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Earthquake: Safety measures
We can never predict when an earthquake is going to strike, causing tremendous loss of life and property. However, we can certainly take some precautionary measures, before and after an earthquake, thus minimising the damage caused by it.
SRINAGAR FALLS in seismic zone V, while other parts of Jammu and Kashmir are in seismic zone IV, which means that we are vulnerable to earthquakes. This however, does not mean that there is reason to panic. There are many parts of the world like Japan where earthquakes occur very frequently, but there is no loss of life or damage to property, as the people have learnt to live with earthquakes. They have constructed earthquake safe buildings and practice the Do’s and Don’ts regarding earthquakes.
An earthquake does not usually cause death or injury by itself. People are hurt by falling plaster and collapsing walls or falling of heavy objects. Collapsing buildings and vibrations can cause short circuits and electric fires. Lighted gas or stoves may also cause fires and all this leads to panic and confusion. However, with some precautions it is possible to avoid such confusion.
There have been reports of tremors being felt on February 20 and 25 and one night around midnight, as I was writing this article, another one was reported at around 2pm. Now, rumours are doing the rounds that a particular area is going to be hit by a big earthquake, on a particular date. However, earthquakes cannot be predicted, despite research being done worldwide. 
It’s the time that we must learn about earthquakes, its causes and effects. We must discuss about earthquakes with our friends and family, with a cool mind and various precautionary measures to be taken like keeping a torch and a portable transistor radio. Arrange your home in such a way that it is possible to move more easily, keeping corridors clear of furniture and toys. Attach shelves, gas cylinders, vases and flowerpots to the walls of your home. Place heavy or bulky objects on the floor or on the lowest shelves. Teach all members of your family how to turn off the electricity, water and gas supply.
What to do during an earthquake?
  • If you are indoor, duck or drop down to the floor. Take cover under a sturdy desk, table or other furniture. Hold on to it and be prepared to move with it. Hold the position until the ground stops shaking and it is safe to move. Stay clear of windows, fireplaces, woodstoves, and heavy furniture or appliances that may fall over. Stay inside to avoid being injured by falling glass or building parts. If you are in a crowded area, take cover. Stay calm and encourage others to do likewise. Do not rush to the doors or exit; never use the lifts; keep well away from windows, mirrors, chimneys and furniture. Protect yourself by staying under the lintel of an inner door, in the corner of a room, under a table or even under a bed.
  • If you are outside, get into the open, away from buildings and power lines. Walk towards an open place, in a calm and composed manner. Do not run and do not wander round the streets. Keep away from buildings, especially old, tall or detached buildings, electricity wires, slopes and walls, which are liable to collapse.
  • If you are driving, stop if it is safe, but stay inside your car. Stay away from bridges, flyovers and tunnels. Move your car away from the normal traffic pattern, as far as possible and park it on the roadside. Avoid stopping under trees, light posts or power lines.
  • If you are in a hilly area, or near unstable slopes or cliffs, be alert for falling rocks and other debris, which could be loosened by the earthquake.
What to do after an earthquake?
Keep calm, switch on the transistor radio and obey the instructions you hear on the radio.
Expect aftershocks. Turn off the water, gas and electricity in your homes and offices. Do not smoke and do not light matches or use a cigarette lighter. Do not turn on electric switches. There may be gas leaks or short-circuits. Use a torch. If there is a fire, try to put it out. If you cannot, call the fire brigade on phone number 101 or 2452222.
If people are seriously injured, do not move them unless they are in danger. If you know that people have been buried under the debris, then inform the rescue teams. Do not rush and worsen the situation of injured persons or your own. Avoid places where there are loose electric wires and do not touch any metal object in contact with them. Do not drink water from open containers without examining it and filtered it through a sieve, a filter or an ordinary clean clothe. Eat something. You will feel better and more capable of helping others. If your home is badly damaged you must t leave it immediately. Collect water containers, food, other necessary items and special medicines for people with heart complaints, diabetes, asthma, etc. Do not re-enter badly damaged buildings or venture near damaged structures. Do not walk around the streets to see what has happened. Keep clear of the streets to enable rescue vehicles to pass.
Do not panic. Do not use candles, matches, etc and do not switch on any electric mains immediately after an earthquake. Do not spread and believe in rumours. Do not run through or near buildings during an earthquake.
We have to accept that we are living in an earthquake prone area, when and where an earthquake will strike and what will be its magnitude, is up to the ‘Almighty’. Despite these precautions, future earthquakes may still cause damage to buildings, displace items within buildings, and disrupt basic utilities that we take for granted. We cannot stop an earthquake but we can definitely prepare ourselves, so as to minimise the damages, if any, due to the earthquake. By identifying hazards, we can set priorities for using our resources most effectively to reduce damage. This way we can drastically reduce the loss of life and property, and make Jammu and Kashmir a safer place to live. The choice is ours.
Aamir Ali
Project Coordinator UNDP/Disaster Management
Office of the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir
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