How to Prepare for an Earthquake
Today we’re going to develop an earthquake preparedness game plan. It’s important to be prepared before an earthquake, but you also need to know what to do during an earthquake, and then what you will need to do after to remain safe and minimize damage.
Before an Earthquake
A lot of what you can do to be prepared has been covered already, but there are some very specific steps that need to be taken in order to safely ride out an earthquake. Some of these items are one time fixes and some of these are habits that will need to be cultivated.
Preparedness is a lifestyle not just something you do. Make sure all preparations are done as a family and that everyone participates in these activities and discussions.
Earthquake Preparedness Honey – Do List:
- // Have a family emergency plan and keep it updated yearly.
- // Identify “safety spots” in your home, at work, and school that will offer the best protection in an earthquake. A “safety spot” is typically under desks or tables. If you find that there are not enough “safety spots” in your home or work, find a way to create more by rearranging or possibly getting new furniture. Doorways are not adequate cover. If nothing else is available stand flat against an INTERIOR wall and cover your head with your hands. This is why drills are so important to emergency preparedness, it creates a reflex for action that kicks in automatically, rather than having to stop, and try and think through your panic. (see DURING below for more information).
- // Bolt tall and heavy furniture (bookshelves, cabinets, entertainment centers, etc) to the WALL STUDS.
- // Anchor overhead lights, and electronics to the WALL STUDS.
- // Install latches in cabinets to prevent items from falling out. If you have shelves (like pantries) you can use hooks and bungee cords to create a fence to prevent falling items.
- // Secure your water heater to the floor and wall studs. Appliances that could move and rupture gas or water lines should be secured as well, or use flexible lines and connections.
- // Nail plywood to ceiling joists for added protection and security.
- // Use closed hooks for hanging lamps, and light weight fixtures.
- // Have your electrical wiring and gas connections for safety. Keep these in good repair. Make sure everything is grounded.
- // Inspect for structural defects and cracks in ceiling and foundation. Repair them immediately.
- // Brace cripple wall studs in crawl spaces with plywood.
- // Store flammable or toxic solutions away from heat sources, and behind LATCHED cabinets. Better yet, put them in your shed.
- // Check all chimneys for stability, and security. Masonry is particularly prone to collapse. Secure wood stoves and fireplace inserts as well. Reinforce these if necessary.
- // Identify where you would turn off electricity, gas and water. Be sure you know how to turn them off. Have them marked on your emergency plan map and include directions in your plan. Review these will ALL members of your family.
- // If you have lots of windows in your home or they are in locations that would spray shattered glass onto safety spots or evacuation routes then consider using a shatter-safe film over your windows or tempered glass.
- // Do you have insurance? Review your policy and see if it covers earthquakes.
- // Keep your gas tank at least half full, especially if you live in an evacuation zone.
- // If you have an outdoor propane tank be sure that it is mounted on a continuous concrete pad and all the legs are bolted down.
- // If you live in an older home, have a trusted professional come and evaluate your home for earthquake safety. Get an estimate for any recommended upgrades.
- // If you have a mobile home, be sure you have an earthquake –resistant bracing system.
Emergency Supplies to Have on Hand
We’ve covered a great deal of supplies and basic preparations for emergency preparedness over the last month. Now we understand that is a LOT of stuff to get, and sometimes you have to choose which supplies are of the highest priority. As far as earthquakes go, these are the supplies that should be at the top of your list and HAVE to be finished and available.
- // Have a 72 hour kit, keep it accessible. (see 72 hour kit posts on getting started, food, clothing and shelter, comfort and entertainment)
- // Flashlights and spare batteries, try to avoid candles and fire unless you have no gas leaks. However candles should be supervised not just because of the fire hazard but because of aftershocks.
- // Portable radio with batteries.
- // First aid kits and know how
- // An evacuation box of important paperwork and information
- // Type ABC Fire extinguisher (charged and ready)
- // Food – particularly non-perishable, dry milk and nutritious for at least 9 meals (72 hours)
- // Water – potable 3 gallons per person along with a method for purification.
- // A week of special medications and food
- // Tools – wrenches for turning off water, and gas. I recommend shovels, gloves, hammers, and broom with dust pan. Keep appropriate wrench close to their associated shut of values.
- // Trim tree limbs that could fall on homes, and remove trees that could endanger homes.
- // Keep a flashlight in every room
- // An earthquake bag – under each bed have a bag with a pair of closed toe shoes and a flashlight. This means that even at night you can all have a safe evacuation.
- // Potty back up – sewer lines can break in an earthquake so have a back up plan to avoid a disgusting issue if they’ve broken.
Decorating for an earthquake
One of the greatest hazards of an earthquake is what falls on you. Therefore your home decor could be lethal. So now is a great time to redecorate.
- // Avoid hanging plants or use a closed hook and light weight pots. Avoid hanging heavy pictures or frames above beds.
- // Hang pictures securely on closed hooks to prevent falling.
- // Heavier items should be stored on the bottom shelves or cabinets
- // Use museum putty to secure breakable or valuable items to shelves to prevent them from falling on any one or shattering and making a hazardous escape route. Non slip mats can help reduce falling items, especially fish tanks and electronics.
- // Avoid furniture with wheels
During an Earthquake
Earthquakes start in two ways. One is a gradual shaking that grows in intensity within a few seconds. The other is a sudden jarring followed by a more consistent shaking. Don’t wait until the shaking is violent enough that you’re convinced its an earthquake, take action as soon as the shaking begins.
The majority of us have grow up doing earthquake and fire drills. It may seem relatively simple – stop, cover, and hold on for dear life until the shaking stops. But is that all? No!
- STOP– only go for cover that is closest to you. Running to the desk across the room puts you at a greater risk than the chair next to you. Never run outside for safety, especially right outside a building.
- Outside – move as far away from buildings, power lines, overpasses, trees, etc as possible. 1 ½ times the height is the “collapse zone” of a building.
- Indoors – Stay away from windows, mirrors or other glass. Curling up and vibrating through broken glass is going to cause serious injuries and put you at a greater risk of infection and heavy bleeding. Also stay away from fireplaces and chimneys, and unsecured furniture.
- High rise building – stay on the same floor and don’t use the elevator.
- Public place – move away from displays and shelves, but don’t run for the doors.
- Theater or stadium – drop to the floor between the rows or stay seated and cover your head with your arms. Don’t leave until the shaky stops.
- Kitchen – turn off the stove and take cover away from cupboards, stove, and the refrigerator.
- Wheelchair – stay in your chair, move to cover if possible or an interior wall. Lock your wheels and cover your head with your hands.
- Beds – stay in your bed and protect your head with a pillow
- Vehicles – pull over, stay where you are, keep your seat belt on and wait for the shaking to stop. If you’re on a bridge, stay where you are, and pray. Be alert for landslides and falling rocks and trees.
- COVER – the heavier the furniture is the better. Door ways are not the best option. Make sure that you have as much of your body under the furniture as possible. If you can’t fit under it completely than be sure to cover you head and as much of you back as possible. Keep arms and legs tuck in under you as best as possible. Remember this will be similar to a game of crack the egg on a trampoline.
- HOLD ON – If there are legs be sure to hold onto them so that you move with the furniture rather than having the desk move and no longer cover you. Stay where you are until the shaking has stopped and its safe to get out.
- EXIT – As you exit the building beware of glass, debris and weak spots in the floor and ceiling. Exit quickly and calmly help those in need of assistance. Do not move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. The earthquake will cause fire alarms and sprinklers to go off, so this will be a loud and wet walk.
After an Earthquake
You rode out the shaking, now what?
- // Aftershocks can occur hours or even days after the initial earthquake, be prepared at all times for these and be ready to act immediately.
- // If you are in a tsunami zone evacuate immediately. Keep an evacuation map in a convenient location in your home and car, practice evacuation in your drill. Don’t wait for an official order, just leave. Know your zone and act accordingly for routes and what you take with you. This also applies if you live down stream or close to a dam, or along a river that connects with the ocean as a tsunami will travel these water pathways as well.
- // Listen to the radio for emergency updates.
// Turn off gas, water, and electricity. Check for gas leaks and if there is a leak leave the area BEFORE calling the gas company. See resources at the bottom of the post for FEMA’s guide which has illustrations and instructions for turning off your utilities.
- // Put out small fires, or immediately leave the area.
- // Beware of fallen power lines.
- // Wear shoes!
- // Administer first aid starting with the most severe. Keep the injured covered with a blanket for warmth.
- // Remember trauma will induce a state of seeming helplessness and despair in some people, panic for some, and kick others into immediate action. However you feel remember its normal, but try to avoid panic and stay calm, if you see someone is about to lose it step in to help them calm down. If someone suddenly speaks only in another language simply ask them “Do you speak English?” This will snap them out of the panic that has made them revert back to their native language.
- // Avoid using the telephone unless there’s a severe injury, local lines will most likely be down. To call family to let them know your ok, make one long distance call and let that person spread the word (see family emergency plan).
- // Clean up spills, particularly flammable liquids and items.
- // Check sewer lines BEFORE using the toilet – a plumber is about the only one that can do this for you.
- // Open doors and cabinets carefully. Act like its your closet from high school that is held together only by the doors – we’ll cover what to do in an avalanche later.
- // Check for cracks and damage, avoid using fireplaces until deemed safe.
- // Only cook outdoors.
- // Don’t use electricity after a major earthquake until deemed safe.
- // Don’t use your vehicle, unless there is an emergency. If you were in your car when the earthquake occurred try to walk if possible. Leave the roads open for emergency vehicles to move quickly to where they are needed.
- // If you have to evacuate, leave a note explaining where you are going, and where to meet. Take your first aid kit, evacuation box, 72 hour kit, and radio. Then lock the door. Take your pets and animals.
- // Keep animals on a leash. Remember than their behavior will change so watch them carefully.
Other Resources to Prepare for an Earthquake
Download the NFPA Safety Tip Sheets to add to your emergency plan for basic information about all the disasters. Check out the Ready.gov’s Earthquake how to page and look at FEMA’s guide book to really get prepared.
You can download this structural earthquake preparedness guide from FEMA here that explains all this in more depth.