The basic survival instinct of Fight/Flight/Freeze is a hard-wired response our bodies make when confronted by danger. Its purpose is to keep us safe. And it works well in most every scenario. One exception is earthquakes. Then, that instinctual reaction can drive us smack into harms way.
Here is what happens. When pent-up energy from within the earth's crust is suddenly, violently released in an earthquake, it causes the ground under our feet to undulate (think trying to stand on a boat deck in the middle of a violent storm), rock (think standing on a card table that someone has just fallen against), and shake (think trying to stand on a trampoline with three other people jumping at various times).
We rely on tear-firma (firm ground) for equilibrium and stability. Earthquakes are 'terra-move-a!' This ground movement can be absolutely terrifying. Personally, I know of nothing that creates a more intense feeling of vulnerability than the ground moving under my feet. In three words – I hate it.
Fear. Vulnerability. Falling down. Items in your environment literally crashing around you. It is no wonder the normal reaction is to "RUN!!!"
Nevertheless, this response to earthquakes – to run – is the worst reaction we can have. Why? Because we know (and as professional disaster preparedness educator for over 30 years, I do know) – we know that the majority of people killed or seriously injured in our country are killed or injured by falling and flying objects. Not collapsing building. Things like bookcases and cabinets that crash to the ground. And the heavy times in them or on them are thrown down.
I gave a neighborhood preparedness presentation (one of literally thousands I have given). We met in the large family room. There, stored on top of a solid oak bookcase, were five (5!) prized bowling balls that had been used in tournament play. Five bowling balls!! They literally would become flying projectiles in an trembler. Imagine a loved one being in that room when an earthquake strikes.
Remember the verbs used to describe earthquakes: Undulate. Rock. Shake. Remember the adverbs. Suddenly. Violently. Terrifyingly. Vulnerability. Things fall. It is noisy when they crash and break. All of this registers in our brains as DANGER – triggering the response to RUN! NOW!! FAST!!
Fortunately, there are actions you and your loved ones can take to resist the instinct to run. I know from experience in actual earthquakes this works:
FIRST, draw the floor plan of your home.
SECOND, discuss and learn Drop! Cover! Hold On!!
DROP. Means STOP. Don't run. DROP under or beside or between a sturdy object the will give you protection. Because it is falling and flying objects that create the danger, we must train our bodies to resist the instinct to run. You can do this!
Train yourself to get in a place of protection. Safe places are UNDER BESIDE BETWEEN objects in the room that are taller than you are – like under a table, beside a sofa or bed, between a couple of chairs.
COVER. Means UNDER BESIDE BETWEEN something that will 'catch' the falling bookcase, or the flying bowling ball. The principle is, you do not want you head to be the high point in the room.
HOLD ON. Means to hang on to the object you have chosen as a place of protection. Because the ground is shaking and rolling, that object may actually move. Hold on to it. Move with it if you need to.
THIRD, walk each room in your home. Discuss where the best place is in that room to move to when an earthquake strikes. Remember UNDER BESIDE BETWEEN.
FOURTH, on the map of the floor plan, place a large "X" on the place that is the best, safest place for that room. Some rooms will not have an ideal place. Remember the principle: You do not want your head to be the high point in the environment.
FIFTH, choose one family member to demonstrate DROP! COVER! HOLD ON! in each room. Discuss why that spot is a good choice.
SIXTH, plan to hold an Earthquake Drill to practice DROP! COVER! HOLD ON! in two weeks from today.