Human Journey

Want To Prepare For The Next Big Quake? Ask A Teen

In the event of an emergency like an earthquake, adults should follow teens’ lead when it comes to communication style. “If young people would show older people how to text, that would be amazing,” says Ana-Marie Jones, the Executive Director of Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters. Image by Jhaymesisviphotography via Flickr.

by Amber Ly

You’re sitting on your bed, and your mattress starts to stir beneath you. “Oh, it’s just the cat,” you think to yourself. But then your wardrobe starts to sway. Left, right, left, right. Unless your cat literally weighs a ton, she isn’t the one to blame here. This is an earthquake. And if you’re like most teens in the Bay Area, you’ve only experienced a handful of them.

Northern California is notorious for being an earthquake hotspot. As a Bay Area resident, I live on top of several fault lines, specifically the San Andreas fault. Born and raised in San Francisco, I have been warned about the potential hazards of earthquakes my entire life.

“We had freeways collapsing, we had a panel of the bridge drop down,said Berkeley resident Ben Frost, 36, about the 6.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Loma Prieta in 1989. Although he was only ten years old then, he remembers the quake and its aftermath. “Some people died. The whole world was vibrating and moving around. If it had been slightly stronger, way more buildings would’ve collapsed and most buildings aren’t prepared to be retrofitted for an even bigger quake.”

But as a Bay Area teen born eight years after Loma Prieta, I can’t remember an earthquake that did more than make a few houseplants shake. After hearing about the recent major earthquakes in Nepal, I wonder how prepared my peers and I are for a major earthquake.

One of my friends, 18-year-old Berkeley resident Desmond Meagley, says he doesn’t have a plan if an earthquake were to hit the Bay Area. “Growing up, I would always hear about ‘the big one.’ If my house was destroyed by an earthquake, we wouldn’t have anywhere to go,” Desmond said. “And I do sort of worry about natural disasters and my home because of exactly that. I know we’re not that prepared.”

And then there’s Soraya Shockley, 18, and her family, who live Oakland, California. When I heard about their plan, I had no doubt that they were ready to face the wrath of an earthquake.

“We have enough water for probably like five years, and we have all the saltines and canned fish we need to survive,” Soraya said. “We have a plan for if we get separated or if they’re at work and we’re a school, where we’d meet up, in case phone lines are down. My mom taught us this the first day we went off to school.”

Now, not all of us have an amazingly well-equipped emergency kit, but according to Ana-Marie Jones, the executive director of Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters, teens are more prepared than you’d think.

“Every young person I know texts. Young people are digital natives, they’re really good at it,” she said. In the wake of an earthquake, texts are the best way to get a hold of your loved ones since they use less data than phone calls. They also may get through even when lines are busy, but some older people, like my parents, struggle with texting.

In that case, I guess teens do have a leg up in earthquake readiness. “Texting is the best way to get a message through,” Jones said. “If young people would show older people how to text, that would be amazing.”

After talking to Jones, I started to reevaluate my own level of preparedness. I never considered myself ready to take on ‘the big one.’ But I’ve also been drilled in the protocols of earthquake safety for years in school.

In general, I feel like I’m already prepared. By taking Ana-Marie’s advice to teach the older generation to text and following Soraya’s standard on emergency kits, I am a few steps closer to being all set and ready to go.

So this spring, don’t let the San Andreas movie freak you out too much about your own earthquake preparedness. Instead focus on your strengths — and check out a more reliable source of information.

Youth Radio Investigates is an NSF-supported science reporting series in which young journalists collect and analyze original data with professional scientists, and then tell unexpected stories about what they discover. National Geographic News Watch partners with Youth Radio to share the work of the young journalists with the National Geographic audience. Check out more from Youth Radio’s science desk at http://www.youthradio.org/oldsite/nsf/index.shtml

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (dbraun@ngs.org)

Social Media