Earthquake safety guide: Keep yourself and your family safe from tremors
No matter where you are, earthquake preparedness is a good idea.
Mandy Sleight is a freelance writer and has been an insurance agent since 2005. She creates informative, engaging, and easy-to-understand content on the topics of insurance, personal finance, sustainability, and health and wellness. Her work has been featured in Kiplinger, MoneyGeek and other major publications.
When tectonic plates in the Earth's crust move, it creates seismic waves from the sudden energy release -- what we call an earthquake. During the Earth's history, tectonic plate movements have created oceans and shifted continents, shaping the world we see today. Earthquakes occur all over the world, but they're more frequent and intense near fault lines. In the United States, 16 states are at the highest risk of natural earthquakes: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
Even if you've never experienced an earthquake and live in a low-risk state, being prepared can reduce your family's risk of injury during other natural disasters -- or if you're visiting more earthquake-prone areas.
Before an earthquake...
An earthquake can happen anytime, and usually comes without warning. By preparing yourself and your family before an earthquake happens, you can minimize the risk of injury and damage to your home.
Create an earthquake plan
Having an earthquake preparedness plan and safety guide in place is one of the best things you can do to ensure your family is protected if seismic activity occurs.
An earthquake preparedness plan can include:
Talking about earthquakes with your family. Fear of the unknown can cause people of any age to freeze or run, which can be dangerous during an earthquake. Discuss what an earthquake is and what to do if there is one -- and if you have children, answer any questions they may have to help them prepare for the possibility of an earthquake.
Creating an emergency kit. Make an emergency kit for your family (think about your pets, too) and put it in a location that everyone can access. If you have to leave, you can quickly grab the kit on your way out the door.
Asking about earthquake emergency plans. Find out what the plan is for an earthquake at your work and your child's daycare or school. These plans can be used to help your children with evacuation and procedures in the event of an earthquake -- and can help families connect more quickly after a disaster occurs.
Mapping out your home plan. Pick a safe place in each room of your home for family members to use if an earthquake occurs, such as against interior walls with nothing heavy nearby and away from windows, or under a piece of sturdy furniture.
Practicing the plan. Now that you have a plan in place at home, school and work, practice it. Have your children and other family members go to a designated spot and drop, take cover and hold on.
Protect your home
People aren't the only ones at risk during an earthquake; homes can also be seriously damaged. By strategically placing items and using safety equipment to secure items before a disaster, you can minimize the damage to your home and reduce the risk of injury to your family.
Brace home appliances like water heaters and gas appliances to the wall. Bolt them to the studs for extra security.
Teach family members how to shut off gas and water valves.
Anchor all freestanding or top-heavy furniture to wall studs to prevent toppling.
Avoid hanging heavy objects such as mirrors or large art pieces over places where people sit or sleep.
Use strong latches to secure cabinets and their contents.
Store breakables and large or heavy items on lower shelves.
Have a professional check your foundation, porches, decks and other exterior features for security. You may need to install anchors and other supports to strengthen the structure in the event of an earthquake.
During an earthquake...
With an earthquake preparedness plan in place, you and your family should be ready if a natural disaster strikes. During an earthquake, however, the first priority is immediate safety. To start, drop to your hands and knees so you don't fall. Cover as much of your body as possible under a sturdy piece of furniture and protect your head and neck. Hold on to your head or the furniture you've taken shelter under until the earthquake stops. If your cover moves, be prepared to move to a safer location.
Consider where you are
If you've been practicing your earthquake preparedness plan, you should have designated places to go if an earthquake occurs. But what if you're not in any of those places? If an earthquake happens in another location, use these tips for safety:
Inside a crowded building. Avoid rushing for the doorways, as others may do so as well. Instead, take cover away from display shelves, windows and falling objects, using something to protect your head and neck from debris.
Outside. Move away from potential hazards such as utility wires, buildings, trees and telephone poles. Stick with an open area and get down low, covering your head and neck, until the earthquake passes.
A moving vehicle. Move the car to a curb or shoulder, trying to avoid potential hazards, including overpasses, bridges and overhead wires. Remain in the car and pull the parking brake. When the shaking has stopped, travel slowly and be aware of pavement cracks, downed poles or wires and collapsed bridges or overpasses. If it's not safe to leave the car, remain there until help arrives.
Near the ocean. Walk, don't drive, away from the water, being mindful of debris and potential hazards. If you experience a severe earthquake, try to get 100 feet above sea level or two miles inland in case of a tsunami.
Seated, unable to move to the ground. If you are seated, either at an event or in a wheelchair, lock your wheels if needed and remain seated. If you cannot shelter under a sturdy piece of furniture, use whatever is near to protect your head and neck from falling objects.
In a high-rise building. Avoid windows, inside walls and standing or sheltering near heavy objects and glass. Do not leave the building or use the elevators in case the electricity goes out. Remain calm if you are trapped. Bang on nearby metal or other hard structural pieces or objects to get rescuers' attention.