Earthquakes are plentiful in Alaska. There are over a million earthquakes every year, including those that can’t be felt, around the world. They most frequently occur along fault lines, which is an area of weakness in the Earth’s surface or crust. Alaska experiences the most earthquakes in the North American continent. The strongest earthquake to hit North America struck in Anchorage. The date was good Friday, March 27th, 1964. It measured a 9.2 on the Richter Scale. The largest “on land” earthquake in over 150 yrs. was also in Alaska, close to Denali or Mt. McKinley. It measured a 7.9 and hit on November 3rd, 2002. On average, there are 4000 earthquakes in Alaska per year. Clearly, Alaskans are well versed in earthquakes.
What does an earthquake feel like? An earthquake is a shaking. It feels like some giant grabbed your building and shook it back and forth. The shaking can last from a few seconds to several minutes. The quake of 1964 lasted 7 long minutes. How strong an earthquake feels, or the amplitude will depend on the depth and proximity of the epicenter. The quake can measure mild and yet “feel” strong if the epicenter is close and the depth fairly shallow.
Earthquakes are caused by tectonic plates shifting. It is along the boarders of these plates that most earthquakes occur. These plates float on the mantle. The upper mantle can be described as a flowing, plastic rock. When these plates collide or shift in the same direction it produces an earthquake.
There are a few things you can do before and during an earthquake. Before an earthquake you can create an emergency plan. Have some canned food, a can opener and bottled water stored, preferably outside in an area that is accessible if your building collapses. Keep on hand a supply of flash lights, batteries, copies of your ID, and climate appropriate change of clothes for each family member. Here in Alaska, it’s a good idea to have a supply of emergency mylar blankets on hand. These can be obtained from sporting goods stores or ordered over the internet. Also decide on a meeting place to meet in case everyone is in a different location when the quake strikes. It’s not a bad idea to have cell phones. These would be handy for contacting each member of your family in any kind of an emergency. If you are in a building that is old and unreinforced then your best bet is to head for a doorway. However, in the newer buildings the doorways are no stronger than any other area in the building. Since the biggest danger during an earthquake is the building collapsing on you, it is recommended that you “run for cover”. If you can’t exit the building then find cover under a desk or other large piece of furniture. This will provide some protection from collapsing structures or heavy objects being tossed around. It is not uncommon in a mild earthquake for objects on shelves to fall off and crash to the ground. If at all possible, exit the building.
Finally, don’t panic and follow your emergency plan. Trial runs of your emergency plan are recommended. Know where your local police stations and fire stations are and keep a record of their phone numbers with you. Keep the phone numbers stored on speed dial in your home and if you have cell phones, store these important numbers in your mobile directory. Find and contact your loved ones first. If communication has been knocked out then proceed to your pre-arranged meeting place and wait. Being prepared is the key to enduring an emergency such as an earthquake.