In earthquake, don't rn screaming from building

I didn't even know I needed earthquake training, but this week I and dozens of other Nevada Appeal employees found ourselves being trained for earthquakes.

Before I went, I was a little shaky on the details of earthquake training. What, exactly, did I need to know in order to run screaming from the building?

Plenty of people who work at the Nevada Appeal are self-proclaimed experts in earthquakes, because they've been through them before. Some major ones. Some scary ones.

But I've never experienced a real earthquake. I was once on the fringes of one in Illinois - not exactly a hotbed of earthquake activity - but I didn't know what it was.

I was about 10 years old, and we were at the bowling alley. All of the pins fell over.

"Earthquake" wasn't in our vocabulary. "Freight train," which ran on tracks about 15 feet from the bowling alley every couple of hours, was a much more likely explanation.

When the pins fell down, I simply marked down a strike on my scoresheet. Thank you very much. The next day, the newspaper said there had been an earthquake. "Huh," we said.

Now that I have had earthquake training, however, I know that I should not running screaming from the building. I should stay screaming inside the building.

For one thing, according to geologist Charles Watson who conducted the training, the Nevada Appeal building sports a "death structure" over its front door.

The awning with tall pillars, which makes the newspaper office look like a mausoleum, is one of those things that is likely to fall down when the earth starts shaking.

When that happens, I'll be hiding under my desk. When the shaking stops, I will stay under my desk while ordering a photographer to run outside and take pictures of the collapsed awning in front of the newspaper office.

Watson's advice is to "Think first, then act. The first move is going to save your life."

His point was well illustrated by the banquet room in which he was teaching earthquake training. Our first instinct, in the case of an earthquake, would be to dive under the tables.

Unfortunately, as Watson pointed out, there were 1,000-pound chandeliers hanging over some of the tables. So some tables were better for diving under than others.

Also, keep your shoes by your bed. Because when you do get to the point of running screaming from the building, it's not a good idea to be doing so in bare feet. Something about having to pick out the shards of glass later.

Another tip: Giant wholesale warehouses, which tend to stack things like lawn tractors and compressors on shelves 20 feet over your head, are excellent places not to be in an earthquake.

Watson said Art Bell, of weird radio show fame, once called him in the middle of the night to ask Watson if would go to the epicenter of an earthquake if he knew one were about to happen.

The geologist replied that he would indeed go to an earthquake site. "As long as I'm not in Costco," he said. "Imagine getting crushed by a pallet of charcoal briquets."

It was, indeed, a scary thought.

Just how worried should we be about earthquakes? Well, I haven't lived here very long, so I'm apparently not worried nearly enough. The locals, though, have plenty of stories about shaking and quaking and things falling down.

One of the guys who works here, Jeff Munson, moved from Mammoth Lakes, where earthquakes are about as remarkable as sagebrush in Nevada. Thousands of earthquakes. In fact, when the ground isn't shaking, they look around at each other and wonder what's wrong.

The last big quake close to home, though, was in 1994 centered south of Gardnerville. Two giant ones occurred in 1954 at Dixie Valley, outside Fallon, which registered 7.2 and 6.8 . They happened four minutes apart.

There are fault zones all around us, and Watson pointed out how the topography of Nevada between Carson City to Ely was formed primarily by the tectonic movements of the earth. The giant mountain blocks rose up, while the basins between them dropped away along the fault lines.

The good news, though, is that there has been only one serious injury in Nevada since 1954 associated with earthquakes, and that happened near Topaz when a boulder rolled off the side of a hill and hit a car.

I'd just as soon keep it that way. Even if it means screaming under my desk.

Barry Smith is managing editor of the Nevada Appeal.

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