By Diana Martinez | Editor
Medical and seismic experts are warning residents of what they called “earthquake amnesia” and the dangers of not being prepared for major earthquakes, both at home and at work.
On Friday, Sept. 29, Dr. Stephen Jones, MD, director of emergency services at the Northridge Hospital Medical Center, and Caltech seismologist expert Kate Hutton discussed recent quakes and the need to stay diligent in preparing for them. Oftentimes, they said, residents initially stock up on supplies after an earthquake, but as time goes on it becomes less of a priority.
They pointed out that residents — even those who’ve experienced earthquakes — can too easily forget and neglect being prepared for an earthquake.
“Community residents have become complacent with their personal properties, plans and drills, and the once stacked shelves of food and water in the garage are now barren or replaced with non-essential goods or plans,” Dr. Jones said.
For those born after the last large earthquake in the San Fernando Valley, which was the Northridge quake in 1994, there is a new generation that have not experienced or even seen the images from an earthquake.
Jones pointed out that the 6.6 Sylmar quake in 1971 killed 65 people and injured 2,000 others.
“Twenty-three years later, the earth’s plates would move once again and the 6.7 magnitude earthquake centered in Northridge, California would rattle foundations and buildings,” Jones said.
“At 4:31 a.m. on Jan. 17, 1994, the ground shook violently beneath Northridge, rippling seismic energy in an outward motion with shock waves that would stretch for miles. After the initial shaking stopped, sections of the city laid in fiery tatters and ruin and several dozen died,” he described. “Over 9,000 were injured, leaving hospitals and emergency centers overcrowded for weeks; a 1995 study put the death toll at 72, including heart attacks.”
Hutton and Jones expressed concern that, today, we are still faced with many of the same “off guard challenges” that were true in 1994.
“‘Earthquake Amnesia’ isn’t a true medical diagnosis,” Jones said. “We at Northridge Hospital and in our communities must take this seriously as life and death.
Survival will be dependent on preparation for the “Big One” that seismic experts like Hutton consider inevitable, and the medical community is equally concerned that large numbers of people who were unprepared will flock to emergency rooms.
“When the ‘Big One’ does hit, very few will be prepared with any disaster plan and our emergency rooms will be far overcrowded. Many with minimal injuries which will slow the emergency process of trauma care to our more serious injured patients,” Jones said.
Residents were reminded of the importance of having a plan in place for children and pets, and having several cases of water always available and rotated regularly.
Other suggestions: have an extra bag of unused clothing and shoes set aside in case of evacuation and keep an emergency kit stocked and prepared for minor emergencies; Appoint a family member to take a CPR Emergency Class; make sure all medications are written down; and have a plan for your pets. Too often pets are left behind, and become frightened and lost.