Other Hazards

This web site and my consultations focus on earthquakes, because that is the primary hazard to life and limb in this area which people would like help with. However life can be "interesting" and there are other possible hazards. In the interest of keeping the time commitment down to a reasonable level, my standard visit doesn't cover those, but if you're interested please ask. This page gives a little information about a few other areas you might have questions about.

What you don't know about Child Safety Seats

Everybody knows that a child should always ride in child safety seat, and that children should never ride in the front seat or in any seat with an airbag. Unfortunately, there are still two problems that are very common:

Installation

In spite of all the efforts of the manufacturers to make things easier, a huge proportion of car seats are still installed incorrectly. I only know of two ways to find out if you've done yours right:

Please, go to a clinic and get your seats checked. When we did that, the CHP officer told us to use retainer clips on our seats, even though the manufacturer specifically stated that they weren't necessary, and the seats were much more secure once we did that.

Age limits

This is a big one, because almost everyone I talk to completely misunderstands the intent of the California law. (Perhaps the legislature could have stated it more clearly when they wrote the law, but that's a separate issue.)

The problem is that the law specifies minimum ages, and many people are under the mistaken impression that these statutory limits are recommended or required ages. They are not. Here's a table that summarizes the legal minimum ages and the recommended ages, which are quite different. A fuller explanation appears below the table.

Transition California Legal Requirement * Recommended for Maximum Safety
Switch an infant or toddler from rear-facing to front-facing. At least 1 year old and 20 pounds. Wait until child reaches the maximum rear-facing weight or height for the safety seat.**
Switch to a booster seat. At least 40 pounds. Wait until child reaches the maximum weight or height for the safety seat.**
Switch to using adult belts (no special seat needed). At least 6 years old or 60 pounds Wait until child is 4'9" (145 cm) tall.**
* This is a summary and omits many details.
** In rare cases a child may reach the maximum limits of a seat before reaching the minimum legal limits for a transition. If this occurs, that model of seat is no longer suitable for that child.

If you read the law carefully, these are like speed limits. If the speed limit on a city street is 45 MPH, that does not mean that the city or state is demanding that you drive that fast, or even suggesting that you should. It's telling you that anything over 45 MPH is so blatantly excessive that any police officer can write you a ticket with no questions asked. Depending on weather conditions, traffic, and so on the speed you should drive may be much less.

In a similar way, the child safety seat law says that infants must be in a rear-facing seat until they are at least 1 year old, but that does not mean that you should flip the seat to front-facing on their first birthday. It means that flipping it any sooner is so blatantly dangerous that any police officer can write you a ticket with no questions asked. In fact the child will be much safer if you leave the seat facing rearward until he or she reaches the maximum weight or height limit for that seat. (Each seat is different, so you have to check the individual seat's owner's manual or safety label for the exact numbers.) We kept our twins rear-facing until they were well over 2 years old.

The 40-pound limit for moving up to a booster seat is also a minimum, and the child is safer if you keep them in a full safety seat as long as possible. Ours stayed in a full seat with 5-point belts until they were almost 9½ years old, because that's when they reached the maximum weight for our model of safety seat. (Yes, the kids gave us plenty of grief for it, but they understood that it was for their own safety.)

Finally, the 6-year age for graduating to full adult belts (no booster) is also simply the legal minimum to avoid prosecution. If you want your children to truly be safe, keep them in a booster until they are 4'9" tall. I expect our kids will be using them until they're at least 11 or 12 years old.

By the way, you will occasionally see devices advertised, often cheap contraptions made of pads and straps and clips, which claim to be just as good as or eliminate the need for an expensive safety seat. I wouldn't touch any of them because without testing results from an independent 3rd party, you have no way of knowing if it's a scam that will put your child at risk.

Floods

Here are a few general points to remember:

Landslides

This is very specific to location, so your insurance agent is a good resource. Landslides can also be triggered by earthquakes, so beware of the risk of a "double whammy".

Radiation

Fortunately the specter of all-out nuclear war between the USA and the USSR is now merely an unpleasant memory, but there are still some scenarios which could cause exposure to harmful radiation:

Because the US is such an open society we're likely to be pretty well informed about the occurrence of such events, and the public health authorities will provide instructions for any necessary actions. Nonetheless, if this is of particular concern for you there are three areas you might want to consider:

Detection and Warning

Various agencies and organizations do regular monitoring, and of course if there is a reactor accident it should be known immediately. If, however, you're worried about things like terrorists who might deliberately conceal their attack until radioactive material has spread, there are radiation detectors available to the public. One of the best I've seen is the NukAlert, available here: These are not cheap ($160 each), but I put one of these in my briefcase for peace-of-mind years ago and generally forget it's even there. It runs 24x7 and will beep if it ever detects a problem.

There are other kinds of meters available, but they are generally either too simple (imprecise or unable to sound an alarm) or too complicated (require training to use and regular calibration).

Evacuation

In a very serious local event, evacuation is a likely response. This can be less of a problem for you if:

Treatment with "Anti-Radiation Pills"

Another possible response, more likely in a scenario involving exposure to lower levels of radiation over a wider area, is treatment with iodine. This can be useful, but is subject to a number of limitations which you should be aware of:

In addition to potassium iodide, you will also see potassium iodate sold for the same purpose. This is a related but different substance which is accepted by WHO and used in the UK, but as far as I can tell it is not FDA approved in the US. (The information available about this on the Internet is conflicting and confusing.) If you want to keep your own supply of either potassium iodide or iodate, it's easy to find on the Internet. Here are a couple places to start:

In any event, remember that even if you've taken the pills it's still essential that you evacuate if the authorities tell you to.

One further point: Don't ever substitute other forms of iodine, e.g. the tincture of iodine which used to be popular as a wound disinfectant. These other forms are poisonous and could kill you if ingested. Iodized salt won't help you either, because it doesn't contain nearly enough iodine to provide any therapeutic effect in this context.

Pandemic Influenza

We see influenza every year, but every few decades the world tends to have a big pandemic. It's quite unpredictable when the next one will be, or how mild or severe it will be — the one in 1918 was a disaster that killed tens of millions, but the one in 1957 is hardly even remembered now. Typically in such a pandemic a large proportion of the population becomes infected, but only some unpredictable fraction of those get really sick. Vaccine development is getting better, but it's hard to know ahead of time how much that will help in the next pandemic (it took much longer than predicted to have the H1N1 vaccine available in late 2009).

The bad news is that in the event of a really bad pandemic, the medical care system will probably be overwhelmed, and there won't be enough doctors and nurses and hospital rooms to treat everyone who gets infected. The good news is that people who have no medical training at all can save lives by giving home care; all they need is the right information.

There are lots of books out there (search Amazon.com for "bird flu" or "pandemic influenza"), but as a starting point I recommend any of the following by Grattan Woodson, MD:

What I like about Woodson is that he doesn't sugar-coat anything when discussing how serious a really bad pandemic could be, but he also provides clear, detailed instructions for how you can provide effective home care that could easily make the difference between life and death for a family member or other loved one. It also has a good list of things to keep on hand (nearly all of which are easily available at your local pharmacy). Many of the items he recommends are also pretty useful during a normal flu season. Since the books are cheap, my recommendation is to get a copy of one of them and keep it around in case you ever need it.