Earthquake 101: 4 Tips to Keep You Safe

Jan 27, 2016 |

Earthquake 101

If you casually pass over tip sheets on earthquake safety because you don’t think they apply to you, stop scrolling now and pay attention. Earthquakes are no longer a California thing. Today, 48 states are at risk for major earthquakes, threatening nearly half of Americans. The Pacific Northwest, Utah, and California have braced for years for their own next “Big One.”

An earthquake is one natural disaster that knows no season. It can strike without warning at any time. Are you prepared? We compiled a list of four safety tips for you to follow.

1. Earthquake-proof your home

It’s not an earthquake that poses direct danger to a person; it’s the effect of the ground shaking. Consider this: of the nearly 12,000 hospitalizations during the 1994 Northridge earthquake, most injuries resulted from objects falling and striking people. Similarly, in last year’s 6.0-magnitude earthquake in Napa, Calif., a TV falling on a woman’s head caused the only fatality.

The first step to setting up an earthquake-proof home is to secure your belongings. Never assume “It’s too heavy; it won’t move.” A major quake can send a refrigerator through your wall and down the street. The Earthquake Country Alliance website provides a detailed list of how to secure your space. A good rule of thumb is to secure anything that is above knee level: bolt bookcases to the wall, putty small objects to the shelf, and latch cabinets shut.

2. Form an action plan

Though the shaking lasts seconds, an earthquake’s damage can affect you for a lifetime. What’s your disaster plan if an earthquake hits?

The first step in your plan should be identifying a safe place in each room of your house. This is the most secure spot to seek cover from during an earthquake, like the dining room table or an interior wall free of heavy objects. There is no time during a tremor to hunt for the best place to take cover — pick those spots before a disaster happens and practice using them now.

Coordinate with family members on an evacuation plan and the location of emergency supplies. Yes, having emergency supplies in your home is absolutely necessary: the Federal Emergency Management Agency says it would take them three days or longer to aid victims of an earthquake. The least you should have on hand is a 72-hour kit for each person in your home. Tuck copies of essential documents — like IDs and insurance policies — into the kit, as well as an inventory of things you want to grab if you have to leave the house immediately, like pictures and hard drives.

You may not be home during an earthquake, so learn the disaster protocol at your office and child’s school as well. Coordinate an out-of-state emergency contact who can relay information if local phone lines are down and there’s no way for your immediate family to get in touch with one another.

3. Practice drop, cover, and hold

If you’re in an earthquake, remember the drop, cover, and hold method:

  • Drop to the ground on all fours. You will not injure yourself from falling over in this position, and staying low keeps your internal organs relatively safe from flying objects.
  • Cover yourself. Get under a steady piece of furniture, like a table or a desk. If no furniture is around, seek cover by dropping against an interior wall that is away from windows, mirrors, or tall furniture and cover your neck and head with your arms. Note that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention no longer recommends taking cover in a doorway during an earthquake because, in modern houses, doorways are not the strongest part of the home.
  • Hold your position. Grab onto the table leg and be prepared to move with it if the earthquake shifts the furniture.

4. Protect your home post-tremor

The moments after an earthquake are critical. Aftershocks — the smaller quakes after a larger quake — are likely to happen, so you’re not out of the disaster zone yet.

Seismic events trigger fires. The fires after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake branded the tragedy one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. During a quake, power lines fall, electrical wiring becomes damaged, and appliances break. If there is any damage to your home’s wiring, shut off the main breaker and keep a fire extinguisher handy.

Damaged utilities can cause a deadly gas leak. If you suspect a gas leak (signs include a pungent odor, the sound of gas leaking, or a spinning meter), shut off the main valve at your gas meter. Notify authorities of a gas leak, leave the house immediately, and do not re-enter until a professional deems your home safe.

Immediately clean hazardous spills. During a quake, medicine falls off of counters, cleaning solutions fall out of cupboards, gas cans tip over, and garden chemicals spill. Open windows for ventilation and start mopping up nasty chemicals before they mix.

With an earthquake, the question is not if, but when. Prepare for the worst and plan for the next emergency immediately. Share these tips with your loved ones to keep them safe.

Written by Hillary Johnston

A proud mother of four, Hillary is passionate about safety education. She holds a degree in Public Health and Disaster Management. Learn more

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