How to Prepare Elderly Parents for an Earthquake

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I grew up in San Francisco and have lived in California all my life, so I have been through more earthquakes than I can count. And since they often occur early in the morning, I don't even bother to get out of bed unless they're a 4.0+ (I'm as accurate as a Richter Scale at Cal Tech), and I just roll over and go back to sleep. However, when a recent Southern California 5.8 quake hit quite close to my new high-rise condo, it got my attention!

I was on the phone with my friend Therese in Seattle when the light shaking began. I said, "Hold on a second," waiting to see if it was going to stop or get worse. Then, BOOM, shake, rattle, and roll. I threw the phone down yelling, "Earthquake!", grabbed my cell phone and ran to get under my dinning room table.

And even though this beautiful new high-rise was built with even higher earthquake standards than the law requires, the thought of 12 floors of steel and concrete above me was not comforting. I guess the collapse of one floor will kill you just as quick as 12.

As I crouched and held on, swaying back and forth for what seemed like an eternity, I heard these guttural groaning sounds coming from the building straining. A few small things were falling over, but I was so relieved I had recently used "Quake Hold" under all my breakables, which held everything in place.

Finally the rocking stopped, but the eerie creaking continued for many minutes as the building resettled. I raced back to my desk to assure Therese I was alive, but the phones were dead, so I sent a quick email. Later she said it was a good thing I yelled "Earthquake!" or she would have called the police because my scream was chilling.

Soon the phones came back on and I took several quick calls assuring friends and family that I was still breathing fine, not wanting to tie up the lines in case I wasn't anywhere near the epicenter and it was worse elsewhere.

Then I went to check on some seniors who live here. Even though they were quite shaken up, fortunately they were okay. But then my heart ached, as I couldn't stop thinking about all the millions of elders and particularly those suffering from mild dementia in Southern California who are still living alone and who must be terrified. Had their families ever prepared them for earthquakes or a fire, or any emergency? Did they wear medical identification jewelry? Did they take a fall trying to get under something sturdy? Did something fall on top of them that was not properly secured? Did they forget about the gas stove they had on?

Soon the television flashed a "Special Report" and the news anchor announced, "Southern California has just dodged another bullet today." Phew, it wasn't the BIG ONE--but then I wondered how many are as prepared for that eventuality as I am.

My part of the world is prone to earthquakes, but whether you live in an area where the prevalent natural disasters are earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires or tornadoes, there are some things you can do to prepare yourself and your elderly loved ones for "the big one."

Jacqueline Marcell is a former television executive who was so compelled by caring for her elderly parents (both with early Alzheimer's not diagnosed for over a year) she wrote "Elder Rage." She is also an international speaker on elder care and host of the popular Internet radio program "Coping With Caregiving."

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3 Comments

I have read dozens of places that advocate to be ready, to be prepared. Okay we are prepared emergency kit stocked will all the essentials...check network..check, documents..check..transportation..check. Okay where are we going?? I have been looking for a good 30 minutes now and I know that they have different levels and different shelters...blah,blah,blah...Hers the question 211 what if the phone lines are down roads are jammed, cause I have been in a natural disaster it never goes smooth its total pandemonium the phone lines are going to be busy. all I want to know is where is the darn shelter. I did all this preparing to sit in a car with no where to go...really.
08/25/16... I don't think any of us are ever ready for an earthquake unless one lives in an area that has them on a regular basis. I remember asking my home owners insurance carrier for an earthquake rider and he looked at me like my hair was on fire, he said our area never has earthquakes but he added the rider to my house insurance.

Well, a couple years later in 2011 here in the Washington DC area, we had an earthquake. It did do some damage to the monuments in DC but out in the burbs just a bit of shaking.

I was sitting at my computer desk and the chair had a bit of a shake, I thought what is the cat doing now, thought one was under the chair rubbing it. Then I heard things shaking on the shelves and bookcase. Oops, that's not the cat. I ran down the stairs and out the front door, and so did my neighbors. We all looked at each other asking "what was that?".

Was the Concorde air craft back in business? It use to rattle glasses on take off from the nearby airport.