Earthquakes and their subsequent aftereffects often cause substantial property damage and causalities. Earthquakes occur when the earth shakes rapidly and without warning after strained subterranean rocks shift and break apart.
Tectonic plates are massive formations that make up the earthís surface. These plates have slowly moved and shifted for millions of years. When these plates move, movement is typically gradual, but sometimes multiple plates become joined, resulting in massive pressure buildup. If pressure is not released, joined plates break apart, resulting in rapid and powerful movement. Earthquakes in populated underdeveloped regions often cause numerous fatalities and injuries and excessive property damage.
In the United States, many earthquakes occur in California and other western states, but 45 states sit on fault lines with earthquake risk, which includes the New Madrid line, located in the Midwest.
An earthquake in the eastern United States in 2011 is proof that these natural disasters are difficult to predict. As a result, regardless of where you live, take appropriate precautions for such an event.
What to Do Before and Earthquake
Follow these steps to prepare for an earthquake:
- Develop a family communications plan and emergency kit.
- Securely fasten shelves to walls.
- Reserve lower shelf space for heavy or large items.
- Place glass and other breakable items, including china and other fragile objects, in latched cabinets near the floor.
- Fasten or hang heavy objects, such as mirrors and pictures, away from couches, chairs, beds, and other locations where people sit.
- Secure heavy items placed on shelves and brace hanging light fixtures.
- Fix leaky gas lines and defective or damaged wiring to eliminate fire risks. If necessary, hire a professional to fix these problems. Itís unsafe to repair electrical or gas lines without proper training.
- Prevent water or gas leaks with flexible pipe fittings since these fittings are breakage resistant.
- Strap gas appliances, the furnace, the water heater, and the refrigerator to floor bolting or wall studs. Contact your gas company to determine whether an automatic gas shut-off valve that is activated by violent vibrations should be installed in your home.
- Repair foundation or ceiling cracks. Contact a professional if you suspect structural damage.
- Ensure your home is strongly anchored to its foundation.
- Store flammable liquids, pesticides, and weed killers in bottom shelves or latched cabinets.
- Identify safe spots in each room in your home, which include inside walls and sturdy tables. Practice moving to these locations by having periodic drills
- During periodic drills, practice drop, cover, and hold on procedures.
What to Do During an Earthquake
During an earthquake, follow these procedures: drop, cover and hold on. Reduce movements to a few steps and locate a safe spot. When inside a building, remain inside until all shaking has ceased, and it is safe to exit.
If You're Indoors
If You're Outdoors
- Fall to the ground and take cover underneath a sturdy desk, table, or piece of furniture and then hold on to it until the shaking ceases. If there is no object nearby to take cover under, go to the corner of the room and protect your face.
- Take cover away from outside walls and doors, glass, windows, hanging light fixtures and chandeliers, and heavy furniture that does not provide cover.
- If in bed during an earthquake, remain in it until shaking ceases unless you sleep under a large light fixture. Shield your face with a pillow.
- If possible, move underneath a load-bearing doorway. Ensure the doorway will adequately protect you since many doorways are not designed to withstand high pressure.
- Remain indoors until the shaking ceases. Never leave a building during an earthquake. Most earthquake-related injuries occur when individuals inside buildings move outside or to other rooms.
- Never use an elevator during an earthquake.
- Itís not uncommon for the power to go out and fire suppression and alarm systems to turn on during earthquakes.
If you're in a Moving Vehicle
- If possible, take refuge inside a building
- Get away from utility wires, buildings, and streetlights
- Find an open area to stay in until the shaking ceases. You have more of a chance of being injured right outside buildings, along exterior walls, and building exits. Most deaths during the Long Beach earthquake of 1933 resulted from collapsing walls and falling debris directly outside buildings. Hence, most earthquake-related deaths do not occur from ground movement. Rather, they are caused by falling objects and glass and collapsing walls.
If You're Trapped Under Debris
- Stop as soon as itís safely possible and remain in the car. Do not stop near buildings, overpasses, telephone wires, and trees
- Move cautiously after the shaking stops. Stay away from freeway ramps, roads, or damaged bridges
- Refrain from lighting matches
- Avoid kicking up dust or moving around
- Protect your mouth with a piece of clothing or handkerchief
- Pound a wall or pipe to alert rescue personnel to your location. If you have one, blow a whistle. Avoid shouting unless you have no other options since this could lead to the inhalation of toxic debris
What to Do After and Earthquake
- Once the shaking ceases, check your surroundings to ensure itís safe to move from the building.
- Anticipate aftershocks since they frequently occur. Aftershocks are typically less severe than initial shaking, but aftershocks often cause extra damage to weakened buildings and structures within hours, days, or months following an earthquake.
- Assist trapped or injured individuals. Begin by assisting people with disabilities, the elderly, infants, and others requiring special assistance. Administer first aid when necessary. Never move seriously injured individuals unless they are in a location where additional injury could occur. Call 911 immediately if necessary.
- Locate and put out small fires. Following an earthquake, fire is the most common and dangerous hazard.
- Use a battery-operated TV or radio for important news and updates
- Take precautions against tsunamis near coastal regions. Tsunamis are also called seismic sea waves, not to be confused with tidal waves. If tsunami warnings are issued, avoid beaches and surrounding areas.
- Only use phones for emergencies.
- Head to an assigned public shelter if your house is not safe for habitation. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to locate the closest public shelter in your city. (example: shelter 87112).
- Stay away from damaged buildings and areas unless you are assisting rescue personnel or relief agencies. Return to your house after authorities have deemed it safe.
- Take precautions when driving after an earthquake. Be prepared for traffic light failures.
- Once itís safe to return home, immediately begin clearing debris and recovering your possessions.
- Cautiously open drawers and cabinets since dislodged objects can fall out.
- Learn about food safety following an emergency at: http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/emergency/index.html
- While cleaning, wear gloves, sturdy boots or shoes, and long pants and a shirt to prevent cuts from broken glass and debris
- Clean spilled bleach, flammable fluids, and medications. Immediately exit a room if you smell chemicals, fumes, or gas
- Thoroughly inspect chimneys before reuse, regardless of whether damage is visible
- Thoroughly inspect gas and utility lines
- Pay close attention to potential gas leaks. Open windows and immediately exit your home if you smell gas or hear hissing sounds. Close the main valve outside your home and call the gas company immediately if you suspect a gas leak. When gas valves are closed, they can only be opened by trained specialists.
- Check for electrical system and wiring damage. Turn electricity off from a circuit breaker or fuse box if you smell hot or burning insulation or notice sparks. Obtain assistance from an electrician if the floor in the room containing the fuse box or circuit breaker is wet.
- Inspect water and sewage lines for damage and cracks. Contact a plumber and refrain from using the toilets if sewage line damage is apparent or suspected. Do not use the tap or other water lines and immediately contact the water company if pipe damage occurred. Potable water can be obtained by melting ice.
More Information and Resources
- . Safety tips for before, during and after an earthquake.
- . Earthquake safety tips for high-rise dwellers.
- . How to Guides to Protect Your Property or Business from Earthquakes.
- . Publication for teachers and for presentation to children.