Earthquake preparedness is vital because earthquakes happen without warning. Sure, there is technology in place to warn us about seismic activity but there is no true predictor of a significant upcoming earthquake. It’s not only impossible to detect exactly when an earthquake will hit, but also it’s unknown what the magnitude will be and the duration. Earthquakes are typically followed by aftershocks which can sometimes cause more destruction than the original damage done. If you live on a fault line, or near one, it’s extremely important that you prepare yourself with the knowledge on how to react when an earthquake does occur.
Japan is currently the only country with an early warning system in place, which gives people seconds to prepare due to the detection of significant seismic movement. There are other countries, such as the United States, working on similar alert systems but it could be a long time before an effective system is developed.
Where is the safest place to be in during an earthquake?
The location and situation you’re in when an earthquake strikes will always be unique to you. Because this natural disaster is so unpredictable, it would be useless for me to tell you where the best place to be actually is. Instead, it’s more helpful for you to learn certain tips to assist you in determining the safest place to be based on the place you’re at.
When an earthquake occurs, your first response should be to decide what dangers you’re facing in your current location and where a safer place can be found to take refuge. For instance, if you’re in the wine aisle at the grocery store (and trust me, this is a horrible place to be), there’s a huge risk of glass bottles falling on and around you. Your immediate response should be to get on the ground and crawl your way out of that aisle. Be aware that glass shards can cut your hands and knees and you risk bottles falling on your back and head. Your second response should be to protect your neck and vital organs. It will be nearly impossible to walk during a violent earthquake so find the safest place and wait. Once the shaking stops, you should evacuate the building. This is just one example.
Remember that your goal should be to get to a safe location alive and with as few injuries as possible. Realistically however, no one is immune from injuries. Under most circumstances, especially when you’re in a situation where you have no idea what to do, experts recommend to DROP, COVER, and HOLD ON.
- DROP refers to stopping whatever you’re doing and immediately getting on the floor in your hands and knees. This will help stabilize your body from not falling over. Some earthquakes are so violent that you want to become as stable as possible before you fall and are faced with worse injuries.
- COVER refers to covering your neck and vital organs. If you’re able to crawl to a safe location, do so. If not, then at least protect your neck by interlocking your hands or arms around it.
- HOLD ON refers to grasping the shelter you found for yourself, such as a chair or table leg.
Learning this quick response can potentially save your life but there are many places where this may not work, such as in your car or in a metro. That is why it’s recommended that you prepare for the following scenarios. Since you don’t know where you will be the next time you experience an earthquake, practice simulations for the following locations. Also, it’s wise to always keep an emergency kit accessible in your house and vehicles for any unpredictable emergencies such as this.
THE DOS AND DON’TS OF EARTHQUAKE SAFETY
In an apartment building:
You shouldn’t necessarily be concerned with a building collapsing entirely, as the grand majority of buildings in earthquake-prone areas have undergone strict procedures to comply with seismic building codes. You should be concerned about windows breaking and objects falling on top of you.
- Drop to your hands and knees. Cover your head with your arm while holding onto your neck with your hand.
- Find shelter under a sturdy table or chair and hold onto it with your other hand. Holding onto the leg of the table or chair will give you some stability. If no shelter is available, find a bare interior wall to crouch next to while covering your neck and head with both hands.
- Be aware of emergency protection devices going off. Fire alarms and sprinkler systems may become activated during earthquakes.
- Do not use the elevator. Remain in place, wherever you are at the time of the earthquake. Strong earthquakes make it difficult to move around anyway, but make sure you wait it out until the shaking stops. After the earthquake has passed, only use the stairs if you need to get to a different floor.
- Do not stand near unstable and fragile objects such as windows, large pieces of furniture, unsecured cabinets and mirrors.
In a one or two-story house:
- Stay where you are, don’t go to another floor or room of the house.
- Drop to your hands and knees. If you’re unable to get on the floor, attempt to crouch into a seated position so you can protect your vital organs.
- Cover your head and neck with your hands/ arms and hold onto the leg of a chair or table to regain stability.
- Find shelter under a sturdy desk or chair. First, make sure that there is nothing that might collapse over it, such as a chandelier or large piece of furniture. If you cannot find shelter find an interior wall or low-lying furniture like a couch.
- Do not stand under a doorway. The only exception to this rule is perhaps older homes made of stucco where the door frame is made out of wood. Newer homes are built differently and the frames are not necessarily built to be a strong point in the house. Plus, you will not be able to protect your vital organs when debris starts falling. It’s better to be safe than sorry so we recommend you find a more stable shelter.
- Do not rush to protect your valuables. Consistent and abrupt shaking will cause many objects to fly around the room. Don’t attempt to save any expensive china or objects. Those should be secured ahead of time. Don’t stand near mirrors, large appliances, furniture that may fall over, any unsecured cabinet, and windows. Be aware of shattered glass and ceramic objects, especially when crawling to a safe location.
In the shower:
- Kneel to the floor of the shower.
- Reach for a towel and drape it over your back to prevent minor injuries and scratching in case tiles or other debris falls over you.
- Cover your head and neck with your arms and hands.
- Do not attempt to get out of the shower, because it might cause you to slip and fall. When the shaking has stopped, you can get out of the shower.
- Bathroom tip: Do not flush the toilet until pipe damage has been assessed.
Sleeping in bed:
- Stay in bed. Turn face down to keep a cushion between your organs and any possible falling debris. If there is an overhead lamp in your room, turn to your side in the opposite direction. Just remember that your priority is to protect your vital organs.
- Cover your neck and head with pillows and keep your arms as close to you as possible. Hold on to the pillow protecting your neck and head until the shaking has ceased. Cover your body with the comforter and any other blankets at an arm’s reach to protect your back and body from falling debris.
- Tip # 1: Don’t sleep with your bedroom door closed. During an earthquake, even a slight shift could cause your door to get jammed and you can get locked in.
- Tip # 2: Keep sturdy shoes at your bedside. Due to debris and broken mirrors, glass, and other objects, you might severely injure your feet if you don’t have proper shoes nearby.
- Don’t go any where. Wait until the shaking has ceased to go to another room (for instance, in the case that you need to check on your kids).
At the gym:
- Drop to the ground and protect your neck, head and vital organs. If you can, crawl to a bare wall where there isn’t something that could break over you, such as a mirror or window.
- If you’re in the pool, swim to a spot where there are no objects looming over you. Hold on to the side of the pool if you want more stability.
- Do not continue your workout after a major earthquake. As tempting as it is for workout enthusiasts to continue their reps, the safest thing to do is to evacuate the building as soon as the shaking has stopped. A major earthquake is often followed by many aftershocks and at a gym you are surrounded by heavy and dangerous equipment.
In the metro / train / bus:
- Stay where you are until instructed otherwise by the transport operator.
- Protect your neck and head with your hands and arms and wait until you are given instructions as to how to proceed.
- Don’t freak out. When you’re riding public transportation you are at the hands of trained professionals who will give you the safest instructions. Do what they say. Stay close to the people you are traveling with, unless you are traveling alone. Metro rail systems are designed and built to withstand large seismic waves.
Outside in the street, park, or exploring nature:
- Get to an open area, if possible away from trees and other overhead objects.
- Drop to your hands and knees in a crouched position covering your neck and head with your hands and arms. Protect your vital organs from possible flying debris.
- Do not get near any buildings or homes. The exterior of buildings is one of the most dangerous places to be standing.
- Do not stand under power lines, vehicles or other hazards that can fall on you.
In a crowded area like the mall, theater or supermarket:
- Drop to your hands and knees and cover your neck and head. If there’s anything sturdy that can be placed over your head, use it and hold onto it until the shaking stops.
- Stay away from the crowd. There will be a higher risk of injury if you stay close to the stampede caused by public panic.
- If you’re in a clothing store at the mall, taking shelter under a clothing rack may give you some protection.
- If you’re in a warehouse store, like Walmart, it may be safer to take shelter under one of the metal shelves or pallet racks.
- If you’re in a theater or stadium, crouch down next to the seats or bend forward in your seat and cover your neck and head. When the shaking stops, proceed to evacuate outdoors.
- If you have a shopping cart, crouch down next to it. It might give you some protection from falling debris. Once you’re on your hands and knees, try to crawl towards the end of the aisle. Another option is to lay the cart on one side and crawl inside of it. The metal container will work as a shield above you and to one side of you.
- Do not attempt to rush out of the building. It will be difficult to walk while the ground is shaking but also it’s likely that objects and debris will be on the ground, making your risk of injury greater. Prioritize your safety by covering your head, neck and vital organs. Then evacuate properly without running.
Inside a car:
- Pull over slowly to a safe location. Turn on your emergency flashing lights to warn other vehicles that you’re pulling over and encourage them to do the same. When your vehicle is stopped, set the parking break to prevent rolling. Try to avoid pulling over under power lines, bridges, overhead passes and other unstable hazards that may fall on top of your car.
- Remain seated in your vehicle until the shaking has stopped completely.
- Tune in to the local radio for news and updates.
- Drive with caution when it feels safe to continue driving. There may be lots of debris along the road as well as significant road damage, possible accidents and injuries.
- Do not drive if a power line has fallen on top of your vehicle. If you try to escape the vehicle or drive away, you could be electrocuted. Stay as still as possible until help arrives. If there are downed power lines nearby, don’t drive over them either.
In a classroom:
- Drop to the floor and shelter yourself under a school desk. Protect your neck and head while holding onto the leg of the desk.
- Listen to the instructions you are given. There will be professionals to guide you in staying put or evacuating. Just obey and do as you’re told.
- Do not take cover near hazardous areas, such as windows, where objects could break and fall over you.
At the beach or under a dam:
- Drop to the ground and protect your head and neck until the shaking has stopped.
- Get to high ground as soon as you’re able to get up. Tsunamis and flooding is likely to occur after the earthquake so try to go as inland as possible. Some cities are marked with hurricane and tsunami evacuation routes. Those signs will help you find your way to a safer location, unless directed otherwise by public city officials.
- Never run towards the beach shore. After strong underwater earthquakes the beach may recede dramatically, leaving fish and other sea creatures on the sand. This is an indication of a tsunami and people who run towards the receding waters are likely to get caught by the huge waves that will crash on shore moments later. This happens so quickly and most people who have made this mistake have died from it.
- Don’t drive toward the evacuation route, instead walk or jog to safety. If you’re driving, you might end up congested in traffic and the tsunami might catch up with you sooner than you can evacuate. It will be quicker for you to reach a safe area inland if you move quickly by foot.
Babies and young children?
- Hold your children close to your chest. Crawl to a place where you can both take shelter, such as a sturdy table or low-lying furniture. If you cannot find shelter, stay near a bare interior wall.
- Exit the building (if you’re inside a building) as soon as the shaking has stopped. Take the stairs and walk with caution because there may be aftershocks.
- Stay calm. Children will become fearful but they will also observe your reaction to the situation. Try to stay as calm as possible, even if you’re frightened and stressed, to give your children more peace and comfort.
- Tip: Practice drills at home with your kids and family, that way when it actually occurs the response will be more calculated and less panicky.
- Go near dangerous objects, such as TV’s, windows, hanging plants, or hanging lights. Do not take cover under door frames because they are not sturdy enough.
Persons with disabilities?
- Lock a wheelchair’s wheels in place to prevent rolling around.
- Get on the ground, if possible, or if you can’t get out of a chair/ recliner bend forward to protect vital organs. Protect your neck by grabbing it with your hands and cover your head using your arms unless you have a pillow or cushion nearby.
- Find shelter, such as a sturdy table, and get under it if possible. If not, keep your head, neck and vital organs protected until the shaking has ceased.
- Practice at home drills especially with folks who have a difficult time remembering, learning, hearing, understanding and seeing.
- Notify neighbors of disabled persons in their area who may need assistance before, during and after emergency situations.
- Do not panic. After the earthquake has passed, call and wait for help to arrive. Meanwhile, adapt to your situation as best as possible. Be careful of debris that may have fallen on or near you.
What about your pets?
- Protect yourself. Drop, cover and hold on. Your priority is to shelter yourself. Pets are intuitive and can find themselves a place to hide fairly quickly.
- Indoors: If you’re indoors, it’s best to let your pets run and find safety on their own. Once the earthquake has passed, you can retrieve them and evacuate if necessary.
- Outdoors: If your pet is on a leash, try to hold them near you and find safety together. It’s likely that your dog will panic and try to run to safety. If your life is dependent on it, let go of the leash, drop to the ground, shelter yourself, and find your dog after the ground has stopped shaking.
- In a crate: Your dog is usually safer from falling debris when it’s inside its crate. Leave your dog in the crate and if it’s light enough to carry, move them to a safe location after the shaking has ended.
- Do not attempt to retain your pet. Pets might be sensitive to seismic activity and may behave in an odd manner prior to an earthquake. If they’re frightened they might scratch or bite you, so it’s best to let them do their thing until the shaking has stopped.
Earthquakes are one of the most unpredictable natural disasters, yet we know they will occur regardless along fault lines. It’s necessary to become prepared as a family. You should own an emergency kit where you have at least enough supplies to get you through the first 72 hours following the disaster. You should also hold earthquake drills at least a couple times a year. Practicing the best ways to react in such a scenario will help train you not to panic and prepare you to make good choices when it actually happens.
Consider that you may be away from home and family members at the time of an earthquake. Make sure you have a back-up communication system set in place so you can get a hold of your loved ones and vise versa. Cell phone reception, wireless internet service and landlines may be interrupted for an unknown period of time. Not knowing how your family are friends are doing after a disaster can cause a lot of stress and anxiety, but this can be prevented if there’s a secondary communication method already discussed.
Have you heard of the International ShakeOut Day? It’s a day in which millions of people around the world participate in an earthquake drill. It is held on the third Thursday of October every year, but you can have a drill any day. If you want to prepare alongside millions of other people this year, you can register here.
Earthquakes along fault lines are never a matter of IF, but rather a matter of WHEN. Do the necessary things to be prepared now so that when it does occur, you will react in a better way. On the other hand, don’t let the fear of an upcoming earthquake overwhelm your life and thoughts. Practice good preparedness techniques and do the best you can on the day it actually happens.
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