Earthquake Preparedness Guide

earthquakesEarthquakes pose an everyday threat not only to the western seaboard but also to more than 40 other states in America. While most people think of them as only being a hazard to those living in places like California or Washington, many states are actually located near fault lines capable of causing earthquakes.

As history has shown us (in cities like San Francisco), earthquakes are unpredictable in nature and are capable of causing massive amounts of damage generated by the violent and rapid shaking of the earth that they cause.

If you live in an earthquake prone area of the United States, being prepared and taking the proper precautions before one occurs can go a long way when one does. Even if you don't live in a "hot zone," being educated on what to do during and after an earthquake can come in handy if you ever travel to one of these areas. Below we'll go over, in full detail, the steps you can take to become better prepared for an earthquake as well as what you can do during and after one to improve your chances of minimizing injuries and surviving the aftermath.

Preparing For an Earthquake

As earthquakes often strike without warning and can be extremely violent, there are several precautions you can take to be better prepared for one long before it occurs. To start, you should thoroughly check your home and/or office for potential hazards including things like structural damage, unsecured furniture and appliances among other things. This can greatly reduce the chance of injury and potential death caused by things like structural weaknesses and unsecured furniture.

Making repairs to your home, like fixing deep cracks in your ceilings and walls, along with anchoring light fixtures to the ceiling and following local building codes can all go a long way in making your home safer. Below is a list with a few tips and tricks to take when preparing for an earthquake as suggested by organizations like FEMA.

  • Check for potential hazards in your home including, but not limited to:
    • Fastening shelves securely to walls or other sturdy structures
    • If you use shelves to store items, place the heavier, larger and/or sharper items on the bottom shelf to help prevent injuries from occurring when they shift in an earthquake.
    • Store breakable and fragile items in closed cabinets with latches that are closest to the ground.
    • Move wall-hung heavy items such as pictures away from beds, sofas, and anywhere else people regularly hangout in your home.
    • Brace overhead light fixtures with straps.
    • Check (an repair if necessary) all defective electrical wiring and leaky gas connections
    • Secure your water heater. You can do this by strapping it to studs in the wall and bolting it to the floor.
    • Repair any deep cracks in your ceiling or foundation. This may require the help of a professional.
    • Store flammable and/or poisonous items such as pesticides, flammable products and related items securely in closed cabinets with latches.
  • Identify the safest areas both indoors and outdoors. These areas include, but are not limited to:
    • Under sturdy furniture such as heavy desks or tables
    • Against an inside wall, away from any mirrors, pictured or decorations that could potentially cause harm if dislodged.
    • Away from anywhere that glass or ceramic materials could shatter. This includes spaces near windows, mirrors, pictures, or where heavy bookcases and other heavy furniture could fall.
    • If looking outside, try to pick out spaces in the open that are a safe distance away from buildings, trees, phone and electrical lines, or overpasses.
  • Get in touch with your local emergency management office or American Red Cross to request more information on earthquakes.
  • Teach children how and when to call 9-1-1, police, or fire department and which radio station to tune to for emergency information.
  • Teach all family members how to turn off gas, electricity, and water.
  • Make sure you have emergency supplies on hand including:
    • A flashlight and a sufficient amount of batteries.
    • A portable battery-operated radio and extra batteries.
    • A first aid kit
    • Emergency food and water
    • Non-electric can opener
    • Any medicines you take on a regular basis
    • Cash and credit cards
    • Sturdy shoes
  • In case family members are separated from one another during an earthquake (a real possibility during the day when adults are at work and children are at school), develop a plan for reuniting afterwards.
  • Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the family contact. After an earthquake, it can be easier to make calls out of the state, where the phone lines and electricity would likely be unaffected. Make sure everyone in the family knows the name, address, and phone number of this person.

What to do While an Earthquake is Occurring

While an earthquake is occurring, it is imperative that you stay as safe as possible by following some commonly accepted methods. It is important to keep in mind that many earthquakes are actually foreshocks to a larger earthquake so you will want to keep your movement to a minimum. When an earthquake is happening, you will want to find the closest "safe place" (if indoors). Depending on if your outside or indoors, the following steps are recommended:

If You're Indoors During an Earthquake...

  • Drop to the ground; take cover by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and hold on until the shaking stops. If there isn’t a table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building
  • Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture
  • Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake strikes. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place
  • Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave
  • Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on
  • Do not use elevators

If You're Outdoors During an Earthquake...

  • Stay outside.
  • Move away from buildings, streetlights, utility wires and any other potential hazards.
  • Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops. The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits and alongside exterior walls. Many of the 120 fatalities from the 1933 Long Beach earthquake occurred when people ran outside of buildings only to be killed by falling debris from collapsing walls. Ground movement during an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or injury. Most earthquake-related casualties result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects.

If You're in a Moving Vehicle During an Earthquake...

  • Stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires.
  • Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake.

If You're Trapped Under Debris During an Earthquake...

  • Do not light a match.
  • Do not move about or kick up dust.
  • Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.
  • Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort. Shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.

What to do After an Earthquake

  • When the shaking stops, look around to make sure it is safe to move. Then exit the building.
  • Expect aftershocks. These secondary shockwaves are usually less violent than the main quake but can be strong enough to do additional damage to weakened structures and can occur in the first hours, days, weeks, or even months after the quake.
  • Help injured or trapped persons. Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance such as infants, the elderly and people with access and functional needs. Give first aid where appropriate. Do not move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Call for help.
  • Look for and extinguish small fires. Fire is the most common hazard after an earthquake.
  • Listen to a battery-operated radio or television for the latest emergency information.
  • Be aware of possible tsunamis if you live in coastal areas. These are also known as seismic sea waves (mistakenly called "tidal waves"). When local authorities issue a tsunami warning, assume that a series of dangerous waves is on the way. Stay away from the beach.
  • Use the telephone only for emergency calls.
  • Go to a designated public shelter if your home had been damaged and is no longer safe. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345).
  • Stay away from damaged areas. Stay away unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire, or relief organizations. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
  • Be careful when driving after an earthquake and anticipate traffic light outages.
  • After it is determined that it's safe to return, your safety should be your primary priority as you begin clean up and recovery.
  • Open cabinets cautiously. Beware of objects that can fall off shelves.
  • Put on long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes and work gloves to protect against injury from broken objects.
  • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately. Leave the area if you smell gas or fumes from other chemicals.
  • Inspect the entire length of chimneys for damage. Unnoticed damage could lead to a fire.
  • Inspect utilities.
    • Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can and call the gas company from a neighbor's home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.
    • Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice.
    • Check for sewage and water lines damage. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water by melting ice cubes.

Supplies to Have On Hand For Earthquakes

There are not many emergency supplies that will help protect you while an earthquake is occurring, but there are several essentials that can come in handy afterwards. Things like foods with a long shelf life, emergency water, radios, flashlights, hygiene supplies and first aid kits can all prove to be life-saving tools in the aftermath of natural disasters like earthquakes. Below we have listed several important supplies that everyone should have on hand before, during and after an earthquake occurs.

Complete Earthquake Emergency Kits

Aside from acquiring supplies and putting together your own earthquake kit, there are also a wide range of complete earthquake kits available. These kits include all of the supplies you would need after an earthquake, including radios, flashlights, food, water, first aid kits and more. Most earthquake kits are packaged in backpacks or duffle bags and are kept lightweight, so they are easy to transport in an emergency. 

Additional Resources & Information