How would you like to walk away from a major earthquake without a scratch? Knowing where the trouble spots are in your home and outside buildings can help you avoid being crushed or seriously injured during a quake.
The bed shakes a bit at first. An item or two falls over on your bookcase.
And then things start to rumble, really shake. Everything around you — your TV, your bookcase, everything that can be moved — is now your enemy. The ceiling can fall.
Bridges and buildings can collapse
A bridge can collapse, you and hundreds of other cars falling into the cold water below, far from shore, far from any hope of immediate rescue…
There are very few disasters as unpredictable as an earthquake. The good news is that if you’re well-prepared, you and those you care for can usually come out unhurt. Reveals how to prepare for and be ready for an earthquake: What survival supplies to have on hand and how to escape quake damage once shaking gets violent.
What Exactly is an Earthquake?
It took the world a long time to get this one right. Today we know that an earthquake is the result of geologic processes within the earth and can happen at any time during the year.
Earthquakes, originating miles underground, are:
1.) A part of global tectonics, a process that often changes the elevation of the land and its morphology;
2.) The result of volcanic activity, such as the quakes that shook Washington state weeks before Mount St. Helens volcano erupted in 1980;
3.) Induced by Man (high yield explosives, industrial drilling, etc).
The earth is not really one solid mass but is in fact made up of several immense plates that are always pushing against one another. It’s a bit like being on a crowded subway; the plates making up the earth are so tightly pushed together that there is always a struggle for room. Eventually, this pressure becomes so great between certain plates that they finally move, violently shifting their position. That is a tectonic earthquake. These constant struggles and shiftings of the earth are global tectonics. These are usually the most devastating of all quakes.
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The New Madrid Earthquake of 1811-1812
Tectonics can cause inland areas to become coastal or vice versa.
During 1811-1812, the region around New Madrid, Missouri experienced three tectonic quakes so massive they rerouted the mighty Mississippi River and were felt up to 1000 miles away.
Earthquakes can occur in an area before, during, and after a volcanic eruption, and are the result of active forces connected with the eruption, but are not the cause of the volcanic activity itself.
Man-induced earthquakes are often caused by such things as the deep-sea drilling that has occurred in recent years. Such activity deep into the earth can sometimes increase pressure on the plates, making a tense situation much worse.
During an earthquake, are you really most safe under a doorway?
You should only have to head for the doorway if you live in an old, unreinforced adobe house. In modern homes, doorways are probably no stronger than any other parts of the house and could have doors that will swing and injure you during a quake. You are probably safer practicing the ‘drop, cover and hold’ method under a sturdy piece of furniture.
The American Red Cross came up with the drop, cover and hold method. Drop under a sturdy desk or table, protect your eyes by pressing your face against your arm and hold on. Teach children the method as well, and practice with your family at least twice a year.
If however, you feel safer under the doorway, it’s still certainly a good option.
Can scientists predict earthquakes?
No. Scientists have never predicted a major earthquake. They do not know how, and they do not expect to know how any time in the foreseeable future.
However, probabilities can be calculated for potential future earthquakes. For example, scientists estimate that over the next 30 years there’s a 67% probability of a major earthquake occurring in the San Francisco Bay area. Scientists often focus their efforts on the long-term mitigation of earthquake hazards by helping to improve the safety of structures rather than creating short-term predictions.
Can the ground open up during an earthquake?
Shallow crevasses can form during earthquake-induced landslides, lateral spreads, or other types of ground failures. But faults do not open up during an earthquake. Movement occurs along the plane of a fault, not perpendicular to it. If faults opened up, no earthquake would occur because there would be no friction to lock them together.
Can animals predict earthquakes?
Changes in animal behavior before earthquakes have been observed and documented in different parts of the world, most recently in the northern California earthquake of October 17, 1989. It has been recorded that a fish in a high school biology lab in California would flip on its side before some earthquakes. Dogs, cats, snakes, and horses have also been known to behave strangely before earthquakes.
But it’s possible the change in animal behavior may be caused by other events. Also, the behavior is not consistent; sometimes earthquakes occur with no previous behavioral change.
Will California eventually fall off into the ocean?
No. The San Andreas Fault System, which crosses California from the Salton Sea in the south to Cape Mendocino in the north, is the boundary between the Pacific Plate and North American Plate. The Pacific Plate is moving in the northwest with respect to the great North American Plate at approximately 46 millimeters per year (the same rate, incidentally, as your fingernail growth). The earthquakes on the San Andreas Fault are a result of this plate motion.
The plates are moving horizontally past one another, so California is not going to fall into the ocean. However, Los Angeles and San Francisco could one day be adjacent to one another, if enough time was allowed to elapse.
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15 Ways to Survive an Earthquake
… It Starts with Preparation
Perhaps an earthquake’s greatest danger lies in the fact that it can occur almost at once. If you live in a location that’s prone to earthquakes, preparation before the event is certainly key.
To paraphrase the American Red Cross: ‘It’s not the shaking that hurts. It’s the stuff that falls on your head’: Collapsing walls, flying glass and falling objects cause most quake-related injuries and deaths.
1.) Look around your house for things that could fall or move.
Ask yourself what may happen if your cupboard doors fly open during a quake, allowing dishes or God-knows-what to fall across the floor. Are the TV and stereo fastened down and are shelves fastened to walls? Do you have hanging plants or light fixtures that might fall?
Is there a heavy picture or mirror on the wall over your bed?
2.) Know the danger spots.
Secure all tall and heavy furniture that could topple over, such as bookcases, china cabinets or wall units. Hang heavy pictures and mirrors away from beds, couches, and anywhere people sit. Keep breakables or heavy objects on bottom shelves.
3.) Stay clear of windows, fireplaces, or appliances if a quake hits
As a top priority, stay out of the kitchen — it’s a dangerous place, with large appliances that could fall over or be pushed violently from walls and floors; knife sets that could be knocked from counters and natural gas lines (if your appliances are powered by natural gas) that could suddenly sprout leaks and fill your kitchen with explosive gas fumes (if a spark occurs, your kitchen would be the first place to erupt in flames and the possible ground zero of an explosion that levels your home.)
4.) Stay away from anything that could conceivably fall on you.
Don’t run downstairs or rush outside while the building is shaking, or while there is a danger of falling or being hit by falling glass or debris.
5.) Secure a water heater by strapping it to wall studs and bolting it to the floor.
6.) Before and after a quake, repair any deep cracks in ceilings, chimneys, or foundations.
Get expert advice if there are signs of structural defects. Unnoticed damage could cause a fire – or worse.
7.) Repair defective electrical wiring and leaky gas connections.
These are potential fire risks.
8.) Keep batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors fresh.
At the least, make sure you have a properly installed and working smoke detector in your home/apartment.
9.) Secure all chemicals, fuel, and bleach.
Store weed killers, pesticides, and flammable products securely in closed cabinets with latches and on bottom shelves.
10.) Keep food and water supplies on hand.
You should be prepared to take care of yourself and loved ones for a period of 72 hours (and possibly longer, depending on the severity of the earthquake). 72 hours under normal circumstances is how long it is estimated for help to arrive, as they have to deal with the same predicaments as you.
11.) Create a family disaster plan.
Discuss with your family the types of disasters that could occur. Explain to your kids how to prepare and respond to each type of disaster. Print the plan for everyone.
12.) Post emergency telephone numbers on every phone.
Teach children how and when to call 911, police, fire department, and which radio station to tune to for emergency information.
13.) Learn first aid and CPR.
Contact your local American Red Cross chapter for information and training.
14.) Teach all family members how and when to turn off gas, electricity, and water.
15.) Learn how to help kids cope with disaster.
Do your best to maintain calm and to respond with a plan of action. Your calm confidence can help your kids respond in the same way or simply help minimize the trauma they would otherwise feel. If they see you panicking, they are more likely to panic as well.
10 Ways to Define Your Earthquake Safety Zone
Taking shelter against inside walls, under sturdy tables or desks, and in stout doorways.
1. Practice earthquake drills
Rehearse with your family, putting yourself in the Safety Zone. This is especially important for children to know and do.
2. Have two places where everyone can meet.
One meeting place will be your home, but you should have a second in case there’s a problem. It should be a safe distance from your house in case of a home fire, and a place outside your neighborhood in case you can’t immediately return.
3. Choose an out-of-state friend as a check-in contact for everyone to call.
While regional telephone service may be down, telephone service may work in distant states. In a worst-case scenario, it’s possible each of you can communicate with an out of state friend (if phone outage is regional and not nationwide) if you are unable to call each other.
4. Discuss where to go and what to bring if advised to evacuate.
Practice what you have discussed and ensured that your children know how to use any survival gear you have packed in their Get Home Bag.
5. Find out about earthquake plans developed by your children’s school or daycare.
Remember, transportation to or from your children’s school(s) may be disrupted.
6. Keep some emergency supplies at work
Food, liquids, and athletic shoes (cross trainers) that lace up, as well as a thoroughly packed Get Home Bag.
7. Locate your nearest fire and police stations and emergency medical facility.
The Red Cross and other emergency organizations may have first aid, food, water, and shelter available.
8. Talk to your neighbors
How could they help you, or you help them after an earthquake.
9. Be prepared for aftershocks.
Aftershocks are strong enough to topple more buildings, sever utility lines and hurt you hours, days, weeks – even months after the main quake. If your house is in solid shape, stay indoors if an aftershock hits.
10. Develop the habit of thinking, “If an earthquake happened right now, what would I do?”
This will prepare you to react and not be surprised when it happens. And it will aid with your preparations.
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8 Items for Your Earthquake Disaster Supply Kit
The Office of Emergency Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommend you self-equip with everything on their list — you don’t want to fight the crowd at Home Depot, Lowes, or another local hardware store after an earthquake has struck. (We include several items from their list as well as make a few additional recommendations of our own.)
1. EARTHQUAKE PROOF STORAGE CONTAINER(S)
Your Earthquake disaster kit should be stored in a durable container such as two 30 gallon open head drums (which include a bolt-on lid) or one full size 55-gallon open head drum, and here’s why:
Other than an atomic bomb, not much is likely to damage a steel drum, which means any food, emergency water, and emergency electronics stored inside are likely to make it through a major earthquake just fine. Place small electronics in wool socks (so they don’t bang against each other) and wrap any larger electronics (like a radio or battery operated lantern) in a survival blanket to help protect components from any rough shaking. (This survival blanket is intended to double as an emergency blanket after a quake has struck). It is made of 80% wool, military grade, and even when we can help keep a person warm and out of the danger zone of hypothermia.
– Plan on using one gallon of water per person per day. Store three gallons of water for each person and pet (72 hours worth). Also, pack purification tablets or chlorine bleach (16 drops per gallon of water) to purify drinking water from other sources (avoid sources contaminated by chemicals; bleach only kills bacteria — it does not remove chemicals). Boiling water is the best method though for purifying water such as water retrieved from rivers or lakes.
Emergency water may be obtained from water heaters, melted ice cubes, toilet tanks (the back part of toilets where the mechanism is located, as long as there are no chemical cleaners present in the bowl), and even canned vegetables.
Avoid drinking water from swimming pools or especially spas – it may have too many chemicals in it to be safe.
– Store at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food. It’s best to have enough canned and dried foods sufficient for a week for each member of your household. Note: both water and food stores should be replaced every so often to maintain freshness. Canned goods have a normal shelf-life of one year for maximum freshness.
4. FIRST AID KIT AND HANDBOOK
– Have two copies of each, one for your home and one for your car.
5. EARTHQUAKE SURVIVAL TOOLS
– Vital stuff you won’t miss until you realize it’s unobtainable. Your emergency tools should consist of:
a) *Fire extinguisher.
b) *Crescent and pipe wrenches to turn off the gas and water pipes.
c) *Utility knife.
d) *Bic lighters and wooden matches in a waterproof container.
e) *Emergency fire starter (anything from an emergency candle to dried tinder in a waterproof container to dryer lint or cotton balls that have been dabbed in Vaseline — there are several emergency fire starters to choose from; having more than one helps ensure you can get a fire going with no problem).
f) *Flashlights with extra bulbs and batteries. Also battery-operated lanterns for the evening hours with low power settings to extend battery life.
g) *Portable radio with extra batteries.
h) *Non-electric, hand-held can opener. Also, a bottle opener and non-breakable eating and drinking utensils.
i) *Extra food for pets if necessary.
j) *Camp stove or barbecue to cook outdoors (store fuel out of the reach of children). This will be a portable stove using propane, butane or charcoal. Note: Use of such stoves should not take place until it is determined that there is no gas leak in the area. Also, charcoal should only be burned outdoors; use of charcoal indoors will lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
k) *Waterproof, heavy-duty plastic bags, a shovel and toilet paper. Also, bring disinfectant and hand sanitizer. Sewer lines may have been disrupted during the earthquake. Remember that 30-gallon steel drum mentioned above? That drum can double as emergency waste storage for any human waste (or you can bury it in a temporary hole dug on your property, sealed in waterproof heavy-duty plastic bags). *Due to the build-up of methane gas, you will want to use several small plastic bags if you choose to store waste in that steel drum, and then use the drum to hold these individual bags, but do not seal the top of the drum with the bolt-on lid due to the explosion risk methane poses. In large quantities, sewage must be vented and methane fumes allowed to escape.
l) *Nylon rope or military spec paracord and duct tape.
m) *Portable fire escape ladder for homes/apartments with multiple floors.
6. INFORMATION & CASH
*Telephone numbers of police, fire, and doctor. Also, make sure you have access to a phone.
Copies of important papers should be kept in a fireproof container or a safe deposit box with a key you always carry.
*A small amount of money.
7. CLOTHING & BEDDING
– If the disaster’s bad enough, all the hotels will be full. That means your car’s back seat becomes your bedroom. Pack protective clothing, rainwear, and bedding or sleeping bags in your kit, as well as extra blankets and heavy clothing, including rubber-soled shoes and work gloves.
8. MEDICINE AND SPECIAL ITEMS
– Keep adequate supplies for babies, the elderly or disabled and others with special needs.
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What to Do During and After an Earthquake
During the Earthquake
– If you are indoors, stay there! Get under a heavy desk or table and hang on to it, move into a hallway or get against an inside wall.
– If you are outside, get into the open – away from buildings, power lines, chimneys, and anything else that might fall on you.
– If you are driving, quickly but carefully move your car as far out of traffic as possible and stop. Do not stop on or under a bridge or overpass or under trees, light posts, power lines, or signs. Stay inside your car until the shaking stops.
– When you resume driving, stay away from breaks in the pavement, fallen rocks, bumps in the road at bridge or ramp approaches, and anything else that doesn’t look ‘right’.
– If you are in a mountainous area watch out for falling rock, landslides, trees, and other debris that could be loosened by quakes.
– Do not turn on the gas again if you’ve turned it off; the gas company should do it. They’ll know if it’s safe to do so.
– Do not use matches, lighters, camp stoves, barbecues, electrical equipment or any appliances until you are sure there are no gas leaks.
They may create a spark that could ignite leaking gas and cause an explosion.
– Do not use your telephone, except for a medical or fire emergency. You could tie up the lines needed for emergency response. If an emergency occurs and the phone doesn’t work, send someone for help.
– Do not expect firefighters, police or paramedics to definitely be there for you. They may not be available.
– Remember, the contents of your home may be damaged and can be dangerous. Quakes can make light fixtures fall, and bookcases and television sets topple over even after the shaking is over.
After the Earthquake
– Wear sturdy shoes to avoid injury from broken glass and debris. Steel-toed work boots may be best. Expect aftershocks.
– Check for injuries to yourself and those around you; give first aid where you can. If a person is bleeding, put direct pressure on the wound and use clean gauze, or cloth if available. If a person is not breathing administer CPR. Do not attempt to move seriously injured persons unless they are in further danger of injury. Cover the wounded with blankets to keep them warm. Seek medical help for serious injuries.
– Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately. Leave the area if you smell gas or fumes from other chemicals. A bag of industrial absorbent granules (or simply just cat litter) is a quick way to contain a spill for easy clean up with a broom and dustpan.
– Open closet and cupboard doors cautiously.
– Inspect the entire length of chimneys carefully for damage. Unnoticed cracks could lead to a fire. Also inspect your gas, power and sewer lines. If your utilities are damaged, fix them or get out until you can have someone else do so. Listen to a battery-operated radio or television for the latest emergency information.
– Remember to check neighbors who may require special assistance – infants, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
– Stay out of buildings known to be damaged. Use the telephone only for emergency calls. Only drive if there’s an emergency. Keep the streets clear for emergency vehicles.
– Listen to a battery-operated radio or television for the latest emergency information. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
– After the earthquake, brace overhead light fixtures. Contact your local emergency management office or American Red Cross chapter for more information on earthquakes.
*Fire hazards – Put out fires in your home or neighborhood immediately, and call for help. If they are too big, wait for the professionals.
*Gas leaks – If you smell gas or hear blowing or hissing noises, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can and call the gas company from a neighbor’s home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional. Therefore, shut off the main gas valve only if you suspect a leak because of broken pipes or odor. Also, don’t light your kitchen stove if you suspect a gas leak.
*Damaged electrical wiring – If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice. Do not touch downed or damaged power lines or any objects in contact with them.
*Sewage and water lines damage – If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water by melting ice cubes.
*Downed or damaged chimneys – Approach chimneys with caution after a quake. Don’t use a damaged chimney; it could start a fire or let poisonous gases into your house.
*Fallen Items – Beware of items tumbling off shelves when you open doors of closets and cupboards.
*Food and Water Supplies – Do not eat or drink anything from open containers near shattered glass. If power is off, plan meals to use up foods that will spoil quickly or frozen foods (food in the freezer should be good for at least a couple of days).
Pets After an Earthquake
A final word, about your pets.
The behavior of pets may change dramatically after an earthquake. Normally quiet and friendly cats and dogs may become aggressive or defensive. Watch animals closely. Leash dogs and place them in a fenced yard.
Pets may not be allowed into shelters for health and space reasons. Prepare an emergency pen for pets in the home that includes a 3-day supply of dry food and a large container of water.
Be Prepared Before an Earthquake Strikes
We hope this article on earthquake survival will help those who experience a quake. Unlike hurricanes and tornadoes, we never know when an earthquake is going to occur. Therefore the very best thing is to prepare yourself and your family before the disaster strikes.
If you live in a region of the world that could experience a major earthquake at any time during the coming years, earthquake safety and survival is an important subject to go over with your loved ones in advance of an earthquake; don’t wait until after.
A major earthquake can take the lives of hundreds of thousands of people at a time, as history has shown over the centuries. Today is the day to be ready.
A Word About Tsunamis
As we’ve seen repeated in recent years an earthquake hundreds of miles away or even on the other side of an ocean can create a tsunami that is more destructive and takes more lives than the initial earthquake. If you live or work or vacation anywhere near an ocean, being prepared for a tsunami may be just as important as being prepared for the next major earthquake.
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