An earthquake is a sudden, rapid shaking of and vibration at the surface of the Earth caused by energy being released along a fault plane. Initial mild shaking may strengthen and become extremely violent within seconds. Additional earthquakes, called aftershocks, may follow the initial earthquake for hours, days, or even months.
Earthquakes can happen at any time of the year and occur without warning, although they usually last less than one minute. There is no way to predict earthquakes as of right now, so it’s extremely important to prepare beforehand and know what to do when the time comes. With the large number of earthquakes California experiences, it is that much more important that all your family members, especially children, are well-versed in how to react correctly and quickly to earthquakes.
Be aware that electricity, water, gas, and telephones may not be working after an earthquake. The police and fire departments may also be tied up tending to others. Be prepared to fend for yourself for at least three days, preferably for a week.
Before an earthquake
- Prepare your emergency plan. Involve all your household members so that they all know what to do, who to contact, and where to go. If possible, conduct in-home practice drills, especially if you have children.
- Prepare an emergency kit. A basic emergency kit includes a battery operated radio and torch with spare batteries, first aid kit, sturdy gloves, a fire extinguisher, a copy of your home emergency plan and any important documents, and non-perishable food and drinking water (a gallon a day per person) for three days. Other important considerations for your emergency kit are a mobile phone charger and portable battery, prescriptions and medications, pet needs such as food and leashes, and clothing and strong shoes. More things to include are blankets, money, and an adjustable pipe wrench to turn off your gas and water if necessary. Make sure to store these in an easily accessible area for quick access. This kit can also be used for other disasters, such as floods or wildfires.
- Be aware of emergency broadcasters in your area. In the event of a disaster, you will need to be able to receive updates from emergency authority in your area.
- Secure items that could fall or move and cause injuries or damage in the event of an earthquake, such as bookcases, mirrors, light fixtures, televisions, computers, major appliances, and water heaters. Move beds away from windows and secure any hanging items over beds, couches, cribs, or other places people sit or lie. Store hazardous or flammable liquids, heavy objects and breakables on low shelves or in secure cabinets.
- Learn and practice “Drop, Cover, and Hold on.” Drop to the ground, cover your head and neck with your arms, and if a safer place is nearby that you can get to without exposing yourself to flying debris, crawl to it and hold on to maintain cover.
- Evaluate your home and strengthen areas that would be weak during an earthquake, if possible.
- Get your home insured against earthquakes.
During an earthquakeIf you are indoors
- Drop, Cover, Hold On. DROP to the ground, take COVER by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture, and HOLD ON until the shaking stops. If there are no sturdy tables or desks near you, COVER your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building. Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.
- Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake strikes. Hold on and protect your head and neck with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place. At night, hazards and debris are difficult to see and avoid, so attempts to move in the dark may result in more injuries than remaining in bed.
- If you are unable to get safely to the floor, identify an area away from windows and objects that could fall on you and get as low to the floor as possible. People who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices should lock their wheels, bend over, and remain seated until the shaking stops. Protect your head and neck with your arms, a pillow, a book, or whatever is available.
- Do not use a doorway unless you know it is a strongly supported, load-bearing doorway and it is close to you. Many indoor doorways are lightly constructed and do not offer protection.
- Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Do not exit a building during the shaking. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave.
- Do NOT use the elevators.
- Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.
- Stay there.
- Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires.
- Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops. The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits, and alongside exterior walls.
- If you are in a moving vehicle
- Stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, bridges or overpasses, and utility wires.
- Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake.
- If you are in a mountainous area, beware of the potential for landslides.
- If you are near the ocean, be aware that tsunamis are associated with large earthquakes and get to high ground.
- If you are in a crowded public place, avoid panicking and do not rush for the exit. Stay low and cover your head and neck with your hands and arms.
After an earthquakeIf you are trapped under debris or cannot leave the building
- Do not light a match.
- Do not move around or kick up dust.
- Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.
- Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort. Shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.
- If the building is damaged and there is a clear path to safety, leave the building and go to an open space away from damaged areas.
- If you have a cell phone with you, use it to call or text for help. Otherwise, use it only in the case of emergency to preserve battery.
- Be aware that aftershocks may occur for hours, days, and even months after an earthquake hits.
- Once safe, listen to local radio and follow emergency advice.
- Check for injuries and provide assistance if you have training, Assist with rescues if you can do so safely.
- If it’s safe, check for damage to walls, chimneys, and roof. If damage is found, turn off electricity, gas, and water at the mains and evacuate.
- Avoid driving unless in an emergency to keep the streets clear for emergency vehicles.
- Use extreme caution during post-disaster clean-up of buildings and around debris. Do not attempt to remove heavy debris by yourself. Wear protective clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, work gloves, and sturdy, thick-soled shoes during clean-up. Be aware that items may fall out of cupboards or closets when the door is opened.
- If you leave home, leave a message telling friends and family your location.