved ones or calling anyone else unless you have a medical emergency. You need to free up cell networks for true emergencies. Text messages or emails are better, which will queue up and go through when capacity allows. 

Since we are surrounded by bridges, overpasses, power lines, roads like Chuckanut Drive, and avalanche chutes, there's a high chance that roads are going to be impassable. Be sure to already have that emergency kit in your car in case you're stuck there for awhile. Here's a great list of what to have in your car just in case. (Emphasis on snacks.) Here's another great site to check your list against, provided by the Whatcom Unified Emergency Management team, Whatcom Ready.

At some point you'll need to drive onwards. Check the radio broadcast for major disaster areas and road closures. Proceed with caution. 

No matter if you're driving on a day like today (70 degrees, beautiful, early summer) or Armageddon, drive safe, pay attention, and call me if you are the victim of someone else's negligence. 

For more: 

Tips on how to prepare for and survive an earthquake 


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