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The Big One

It came as something of a shock the other day to learn that standing in a doorway is no longer considered the best place to be when The Big One shakes L.A. like a baby on a water bed.

Earthquake experts now say the best place to be, other than someplace else entirely, is under a heavy piece of furniture in a wood frame house securely bolted to its foundation . . . unless, of course, the walls aren’t properly sheathed and your gas water heater isn’t strapped down, in which case your house will no doubt collapse and explode with you tucked smugly under your solid oak desk clutching a Family Preparedness Plan.

I mention this only because I am expected to offer information now and again that is likely to enhance the public weal, and what is of greater public concern these days than the rollicking 8-point-plus earthquake that scientists predict is in our future? We are, in fact, promised the Big One with such eager redundancy that the mere mention of L.A. in juxtaposition with earth movement causes seismologists everywhere to salivate.

We are not, however, without facility of our own in the town that gave the world both John Wayne and Ronald Reagan, and steps are being taken to prepare for the Day the Earth Won’t Stand Still. For instance, we already have a cartoon character.

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I have to admit that I was a little startled Tuesday to learn of the existence of Quirky Quake, a gold-toned cartoon figure in the shape of California that adorns the office door of the Southern California Earthquake Preparedness Project.

Quirky wears a kind of cool L.A. smile, sunglasses and sneakers, but is otherwise naked, in the sense that Smokey the Bear or Donald Duck are naked. His stance indicates he is doing a kind of boogie to music, the idea being, I suppose, that getting ready for The Big One can be both hip and fun.

I was in the Quake-Prep office in the first place to ask Director Paul Flores what dangers are most likely to limit our lives when the 8-pointer strikes. It was Flores who warned a few days ago that standing in a doorway was not a terrific thing to do, a piece of news that rattled my sense of security. I grew up trusting doorways and it isn’t easy to accept a new concept of earthquake survival this late in the game.

“As a second option doorways are OK,” Flores assured me, “but you have to know your doorway. If it’s part of a thin partition and not a part of the building’s basic structure it won’t do you any good. It’s also not going to do you any good if you’re standing in a doorway next to a window and get stabbed by a piece of flying glass.”

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Death from flying objects is now one of the more popular dangers in earthquakes, and I don’t mean just flying glass. Books or plants turn deadly when whipped across the living room, and while being beaten senseless by a potted periwinkle may reek of satisfying irony, I can’t say I’m comfortable with the notion of being bashed into hell by sequentially pounding volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

However, Flores was quick to add, we’ll probably be in greater danger outdoors than indoors, so it’s best to remain inside.

“People say to me it’s stupid to stay in a building that is collapsing on your head,” he said, “but I say to them that they’re not going to get out in time anyhow so they might as well stay put. Get under a desk and ride it out.” Then he suggested somewhat whimsically to be sure to keep a firm grip on the desk because it’s going to be sliding back and forth across the room as the building whips from side to side. Losing a sliding desk not only robs you of a protective shield but also leaves you open to being run over by your own furniture.

There are many safety factors to consider in order to be a member of the Quirky Quake Preparedness Club, secure in the knowledge that you’re ready for the Big One. For instance, is your house bolted down? Are your walls sheathed? Is your hot water heater strapped? Are your cabinets locked and bolted in place, your books braced in, your pictures fastened securely, your children registered? If so, you’ve done very well . . . unless you happen to be on a freeway, in which case you’re probably doomed anyhow. If a summer storm can traumatize traffic, imagine what an apocalypse will do.

A final admonition in disaster advice is to remain calm. Although I personally favor running through the streets screaming, I can understand the additional burden this would impose on emergency services if everyone did. So crawl out from under your desk, mix a martini in an unbreakable container purchased for just such an occasion, and let the good times roll.


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