I hear they’re about to roll out a warning system for earthquakes around here. It’s called ShakeAlert. Apparently this will give you three seconds’ notice.
This is already in operation in California, where it might conceivably be of some use. They schedule earthquakes all the time in California. They’re like zoom meetings: there are too many of them and nobody really enjoys them anymore, but at least everyone knows how they work. In California the ground goes sideways so often that people have their protocols memorized.
Here, we get an earthquake every three hundred years. It’s a doozy, but it’s hard to anticipate.
So I imagine in California everyone has scoped out the safest place to hunker down during an earthquake, with the awareness changing from room to room as they walk through the house, and given three seconds’ warning they can actually change their personal outcomes. They’ve rehearsed.
I have no idea what I would do with three seconds’ warning. Pull a Q-Tip out of my ear, maybe. Or grab the toilet paper, if I could, since that’s the first thing I’d need after the quake. Supposedly you should be able to get a warning from the birds and animals, even your own personal cat, although ours would have to wake up first and can’t even get a whole yawn out in three seconds. And really, the birds are no help either. If all the birds fly away at once, it’s going to be a Cooper’s hawk just about every time, and an earthquake every three hundred years. So.
Now when I was working at the post office, there could have been some merit in a warning system. Everyone had a big metal sorting case they stood at, and if we make the charitable assumption that everyone is in fact working, and not wandering around with a football pool, that means everyone has something solid they can duck under during an earthquake. In theory. In reality, we had all sorts of things stashed underneath our cases where our bodies might have otherwise fit. Trays of vacation-hold mail, for instance. It’s considered bad form to deliver someone’s vacation mail after you’ve pooped all over it. Not unprecedented, but still poor from a public-relations standpoint.
There’s another problem with the ShakeAlert warning system. It comes over your phone. I don’t even know where my phone is. Everyone else has a phone in their pocket so I guess I should take it as a warning if everyone stopped suddenly and went “WAH! WAH! WAH!” Does it give me enough time to evacuate? In my shorts, maybe.
Let’s just say I’m going to need more than three seconds. If you gave me two days’ warning, I could probably assemble a proper bug-out bag of groceries, clothing, extra glasses, TP, and a tent. Maybe I could do that right now, but it would interfere with my mental-health policy of reducing anxiety through applied ignorance. And so far, that has served me very well.