PART 3: PPE

This is Part 3 in a planned series on earthquake response here in Cascadia. A new installment about every three weeks. This article contains affiliate links to Amazon. Purchasing through them may earn me a few cents of commission at no extra expense to you.

Last segment in mid-February, I addressed many of the hazards regarding taking actions after an earthquake. There are too many variables to cover every possible scenario, so the series is built on the assumption you need to get into a structure. This could be to rescue family members, dig out your gear, or simply to flee a potential collapse zone for a safer area. There will always be the “leave it to the professionals” crowd—if you’ve actually read my books, you know that they most likely will be overwhelmed and unavailable to you. That said, be a grown-up. Have a damned-good reason to be near a collapsing structure if that’s your choice.

A quick summary of hazards is listed as:

  • Collapsed structures, such as buildings and highway overpasses
  • Sinkholes and sudden drop-off where ground has giver way
  • Flooding water and sewage lines (which can hide holes)
  • Broken natural gas and propane lines
  • Arcing electrical lines
  • Falling debris and structural remnants

Let’s start with the obvious: foot and hand protection. In this day of sandals, flip-flops, and crocs…how many of you keep a spare set of hiking or construction boots in your rig? And not just boots, but good wool or acrylic-blend socks, too. That’s basically part of “Get Home Bags” 101. Put ‘em on and leave ‘em on! You may be wanting to let the old-dogs breath after you’ve been walking or climbing rubble for hours. Leave! Your! Boots! On! You do NOT want to ride out an aftershock or run from a sudden, falling tree or power-line with your little piggies showing! Do you need steel-toed shoes or boots? Strictly speaking, no. But any advantage will be something you’re thanking yourself for, so if you have them—use them.

Gloves come in many shapes and sizes. While technically, you could call those old cotton gardening gloves “PPE”, relying on this is a mistake. When I first started shipwrighting for the Feds in 1994, we had two choices: oversized leather or so-so cotton. On a hot summer day, when the temptation to use the cotton was great, it took about a half-shift to remember why we used leather—the cottons didn’t hold up to labor. Fast forward twenty-six years, and there are a slew of cut-resistant gloves, like these Maxi-Flex or these Mechanix brand gloves.

 

At $7 to over $20 per pair (depending on models), it seems steep. But these gloves will withstand weeks of hard use, months of moderate use, and last a lifetime in your Get Home Gear. After the event, get those gloves on, even for just walking around. There will be plenty to gash your hands on if you slip or trip. Gashed hands suck. Period. Take them off to eat, as you may pick up plenty of gut-wrenching stuff in your ventures.

Eye PPE would be next. Sunglasses and regular glasses are better than nothing, but barely. As a regular spectacles-wearer, I practice what I preach for all outdoor activities by using prescription safety glasses that happen to be photochromatic. But if you don’t need glasses, try to keep a $9 pair of stylish safety glasses in your rig. If you see Z87 or Z87.1 somewhere stamped on them, then they have passed the OSHA standard for safety glasses.

Carhart is but one of literally hundreds of brands of stylish safety glasses that are less than $10…

Respirators could take their entire article, so we’ll stick with paper masks and face shields for this article. As this goes out to blog, most of the world’s media has driven up the stocks of companies that make these by vastly blowing out-of-proportion the threat of Covid-19. But, since you all now paid three times too much for a box of N95 masks, you might as well keep a couple in your car. I say “couple” because if you only put one in there, you know damn well that your kids or spouse will be there when the Big One hits. But in a pinch, use a wettened bandana, handkerchief, or shemaugh over your face. Keep that crap out of your lungs. The air will be full of asbestos and non-asbestos based insulation, MMVFs (vitreous fibers used in things like carbon fiber), paint and other haz-mat vapors, gas fumes, dirt, dust, etc.

Part two of face protection is kind-of a segway into head protection—face shields. Not very practical to keep in your car, are they?

There are these head-band style with flimsy visors that are part of throw-away emergency medical gear. The level up from that is the type that you should really own if you have a drill-press in your shop. Then there’s the type that goes on hardhats.Some are plastic, while others are a durable metal screen—great for branches, no bueno for liquid.

Yeah…you knew I’d get there eventually. They’re not practical to keep in your rig, at all, and yet…depending on where you live, you really ought to think about it. Take the “Pacific North-WET”, for example. We get reliably predictable wind-storms that drop trees every winter. If you live in the sticks like I do, you should at least keep your chainsaw fueled and accessible. Many of us keep them in our trucks’ tool-boxes in winter. Why not keep a high-quality logger’s hat and face-shield in there, too? Then you’ll have it when you need to trim your branches for the rest of your life. If those are out of your price-range, these Bullard or MSA brand hardhats are what 90% of the construction and fabrication industries in the U.S. use.

And, yes—you can buy face-shields and ear-muffs that will snap onto some models. Hard hats seem a bit trite considering we’re talking about building collapses, but don’t forget about the debris, furniture, etc. that could slide off a partially collapsed structure at any moment. Even one nail hurts like a sumbitch when it falls thirty-feet!

What?? What??? Thought I forgot about your ears??? Disposable ear-plugs are literally just a few grams, and though cheap, you can usually find a friend with an industrial job that will just give you a few pair. “But I’m a loser with no friends! Thanks, jerk! Now I feel bad!” Don’t. You can walk into any audiologist’s office and ask for free ear-plugs.

There are some more specialized, technical, and expensive PPE’s that I didn’t cover. I mentioned respirators already. Don’t forget knee or elbow pads. There are coveralls, too. Not just basic models, but heat or abrasion resistant models, too. And fall protection equipment. All of these things are costly and usually have at least some training requirements to use properly and safely. I mention them only because they exist. If you need to know specifics about some of those, shoot me an email, as I deal with that stuff in my career-job on a daily basis.

 

Part 4 of this series will be around the end of March and cover tools.

NEXT WEEK: “Gear of Cascadia: Water, Part 2”

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