An earthquake is an accelerated shaking of the earth, a result of the shifting and breaking of rock underneath the earth's surface. One of the most destructive and frightening acts of nature, earthquakes strike suddenly and without warning, and can happen day or night, any time of the year. The United States alone has 45 states that are at moderate to extreme risk of earthquakes. The following safety tips will help you prepare for an earthquake.
Preparing Yourself and Your Family
- Have an emergency kit in place (including a radio, flashlight, snacks, whistles, water, etc.) as well as a family communications plan.
- Designate the safest place in your home and practice earthquake drills with your family, which will basically include drop, find cover and hold on.
- Find out about the emergency plans that are in place in your area. In addition, listen to the instructions provided by the local emergency management authorities.
Preparing Your Home for an Earthquake
- Fasten heavy items securely to the walls (shelves/bookcases, picture frames, mirrors) using closed hooks and/or earthquake putty.
- Place heavy or large objects on lower shelves and support top heavy objects and overhead light fixtures.
- Place breakable items like china, glass and bottled foods in low cabinets that are closed with latches.
- Objects like books, framed photos, lamps, basically any items that you keep on tables and shelves can become flying hazards during an earthquake, so you'll want to secure them with earthquake putty, adhesives and/or hooks.
- Secure electronics like televisions, computers, etc., with flexible nylon straps.
- Store flammable products, pesticides and weed killers securely on the bottom shelves of closed, latched cabinets.
- Secure your refrigerator, gas appliances, water heater and furnace by bolting them to the floor and/or strapping them using wall studs. You can also have an automatic gas shut off valve installed that is activated by strong vibrations. Contact your local gas company to find out if this is an option for you.
- Fix any deep cracks in the foundation or ceilings and if you see any signs of structural defects, be sure to get professional advice.
- Have any leaky gas connections and defective electrical wiring repaired because they're potential fire risks. In these cases, it's important that you get the appropriate professional help instead of trying to do it yourself.
If You Are Indoors
- Locate your pre-designated safe spots, drop to the ground and take cover by getting under a durable piece of furniture, like a sturdy dining room table, and hold on tight until the shaking comes to a stop. If there isn't a sturdy desk or table near you, crouch down in an inside corner of the home or building and cover your head and face with your arms.
- Stay clear of windows, any glass, outside walls or doors and anything that might fall, like furniture or light fixtures.
- If you're in bed when an earthquake strikes, stay there (unless there's a heavy fixture above it or a window close by), use a pillow to protect your head and hold on. If staying in bed isn't safe, get up and move to the closest safe place.
- If it's in close proximity, you can use a load bearing doorway for protection if you know for a fact that it's firmly reinforced. In this case you'll need to brace yourself on the side of the door that has the hinges so that the door can't swing toward you.
- Stay indoors until the shaking stops and it's safe to go outside again. Studies have shown that most earthquake injuries happen when people inside buildings try to leave or move to different locations.
Note: Any advice regarding getting underneath furniture assumes that you are in an earthquake retrofitted structure, where the primary danger is from flying or falling debris. If the ceilings and walls are falling in or crumbling, it is suggested that you lie down next to a desk, sofa, bed, or another piece of furniture. Under these circumstances, the triangular space that is created when something like a wall, part of the ceiling, a bookshelf, etc. falls against a substantial piece of furniture, provides the best chance of not being crushed. Additional important factors to consider are that homes that aren't attached to foundations, mobile homes and buildings that have foundations that rest on unstable soils or landfills are at high risk during an earthquake.
If You're Outdoors, Stay There
If you are outdoors during an earthquake, move away from utility wires, street lights and buildings and stay where you are until the shaking stops. The most significant danger exists at exits, directly outside buildings and alongside any exterior walls. The ground movement caused by earthquakes is typically never the primary cause of injury and death; it's collapsing walls and falling debris.
If You're in a Moving Vehicle
Pull over to the side of the road, stop the vehicle as quickly as safety allows and remain in the vehicle. Keep clear of trees, being under or near buildings, overpasses and any utility wires. Once the earthquake is over, proceed cautiously and avoid any bridges, ramps or roads that may have been impaired by the earthquake.
Note: During an earthquake, it's quite common that driving may make you feel like there's something wrong with your vehicle. If this happens to you, don't panic and stop your vehicle in the middle of the road or freeway if traffic is still traveling around you. Instead, slow down, turn on your signal and carefully move over to the side of the road. If you find that others are doing the same thing, chances are good that you're experiencing an earthquake.
If You're Trapped Under Debris
If you find yourself trapped under debris, avoid moving around, kicking up dust and most important of all, don't light a match. If possible you'll also want to cover your mouth with any available clothing. To help rescuers find you, tap on a wall or pipe if available, or use a whistle if you have one which should have been available in your earthquake kit. You should only shout as a last resort because calling out can cause you to breathe in hazardous amounts of dust.