History teacher, Margaret Platt sat in the driver seat of her car, waiting at an intersection for the light to turn green. Her mind was buzzing with a thousand to-do lists and thoughts. Suddenly, the entire world lurched. Everything shook violently. Then, it was over. Police sirens wailed, exclamations filled the air. Platt gripped her steering wheel hard.
Platt experienced the Coalinga earthquake when she was living in Central California. The Coalinga earthquake had a magnitude of 2.5 on the Richter scale, which was a relatively minor earthquake in comparison to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
On April 18, 1906, an earthquake devastated San Francisco, CA, leaving the city in ruins. The earthquake was followed by a massive fire that burned for several days before the fire department was finally able to put it out. With a magnitude of 7.9 on the Richter scale, it was estimated to have killed approximately 3,000 people and destroyed about 28,000 buildings, which was about 80 percent of the city.
The 1906 San Francisco earthquake launched a nationwide series of earthquake awareness campaigns. A greater emphasis was placed on building structurally-sound buildings that wouldn’t collapse in areas prone to earthquakes. Today, the Department of Building Inspection oversees construction in San Francisco, in order to make sure that the buildings are earthquake-safe.
Despite taking these precautions, many Americans admit that they are unprepared for a major earthquake. According to the Federal Emergency Agency, 60 percent of Americans don’t practice or prepare for earthquakes, an especially alarming sign for those that live in earthquake danger zones, such as the Bay Area, which is in close proximity to the San Andreas fault line.
Sophomore Yoanna Lee admits that she isn’t prepared for an earthquake. Lee explains that she has many other things consuming her mind, such as grades, tests and extracurriculars, leaving no time to think about the possibility of an earthquake. To her, earthquakes are a distant threat.
“I don’t feel [threatened] because every moment, I’m so stressed out by everything happening in my life,” Lee said. “I have school to worry about and I have my family to worry about. When am I going to worry about an earthquake? [Although], if it did happen, I’d probably be screaming for my life.”
Unlike Lee, Platt is more aware of the dangers that earthquakes pose, as she has experienced earthquakes before. She believes that the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, which was 6.9 on the Richter scale, was a revolutionary earthquake as it jarringly reminded people of the large-scale damage an earthquake can cause.
Platt explains that she and her family have emergency supplies in case of a natural disaster. She believes that being prepared for an emergency is essential.
“It’s not just for earthquakes, it’s for anything that can happen,” Platt said. “We have a first-aid kit, we have spare blankets. Water, thank God for Costco. We have cases and cases of water. I think my family and I are aware that it’s not just earthquakes, it could be any other [disaster].”
Platt and her family haven’t officially established a safety procedure for an earthquake. However, Platt believes that she and her family are capable of acting rationally during a disaster, and therefore don’t require a pre-discussed plan.
“I think we’re wise enough to know where to go, what to do, if an earthquake does happen,” Platt said. “So we don’t drill or anything. I think my family would [be prepared], I can’t speak for other families. We’ll never know until we’re in it. That’s the best I can give you.”
While Platt has no emergency plan, Lee and her mom have already discussed an escape plan in case of a disaster. Lee lives on an apartment on the second floor. Therefore, she and her mom plan to use the balcony as an escape route.
“My mom and I have always talked about this,” Lee said. “We live on the second story so my mom and I have this basic plan. If anything happens, fire, earthquake, whatever, jump off the second story. That’s our only game plan. Get the money and jump off the second story.”
Sophomore Flora Peng also has a disaster plan. Since she lives in very close proximity to Kennedy Middle School, her parents have instructed her to go to the school in case of any emergency.
“We live very close to school, we’re literally two minutes walking from Kennedy MS,” Peng said. “So my mother said that if anything happened to our house, the safest place to go would probably be to school because schools have emergency supplies.”
However, Peng believes that schools could be doing much more in order to help prepare students for earthquakes. She thinks that earthquake drills don’t prepare the students, as they don’t take them seriously enough. To them, the possibility of a major earthquake is so distant that they don’t fear it or feel the need to prepare. Peng thinks that adding more personal anecdotes to earthquake training will help students accept earthquakes as a possible reality.
“I think making it more personal, because when things are more personal, you care about them more,” Peng said. “Maybe bring in people to talk about their experiences or just make it be known that ‘these are the consequences’ and we do live in an area where this is pretty big of an issue.”
Lee believes that over preparing for earthquakes is useless. She thinks that no amount of preparation will steel people for the true reality of an earthquake. In the end, she believes that it comes down to instincts and split-second decisions.
“No matter where you are, there’s always something that you should be aware about because you’re always at the risk of dying,” Lee said. “In an actual disaster, emergencies happen and you can’t plan for everything.”
Platt agrees that over-preparation is pointless. She explains that overthinking earthquakes and other disasters creates paranoia. Platt understands that earthquakes are a danger but she also doesn’t want to spend her life preparing for the next disaster, constantly imagining crises.
“You don’t want to [prepare] to the point where it’s scaring everybody,” Platt said. “You want people to be aware, you want people to be educated about it. You should talk about it, but you shouldn’t obsess over it. That’s no way to live life.”