Dealing with earthquakes

According to the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre (UWI-SRC), there were 32 aftershocks following Tuesday’s earthquake which hit Venezuela and affected many CARICOM Member States, including Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Guyana, Dominica, Grenada, Suriname, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Saint Lucia.

Thankfully, there were no reports of serious injury, loss of life, or significant damage to critical infrastructure and even in Trinidad and Tobago, which appeared to be the worst affected Member State, it was noted how “lucky” the residents were, to escape without major damage or any casualties. Citizens across the Caribbean are now being asked to however remain calm and be on the alert and to brace for more aftershocks, which can follow such as a massive earthquake.

Here in Barbados, the Department of Emergency Management (DEM) indicated that in the days, weeks and months following the initial earthquake, persons can expect to feel aftershocks, an aftershock being a small earthquake or tremor that follows a major earthquake. Just recently, in another column, I pointed out that we must not just focus on hurricanes in our disaster preparedness efforts, but on natural hazards and disasters in general, as an earthquake, tsunami or even a flood can give us a surprise at any time. Now, here we are again focused on the need to be better prepared in our disaster management planning, for these types of hazards.

That said, The University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre (UWI-SRC) has a wealth of information on earthquakes and other hazards. A visit to its Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Page should help us to better understand what we are dealing with and how to truly handle any subsequent unsettling situations, when it comes to earthquakes. Feel free to have a read below of the information selected, which I deem quite useful, with all credit of course going to the UWI-SRC.

What is an earthquake?
Earthquakes are caused by the movement of plates (huge slabs of rock) making up the surface of the Earth. The region where two or more plates meet is called a plate boundary. The plates are constantly moving, but this plate movement is neither smooth nor continuous, rather the plates often lock together at plate boundaries, causing a build-up of energy. When the plates eventually move out of this locked position, the energy that is released may be felt as an earthquake.

Can earthquakes be predicted?
Scientists are unable to predict the location, time and date of when an earthquake will occur, however, forecasts can be made based on past patterns of activity in a region. The Eastern Caribbean is a seismically active area, which has generated very large earthquakes in the past. Therefore, we will continue to have earthquakes of varying magnitudes.

What is the difference between volcanic earthquakes and tectonic earthquakes?
As magma makes its way through the crust to the surface of the earth, it breaks apart surrounding rock thereby generating volcanic earthquakes. Volcanic earthquakes are one of the main signs that a volcano is restless.
Tectonic earthquakes are caused by the movement of plates when energy accumulated within plate boundary zones is released. Tectonic earthquakes are usually larger than volcanic earthquakes

What is the safest thing to do during an earthquake?
Stay calm. Do not panic. Be alert. If inside stay inside, do not run out of the building as you may be injured by falling debris. If inside, drop, cover and hold on until the shaking stops. Get under a sturdy desk, table or bed and hold on or stand in a strong doorway.
Do not use elevators or stairs. Move away from windows, mirrors, glass doors, pictures, bookcases, hanging plants and heavy objects.
If outside and there are no obvious signs of danger nearby, stay there. If outside, stay away from glass buildings, electricity poles and bridges. If in a vehicle, do not stop on or under a bridge. Always look out for falling plaster, bricks, lighting fixtures and other objects.

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