Earthquakes strike suddenly, violently and usually without warning. They may strike in any season, at any time of the day or night. A large earthquake is usually followed by a series of smaller quakes, called aftershocks, that can occur at irregular intervals for several days or weeks. The biggest danger in an earthquake is from falling objects. The second biggest danger is fire, triggered by broken gas lines or spilled flammables. Other immediate dangers include downed power lines, road damage, fallen trees, broken glass, and collapsed buildings. Many other problems can arise in the period after the quake. By taking precautions now, you can mitigate some of the problems and help your family better survive the ordeal.
Preparing for an Earthquake
Identifying potential hazards ahead of time and advance planning can reduce the dangers of serious injury or loss of life from an earthquake.
Check for hazards in the home.
- Fasten shelves securely to walls.
- Place large or heavy objects on lower shelves.
- Store breakable items such as bottled foods, glass, and china in low, closed cabinets with latches.
- Hang heavy items such as pictures and mirrors away from beds, couches, and anywhere people sit.
- Brace overhead light fixtures.
- Repair defective electrical wiring and leaky gas connections. These are potential fire risks.
- Secure a water heater by strapping it to the wall studs and bolting it to the floor.
- Repair any deep cracks in ceilings or foundations. Get expert advice if there are signs of structural defects.
- Store weed killers, pesticides, and flammable products securely in closed cabinets with latches.
Learn to identify safe places indoors.
- Under sturdy furniture such as a heavy desk or table.
- Against an inside wall.
- Away from where glass could shatter around windows, mirrors, pictures, or where heavy bookcases or other heavy furniture could fall over.
Learn to locate safe places outdoors.
- In the open, away from buildings, trees, telephone and electrical lines, overpasses, or elevated expressways.
Make sure all family members know how to respond after an earthquake.
Teach all family members how and when to turn off gas, electricity, and water.
But do not turn off the gas unless there is a leak. It may not be possible to safely turn it back on without help from the gas company.
Have a good 72-hour emergency kit or disaster supplies on hand.
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Portable battery-operated radio and extra batteries
- First aid kit and manual
- Emergency food and water
- Nonelectric can opener
- Essential medicines
- Emergency cash
- Sturdy shoes
Develop an emergency communication plan.
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 after the disaster.
Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the “family contact.” After a disaster, it’s sometimes easier to make a long distance call than a local one. Make sure everyone in the family knows the name, address, and phone number of the contact person.
What to Do When an Earthquake Strikes
If you are indoors
- Take cover under a piece of heavy furniture or against an inside wall and hold on.
- Stay inside until the shaking stops.
- The most dangerous thing to do during the shaking of an earthquake is to try to leave the building because objects can fall on you.
If you are outdoors
- Move into the open, away from buildings, trees, street lights, utility wires, and anything that could fall on you.
- Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops.
If you are in a moving vehicle
- Stop quickly and stay in the vehicle.
- Move to a clear area away from buildings, trees, overpasses, or utility wires.
- Once the shaking has stopped, proceed with caution. Avoid bridges or ramps that might have been damaged by the quake.
What to Do After the Earthquake
If the quake is large and the damage is severe and widespread, it is likely that emergency services and supplies will be unavailable for a period of time—three days on the average. Calmly assess the situation, check on those around you, and make physical preparations to spend a few days in rough circumstances.
Be prepared for aftershocks
- Although smaller than the main shock, aftershocks cause additional damage and may bring weakened structures down.
- Aftershocks can occur in the first hours, days, weeks, or even months after the quake. A very large quake is often followed by dozens of aftershocks.
Help injured or trapped persons
- Give first aid where appropriate. Do not move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Ask others for help.
- Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance–infants, the elderly, and people with disabilities. A few words of reassurance and a little food may help calm down those who are frightened.
Assess the situation
- Look around for hazards. Move to a safer area if necessary.
- Carefully check for building damage. Stay out of badly damaged buildings. Return inside only when authorities say it is safe.
- Turn off utilities if, and only if, you discover a leak or electrical hazard (see below).
- Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately. Leave the area if you smell gas or fumes from other chemicals.
- Listen to a battery-operated radio or television for the latest emergency information. Follow any instructions given by authorities. Use the telephone only for emergency calls.
- Open closet and cupboard doors cautiously.
- Inspect the entire length of chimneys carefully for damage. Unnoticed damage could lead to a fire.
- If possible, get out your emergency kit and drinking water supply.
- Prepare a safe shelter where you and those with you can spend the night.
Inspecting utilities in a damaged home
- 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 try to call the gas company from a different building. If you turn off the gas due to a leak, it should 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 circuit breaker or fuse box, either shut off the power from the outside of the building or get professional assistance.
- Check for sewage and water line damage. If you discover a serious leak, turn off the water. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets. If water pipes are damaged, avoid using water from the tap. Boil and/or filter your drinking water if there is any question of its purity.
- When services become available again, get the building and utilities inspected by professionals.
If you have pets
- The behavior of pets may change dramatically after an earthquake. Normally quiet and friendly cats and dogs may become aggressive or defensive. Watch animals closely. Leash dogs and place them in a fenced yard.
- Pets may not be allowed into shelters for health and space reasons. Prepare an emergency pen for pets in the home that includes a 3-day supply of dry food and a large container of water.