By Jeanette Anzon
New apartments in the current real estate market predominantly have all the safety features built in for natural disasters as a result of natural crises in the past.
In California, the recent major earthquakes triggered several government bodies, engineers and researchers from various universities to study construction failures and recommend building safety features and retrofittings, according to earthquakesafety.com. Both the disasters and the research that followed it brought about such improvements in construction and even preceded the development of the Uniform Building Code, which was then replaced in 2000 by the International Code Council’s International Building Code—the largely accepted construction standard model in the United States.
In the Philippines, DMCI Homes, which is one of the leading real estate developers in a country that has constantly endured earthquakes and weather-related hazards, has also used a similar international building construction code. In an interview by philstar.com Engineer Gerardo S. Ancheta Jr., former head of engineering and current vice president for engineering design and construction division, DMCI Homes, says, “DMCI Homes insures apartments and other real estate properties with the latest engineering systems and electrical and fire safety standards available to date.”
Such events brought about by natural calamities really does develop today’s building standards and boost the installations of safety features such as earthquake-resistant materials, emergency alarms and exits, fire hoses and extinguishers and even basement flood pumps in apartments. This enables homeowners to receive greater protection from such unprecedented events.
However, do they really know what to do with them when disaster strikes? Are such safety features in an apartment enough to make them 100 percent safe during a calamity? Here are important tips to stay well-protected in your apartment before, during and after every possible calamity:
Before the earthquake
- Install chandeliers and other hanging objects only over areas where people pass through (hallways and foyers) and not where people stay within the apartment most of the time (living room, kitchen or over the beds).
- Secure bookshelves and cabinets to avoid them and their heavy contents from falling over during an earthquake.
- Check the items around your bed; there might be books overhead or wall frames that you can move to other places and lampshades to secure to keep them from falling over your head while you sleep.
- Find spots within your unit where you can take cover during the actual earthquake itself.
During the earthquake
- Duck under a sturdy table or against a wall and do not immediately run outside of your apartment to look for safer grounds.
- If there’s nothing to use as cover, drop down and cover your head with your hands.
- Stay away from the windows that might shatter.
After the earthquake
- Shut down main electrical switches and gas sources.
- Do not walk around barefooted to avoid stepping on broken glass and other sharp fragments.
- Expect the aftershocks; they might be just as violent as the earthquake itself.
- Get everyone out of the apartment and onto areas that are nowhere near electric and lamp posts as well as trees and keep them there until after the apartment’s structure and any gas, water and electrical lines have been inspected and cleared from any damages.
Hurricanes, rainstorms and flooding
Before the hurricane
- You should always keep track of the direction of the storm and of the local advisories and warnings through the news.
- Charge all electronic devices that are most especially needed for communication such as your portable radios, cellphones and even laptops.
- Prepare for power blackouts and store flashlights and spare batteries, two five-gallons of gas, drinking water and canned food that can last for at least three-days.
- Close all windows and doors. Depending on the predicted wind speed of the storm, you may need to cover the windows up with wood panels to avoid breakage from the strong winds.
- Know if your apartment is within a flood or landslide-prone area.
- If expecting a flood, create barriers and blockages on your front door to keep the water from seeping in.
- Pack certain necessities such as your clothes, toothbrush, medicines and first aid kit, important documents, etc., just in case you have to evacuate your apartment.
During the hurricane
- Continue to monitor for evacuation advisories just in case the conditions worsen.
- If your home location is flood prone, place the appliances and valuable items on higher levels of the house to keep them from getting soaked.
- Monitor the surrounding neighborhood for flooding and rising water levels, especially if your apartment is at the lower level of the building.
- Do not operate electrical items when you are in floodwater.
- Pull the appliances’ electrical plugs especially if the flood level is reaching the apartment’s electrical sockets.
After the hurricane
- Avoid drinking from your own faucet unless the local advisories have confirmed it safe.
- Do not use the electrical sockets immediately after the flood has subsided. Check the apartment’s electric circuits for shortages.
- Assess the integrity of wood structures particularly when it has been soaked during the storm.
Before the tornado
- Know whether the location of your home is prone to tornadoes.
- Find areas within your building or apartment where you can hide during a tornado. The safest places to hide in are the basement, the bathroom, or the hallway at the lowest level of the building.
- You can also go inside a closet or under the stairs or sturdy furniture for cover. You should have a portable radio and flashlight stored where it is easily accessible during a tornado storm.
- Cover windows with wooden boards or protective tapes to lessen flying shattered glass.
During the tornado
- Monitor the news for the direction of the approaching storm.
- Stay away from windows and hide within a safe place in your apartment.
- Make sure to carry with you a flashlight, radio, extra batteries and other important items (documents, first aid kit, medicines, etc.) while taking cover.
After the tornado
- Inspect gas, water, and electrical lines and pipes for ruptures and leakages before using them again.
- If your apartment building has been affected, be careful to walk through it. Watch out for falling debris and weakened wooden floorings.
Before the fire
- Keep a fire safety kit, which includes smoke masks, goggles and flashlights.
- Ensure the smoke alarms and fire extinguishers in your unit are working properly.
- Check the alarms for working batteries and the extinguishers for chemical or mechanical defects.
- As the apartment ages, you should check its electrical wirings for frays and cracks.
- Know the fire safety plan within your building. A copy of the plan should be posted behind every front door of every unit or given to every new owner or resident of the apartment.
- Make sure that the fire exits are unobstructed, self-closing and are working well. They should not be used as storage for garbage bins, bicycles and other items.
During the fire
- Deciding to stay within your apartment should only be considered if you are living in a fireproof building and there is fire on the unit above your apartment. However, if the fire cannot be contained quickly, leave the building immediately.
- Close and seal all doors and ventilators with duct tape or soaked towels to avoid smoke from seeping in.
- Hiding within bathrooms, especially those without windows or openings for escape, is not always the best option, especially if the fire is fast approaching. Some people have already been trapped inside thinking that they have adequate water in them to extinguish the fire. The truth actually is that the fire usually heats up the water pipes, which can scald a person even before he could use them to put out the fire.
- Staying near windows can be a good option while you are inside the apartment. This allows air for breathing if smoke still penetrates through the walls and helps rescuers see the people who are still inside the building.
- If the fire does not come from below your apartment, open a few inches of the windows to allow air to come in for breathing.
- It is also advisable to have in hand a cloth or towel to wave outside the window for easy visibility to rescuers once help for evacuation is needed.
- Wear your goggles and smoke masks especially if you have to evacuate the apartment. If you have no mask, cover your mouth and nose with a wet cloth or towel to avoid inhaling smoke.
- If there is a need to open a door upon evacuation, check for smoke coming from under the door and feel the temperature of the knob with the back of your hand before opening. Do not open the door if there is smoke or if the knob is too warm or hot.
- If the door can be opened, stand behind it when you turn the knob to protect yourself from unexpected bursts of heat or smoke from the other room or hall. Once this happens, immediately close the door and find another exit.
- Always close all doors behind you and do not use the elevators during evacuation.
- If smoke reaches your apartment or area of escape, crawl your way towards the safest exit. Smoke escapes upwards and do not settle down low. This makes the gap between the level of the smoke and the floor the only breathable space on your way out.
- Use a stairway that shows no signs of smoke. If you can see smoke coming from the stairway, shut the door and find another one.
After the fire
- Know and follow the advisories of fire safety experts after the fire has been put out.
- Assess the damage done to your apartment by the smoke, fire or the water that put out the fire.
- If the unit is drenching after extinguishing the fire, start by draining all the water out and sorting out items that were damaged by either water or smoke.
- After sorting out possessions, clean those that can still be salvaged and throw away all those that can’t be used anymore.
- If smoke has seeped into your apartment, aerate the unit in sections starting with the common areas first. Place a fan on high at your front door facing inwards and open one window to direct smoke particles outside through that window. Do this positive pressure ventilation for 15 minutes for each area.
- After the common areas, position the fan on the doorway of one room and introduce fresh air into the room in the same way you did with the common areas. Close this room after flushing out the smoke and proceed with the other rooms.
- Vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture with machines that has high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters to keep the smoke particles from escaping the vacuum chambers and right back into the room again.
- Also rinse all windows and ventilation screens as well as other air filters used within the apartment and wash all linens, curtains, fabrics and pillows that were exposed to the smoke and dry them outdoors. Do the same with all light fixtures, wall and furniture surfaces as well as the floors that were exposed to smoke using a dishwashing soap or shampoo solution.
Although improvements in safety building regulations as well as built-in safety features within an apartment can increase a person’s chance of survival from different calamities, they don’t necessarily guarantee total protection from all of them. Hence, every homeowner cannot fully rely on what an apartment has to keep you safe. What does is one’s knowledge on how to use them correctly and how to independently respond to every kind of natural disaster given the different situations he could be in.
Jeanette Anzon graduated from UP Los Baños, and went on to receive a Masters degree in Architecture in UP Diliman, Quezon City. She currently works as a communication specialist in DMCI Homes.