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  • What We Learned from the Kumamoto Earthquake

    Kumamoto Quake - Photo by Kyodo Kumamoto Earthquake - Photo by Kyodo

    On April 14, 2016, Japan was hit by a magnitude 6.4 earthquake. While not as strong as the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that happened back in 2011, there was still plenty of damage inflicted.

    This 6.4 earthquake struck Southern Japan, near Kumamoto, Kyushu around 9:26 at night local time. Sources report power outages occurred in areas near the epicenter. Water was also cut off in certain areas. Damages weren’t catastrophic, but included fallen bookshelves, vases, and other things not secured. Some areas, however, saw house walls collapse, possibly trapping people inside.

    There are nuclear power plants in the region, but they appear to be unaffected by the earthquake.

    Not only do earthquakes cause immediate damage, they also bring about more lasting effects. In this most recent earthquake, news sources reported power outages and cut off water supplies. While the damage wasn’t terrible, the ensuing absence of resources could create other problems.



    As seen in this latest Kumamoto earthquake, these rattlings can cut off your water supply, be it a broken water main or some other way.

    Broken Water Main Cleaning up after a broken water main caused by an earthquake - Photo by Beth Schlanker

    Without water, it will be much more difficult to remain healthy and strong. And during an emergency such as this, you’re going to need all the health and strength you can get. Hopefully you have water stored in barrels, jugs, or other containers to keep yourself hydrated until your water comes back on. If not, there are other ways to collect drinking water.

    Gather extra emergency water from ice cubes, toilet tanks (make sure there is no sanitizer or other chemicals in it), or even your water heater. Some sources of water may need to be filtered and treated (such as from the water heater), but at least in an emergency you will have a little extra water to keep you going.

    Aside from drinking, sewage lines may be damaged, so before flushing your toilet, be sure to make sure those lines aren’t damaged. Otherwise it could make a big mess. Likewise, if your water pipes are broken, you may need to turn off your water at the main valve. Failure to do this could result in a flooded home.



    Earthquakes have a nasty habit of knocking out power when they strike. If this happens during the day, that’s not so terrible. But when it happens at night, that’s when things can get scary.

    No power means no light, and when buildings collapse and bookshelves and other unsecured belongings crash to the ground, it becomes something of a minefield. Broken glass, bits of brick and stone and other small and large shrapnel on the ground can become hazards when trying to evacuate a building or otherwise navigate in and out of doors.

    Downed Power Lines - via News on 6 Photo via News on 6

    There may be downed power lines following the shaking. Steer clear of these, and do not try to move them. They could still be live and touching one could have deadly consequences.

    No power also means more difficulty in keeping your food fresh. Keep your refrigerator and freezer doors shut as much as possible to keep the cold air contained. Next, use your most perishable foods first. Doing this will help spread out your food usage longer than just eating what sounds good at the time.



    While not necessarily mentioned as something that was a problem after this Japan earthquake, it most certainly can become one. If you smell gas in your home, shut off your gas at your meter, open the windows, and leave. Only shut off your gas valve if there is a leak, because in order to get it turned back on, you’ll need someone from the gas company to come and do it for you.

    But whatever you do, don’t look for a gas leak with candles, matches, or any other open flame. Doing so could cause your house to explode.


    Safety First

    No matter how strong or weak an earthquake, always put the safety of you and others first. You never know what kind of damage a building has sustained, so practice caution in the wake of an earthquake. Aftershocks are also prone to happen hours, days, or even weeks after the initial quake, so it would be best not to stay in any building with compromised integrity.


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  • Preparing the Elderly for Emergencies

    preparing the elderlyHurricane Katrina was devastating to health care providers. Hospitals and clinics flooded or lost power. Almost 100 kidney dialysis clinics in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama closed, some permanently.

    A representative from a company that manages dialysis clinics described the result: “More than 7,000 displaced patients packed into our open clinics, which were not immediately staffed to handle them all.”

    According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of older adults have some kind of functional limitation, like chronic health problems, impaired mobility or diminished sensory awareness. This can make them vulnerable in an emergency. Sixty percent of the people in Louisiana who died from Hurricane Katrina were over age 60. So planning for emergencies is especially important for seniors.

    One group of older adults from Rochester, New York, described how an ice storm that caused a two-week power outage impacted them.

    “If we had only taken a few simple steps to prepare ourselves for such an event, we could have eliminated many of the hardships we had to endure,” they wrote for a Red Cross booklet about senior preparedness.

    They recommended three ways to prepare: get a kit, make a plan, and be informed. Unless otherwise specified, the ideas below come from their Red Cross booklet, “Disaster Preparedness for Seniors by Seniors.”


    Get a Kit

    In addition to a basic emergency kit with food, clothing, and water, seniors should personalize their kits with extra supplies. These can include extra eyeglasses, medication, hearing aids and batteries, oxygen and assistive technology. Label bags and equipment with a name, address and phone number. Keep support equipment in a designated place so it’s easy to find.

    preparing the elderlySome medication, like insulin, requires refrigeration. The U.S. Food and Drug administration recommends that if power has been off for a while, those drugs should be discarded. However, if they are necessary for life, they may be used until a new supply becomes available. Medication exposed to excessive heat and flood water can also become unsafe. So keep medication in a waterproof container and check it for exposure before use.

    Not many people can afford spare hearing aids. In an earthquake-prone area, use Velcro to attach a hearing aid case to a flat surface so it will be readily available and won’t shake off.


    Make a Plan

    Have a plan for how to evacuate and how to shelter at home. Share it with caregivers, friends, and family members. Be honest about abilities and limitations. Know home caregivers’ emergency plans. Keep phone numbers handy – carry them in a wallet or post them by a telephone.

    preparing the elderlyKeep copies of vital records in a fireproof container or safe-deposit box. Vital records include birth, marriage and social security certificates, insurance information, wills and deeds and records of possessions. Health care records are also important. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has an online tool, called Blue Button, to help people bring together their electronic health records.

    After Hurricane Katrina, 85,000 people had trouble getting social security checks through the mail. The AARP Foundation recommends people switch to direct deposit. Go to the U.S. Department of the Treasury web site, godirect.org, or call 1-800-333-1795. The Treasury Department also has a prepaid debit card option for people with no bank account.


    Be Informed

    Know what types of disasters are more likely, and prepare for those.

    “Seniors living in Florida need to know how to prepare for a hurricane, while older adults in the Midwest should stock up for blizzards and floods. In California, people should prepare for earthquakes and wildfires,” the CDC recommended.

    Be aware that scammers come out after a disaster. Operation Emergency Prepare recommends six steps to keep from being scammed.

    1. Don’t pay cash to a contractor for home repairs and never give your credit card number unless you are paying the bill with it.
    2. Be sure you have a signed contract detailing the work you want to have done and don’t make a final payment until the work has been done to your satisfaction.
    3. Make sure that any contractors, plumbers, electricians, or roofers are bonded, licensed, or registered in your state. You can check their license status with your state or Better Business Bureau.
    4. Try to get several bids before agreeing to any work; a one-third down payment is considered appropriate.
    5. Beware of home repair loan brokers who guarantee you a loan if you first pay a fee.
    6. If you suspect you have been taken advantage of, call your state attorney general’s office.


    As the CDC points out, in an emergency, older adults are a great resource. With their experience and knowledge, they can be preparedness leaders. It starts with preparing themselves first.


    What can you do more to be better at preparing the elderly you know?


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  • The Power’s Out…Now What? 5 Steps to a Better Blackout

    Your town is landlocked, so there’s no threat of hurricanes. Tornadoes tend to avoid your state, and earthquakes just don’t happen. So what’s to worry about?

    Blackout ManhattanChances are you use electricity in your home. No matter where you live, there is always a threat that your power will go out. In fact, the United States experiences “more blackouts than any other developed nation,” according to International Business Times. They went on to say that the number of power losses along the U.S. grid have escalated 285% since 1984. And, with the demand for power still growing, those numbers will just get higher.

    So hopefully you’re preparing for the inevitable blackout. But once it does come, what then?


    1. Light It Up

    Power Outage with Candles BlackoutFirst of all, know where your backup lights are (flashlights, emergency candles, etc.), and keep them in an easy-to-reach place. This way, you’ll be able to find everything else you need quickly – without having to stumble through the dark. When using candles, it is important to exercise caution, as they have the potential to start fires. While a larger fire will provide more light, it will also cost you a lot more in damages. Pros and cons, I guess.


    1. Power to the People

    Now that you have light, the next step is to give yourself power. You can’t always have a super-generator on hand to keep your entire home up and running for the duration of the blackout (although that would be nice), but you can prepare with power packs, batteries, and chargers that will keep your electronic devices working despite the lack of electricity. This way, your phone will always have a charge, just in case you need to make an emergency call – or play an emergency game of Angry Birds. That being said, try and keep the games and movies to a minimum so as to not run down your power sources before you need them for actual emergency purposes (not that Angry Birds isn’t an emergency, but…you know what I mean).

    20121026-_MG_2503_ccs blackout Generators like this Goal Zero Yeti are safe to use indoors because they don't run off gas. It can also be hooked up to solar panels!

    A note about generators: Most generators should never be used inside, no matter how safe you think it is. You may be able to find some indoor-safe generators, but unless stated as such (and certified), don’t risk it. Carbon monoxide is deadly and you may not even realize you’re being poisoned by it. The same goes for grills, camp stoves, and other gas-powered cookers and heaters. Basically, if it’s portable, chances are it’s not safe to use indoors (this includes the garage and carports. There is danger even if there is ventilation). There are, however, generators you can have charged well in advance that will last you many hours. Because these run off stored electricity, they are safe to use inside.


    1. Stay Safe

    If it’s cold outside, keep to a higher level if possible, as warm air rises. Wrap yourself up in blankets and layer up your clothing to keep in that body heat. Alternately, if it’s really hot outside and your power goes out, make your way to the basement or other cool area. Wear light, loose clothing as well. Regulating your body temperature is vital during a blackout.

    If it is dark, don’t try and venture around your home without a light. Falling down stairs or knocking your head on an open cupboard can make things a lot worse. Likewise, if the power's out, the streets will most likely be dark as well, so it might be best to just avoid going out into the blackness of night.


    1. Keep Your Food Safe

    According to Ready.gov, food in your refrigerator should stay cold for about 4 hours, so long as you keep the door shut. A freezer full of frozen food will maintain its temperature for up to 48 hours.


    1. Know When to Call it Quits

    Sometimes, the best thing to do is admit defeat. If the blackout is going to last longer than you’re prepared for, you might need to check in to a hotel or stay with a family member nearby. Doing so is not showing weakness – it’s showing wisdom. If you’re having troubles preparing food, staying warm or keeping cool, finding another location to spend the night or next few days would be a wise move indeed.


     What are some other important steps to take during a power outage? Let us know in the comments below!


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