Earthquake preparedness is crucial for everyone, regardless of whether you live in an active earthquake zone or not. For those residing in seismic hotspots, the need for readiness is even more pressing due to the higher probability of earthquakes. However, earthquakes can occur anywhere and at any time. They are a global phenomenon, not confined to specific regions. Learning what to do before, during, and after an earthquake, can significantly reduce its impact, potentially save lives, and reduce injuries.
can weaken a home or other building’s structure causing foundation, wall, and roof collapse.
items like light fixtures, bookcases, and large appliances, can fall and cause injury or death.
damage to roads, bridges, and ports can cause massive transportation issues.
ruptured gas lines or electrical shorts can lead to destructive fires breaking out.
gas, water, and electricity services can be disrupted.
infrastructure damage can cause major transportation and delivery issues.
loss of individual or household income brought on by injury, death, or job interruption, loss of revenue in the private and public sector.
the incidence of PTSD among survivors after larger earthquakes is quite significant.
The United States, while seismically active, experiences fewer high-magnitude earthquakes compared to the rest of the world. However, the potential for high-magnitude earthquakes exists, particularly in areas along major fault lines. Here are some locations and faults of concern.
Most Seismically Active States
Alaskaas part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.
Oklahomasurpasses California in the number of daily quakes.
Californiadue to its location between two major tectonic plates.
Hawaiimostly due to volcanic activity.
Utahas part of the North American Plate.
Nevadaas part of the North American Plate.
Most Feared Faults
Cascadia Subduction Zoneis a 620-mile-long reverse fault capable of producing 9.0 earthquakes.
San Andreas Faultstretches more than 800 miles through California.
Wasatch Faultis about 240 miles long and is located primarily on the western edge of the Wasatch Mountains of Utah and Idaho.
Sawtooth Faultis 40 miles long and runs along the eastern base of the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho.
Rio Grande Rift is 450 miles long and runs from the San Luis Valley in Colorado and ends near El Paso, Texas.
New Madrid Zone is located in Missouri and has produced some of the largest quakes ever recorded in the lower 48.
Make a Plan
Earthquakes can be a bit nerve-wracking and downright scary if they last more than a few seconds. A little education will go a long way in creating more confidence in your family when dealing with earthquakes.
Small-scale earthquakes are common and happen every day all over the world. It is the larger ones we want to prepare for. What is an earthquake, what causes it, and what does one feel like … explaining this, especially to children, helps demystify the natural phenomena and may help ease the fear so they don’t freeze up should they ever need to respond.
Where to go and what to do
Your family plan should include where to go and what to do. There are dos and don’ts that, if followed, can help keep your family safe. These important steps are discussed below under “what to do during”. Be sure to make these steps part of your family earthquake plan.
Secure Your Belongings
Shelves & CabinetsPlace heavier items at lower levels. If items inside could fall and break, latch the doors closed.
PantriesAll glass items should be placed in the very back.
All cabinets Secure all cabinets above waist level to the wall studs. If the furniture is taller than 6 feet, secure straps to the sides, at 2/3 the height.
Free-standing items or equipmentAdequately secure any item that is at least 42 inches tall and has a base that is at least 3 times smaller in dimension.
Water heater Secure your water heater to the wall studs using a strapping kit.
Frames and mirrors Do not hang a mirror or any frame over a bed or couch.
Flammable liquids All flammable liquids should be safely and securely stored in proper locations.
Make an Earthquake Kit
An earthquake kit will help you deal with some post-quake situations should you need to turn off your utilities, etc. Here are some helpful items to place in an earthquake kit.
- wrench or pliers
- multipurpose tool
- battery-powered radio
- NOAA radio with tone alert
- fire extinguisher
- dust mask
- work gloves
- duct tape
Just as important, each family member should store a sturdy pair of shoes and a flashlight under or next to each bed. You may have to walk through broken glass in the dark.
Turning Off Utilities
After an earthquake, you should be prepared to turn off the following utilities to control additional damage from the disaster.
Some water issues may be apparent and some you may have to look for. With an obvious pipe burst, of course, you’ll want to turn off your water immediately. Leaks may be harder to find but just as important. Search for water leaks both inside and outside of the house. If you discover any water leaks, turn off the main and call a plumber.
If you see any damage done to your wiring, you should shut off power at the control box. Some issues may be obvious but others you may have to search for. Check the electrical lines through your house and especially in the attic, being careful not to touch any exposed wiring. This goes for any broken electrical appliances as well. If there is damage to the wiring, turn off the electricity and contact a licensed professional.
It is usually never advised to turn off your gas, even after an emergency. However, if you smell, hear, or suspect gas escaping, that is the time you need to turn it off. Know where your gas shut-off valve is located and what is needed to turn it off. Usually, a wrench or other suitable tool is all that is needed. Store this in your emergency kit. Call a gas technician to have your natural gas service turned back on. Do NOT attempt to turn it back on yourself.
Living Without Utilities
After an earthquake, utilities such as water, natural gas, and electricity are frequently disrupted. The sanitation system may even cease to work. There may also be injuries. Prepare for these possibilities by having these supplies on hand.
Earthquake Alert System
The current state of earthquake warning systems is quite advanced in many countries around the world and is currently in place along the west coast of the United States. If you live in this area, you can take advantage of the ShakeAlert® Earthquake Early Warning System.
- The system utilizes sensors distributed over a wide area where earthquakes are likely to occur on the West Coast.
- Data from individual sensors across large regions are combined to detect moderate-to-large earthquakes.
- Earthquakes that hit the 4.5 threshold will see alerts sent out to all mobile phones.
- Earthquakes that hit 5.0 will be sent out over the wider range IPAWS system and will go out via the internet, radio, and television, in addition to mobile phones.
- This will give the receivers about 10 seconds (give or take, depending on the location and epicenter) to respond with the recommended drop, cover, and hold-on action.
- It also tiggers an automated action that can protect vital systems, equipment, facilities, and infrastructure.
What to Do Indoors
Your plan should cover where to go in your home or any building when the shaking starts. The safest places to be during an earthquake include:
- under a strong table, desk, or other piece of heavy furniture, standing under a load-bearing doorway, against a wall near the center of your home or other building.
- if at school or work, hide under your desk.
- stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall on you such as lighting fixtures or furniture.
What you do and don’t do are also important:
- drop, cover your head with your arms, and hold on - Stay put until the shaking stops, but always be ready for aftershocks.
- if in bed, stay put, curl up into a ball, and place a pillow over your head.
- do not run outdoors - most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location or exit the building.
- do not attempt to use an elevator during or after an earthquake.
What to Do Outdoors
Unless you are in immediate danger, stay where you are. How do you quickly assess if you may be in immediate danger and need to move? You will want to stay away from the structures and debris that can fall on you.
- The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits, and alongside exterior walls that can collapse.
- Stay clear of trees, streetlights, utility wires, bridges, and overpasses.
Once you are away from these dangerous areas, stay put until the shaking stops but be mindful of potential aftershocks.
When driving, your options are limited but there are some things you may be able to do.
- Stop the car and pull over as quickly as safety permits, avoiding the areas mentioned above.
- Set your parking brake and stay inside your car.
- Stay put until the earthquake stops then proceed with caution being mindful of aftershocks. Pull over again should that happen.
- Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps as the earthquake may have damaged them.
- Watch for debris that may have fallen on the road.
Have a Get Back Home kit and sturdy shoes in case driving is unsafe.
Assess Your Situation
When the quake stops, stay calm and assess your environment.
- If trapped, stay still and do not kick up dust. Cover your mouth with clothing to avoid inhaling dust. Tap on a pipe or wall 3 times every few minutes so rescuers can locate you. Shout only as a last resort as that can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust. Protect your head as best you can if aftershocks cause the debris to shift.
- Check yourself and others for injuries. Locate your first aid kit and be ready to help. Beware of falling items and damaged walls made of brick or block material. Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.
- Begin looking for hazards.
Look for Hazards
- Look for any damage to your home’s foundation, walls, ceiling, roof, or chimney.
- Stay away from chimneys or walls made of brick and block as they may have weakened.
- Do not use a fireplace with a damaged chimney as it can start a fire or let poisonous gases into your home.
- If there are damages done to the ceiling or foundation, get an expert opinion about any structural defects.
Fire: Use a fire extinguisher for a small fire. For a larger fire, get out and call for help. But proceed with caution as there could be aftershocks and falling debris.
Gas: Shut off the main gas valve ONLY if you suspect a leak. Indicators include broken pipes, you see the meter spinning quickly, you smell the odor of natural gas, or you hear leaking. DO NOT turn on the gas again if you turn it off. Let the gas company do it. If you are unsure but do not turn it off (not advisable) do not use candles, matches, lighters, camp stoves or barbecues, electrical equipment, or appliances as they may create a spark that could ignite.
Water: If you have a pipe that has burst or detect a leak, turn off the water at the main.
Damaged lights and appliances: Unplug as they could start fires when the electricity is restored.
Damaged wiring: Shut off the power at the main breaker switch. Leave the power off until the damage is repaired. You can turn it back on yourself.
Spills: Clean up only non-toxic spills. For toxic spills cover with dirt or cat litter and isolate. When in doubt, leave your home.
Downed power lines on property: Consider them energized and stay away from them.
Tsunami Risk or Other Evacuation
You may need to leave your home if it is damaged enough to be deemed unsafe. If you live in an area at risk for tsunamis, your family earthquake plan should include the possibility that you will need to evacuate and seek higher ground. Listen to the news once the earthquake is over and stay tuned for any alerts to be issued.
Reach Out to Family
If your family is separated when the earthquake happens, be sure to follow through with the plan set forth in your family communication plan.
- Each member should check in to make sure everyone is well and accounted for.
- If cell service has been disrupted locally, that is the time to check in with your out-of-state contact who can pass along each family member’s status to the others. If you can’t reach them by phone, try texting instead.
- If contacting your out-of-state contact is not necessary, remember they will be concerned about your well-being as well. Let them know you are okay.