An earthquake is a sudden, rapid shaking of the earth caused by the breaking and shifting of rock beneath the earth’s surface. Earthquakes strike suddenly, without warning, and they can occur at any time of the year, day or night. Forty five states and territories in the United States are at moderate to very high risk of earthquakes, and they are located in every region of the country. Earthquakes strike suddenly, violently and without warning. Identifying potential hazards ahead of time and advance planning can reduce the dangers of serious injury or loss of life from an earthquake.
The actual movement of the ground in an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or injury. Most casualties result from falling objects and debris because the shocks can shake, damage, or demolish buildings, bridges, and other man-made structures. Earthquakes can also trigger landslides and generate huge ocean waves called tsunamis. Both of these can cause great damage and loss of life.
During any earthquake, small or large you should drop, cover and hold on immediately.
- DROP to the ground (before the earthquake drops you!),
- Take COVER by getting under a sturdy desk or table, and
- HOLD ON to your shelter and be prepared to move with it until the shaking stops.
If there is no table or desk near you, drop to the ground and then if possible move to an inside corner of the room. Be in a crawling position to protect your vital organs and be ready to move if necessary, and cover your head and neck with your hands and arms.
Do not move to another location or outside. Earthquakes occur without any warning and may be so violent that you cannot run or crawl. You are more likely to be injured if you try to move around during strong shaking. Also, you will never know if the initial jolt will turn out to be start of the big one…and that’s why you should always Drop, Cover, and Hold On immediately!
If you are unable to Drop, Cover, and Hold On: If you have difficulty getting safely to the floor on your own, get as low as possible, protect our head and neck, and move away from windows or other items that can fall on you.
In a wheelchair: Lock your wheels and remain seated until the shaking stops. Always protect your head and neck with your arms, a pillow, a book, or whatever is available.
In bed: If you are in bed, hold on and stay there, protecting your head with a pillow. You are less likely to be injured staying where you are. Broken glass on the floor has caused injury to those who have rolled to the floor or tried to get to doorways.
In a high-rise: Drop, Cover, and Hold On. Avoid windows and other hazards. Do not use elevators. Do not be surprised if sprinkler systems or fire alarms activate.
In a store: When Shaking starts, Drop Cover and Hold On. A shopping cart or getting inside clothing racks can provide some protection. If you must move to get away from heavy items on high shelves, drop to the ground first and crawl only the shortest distance necessary. Whenever you enter any retail store, take a moment to look around: What is above and around you that could move or fall during an earthquake? Then use your best judgment to stay safe.
Outdoors: Move to a clear area if you can safely do so; avoid power lines, trees, signs, buildings, vehicles, and other hazards.
Driving: Pull over to the side of the road, stop, and set the parking brake. Avoid overpasses, bridges, power lines, signs and other hazards. Stay inside the vehicle until the shaking is over. If a power line falls on the car, stay inside until a trained person removes the wire.
In a stadium or theater: Stay at your seat or drop to the floor between rows and protect your head and neck with your arms. Don’t try to leave until the shaking is over. Then walk out slowly watching for anything that could fall in the aftershocks.
Near the shore: Drop, Cover, and Hold On until the shaking stops. If severe shaking lasts twenty seconds or more, immediately evacuate to high ground as a Tsunami might have been generated by the earthquake. Move inland two miles or to land that is at least 100 feet above sea level immediately. Don’t wait for officials to issue a warning. Walk quickly, rather than drive, to avoid traffic, debris and other hazards.
Below a dam: Dams can fail during a major earthquake. Catastrophic failure is unlikely, but if you live downstream from a dam, you should know flood zone information and have prepared an evacuation plan.
MYTH – Head for the Doorway:
An enduring earthquake a collapsed adobe home with the doorframe as the only standing part. From this came our belief that a doorway is the safest place to be during an earthquake.
True – if you live in an old, unreinforced adobe house.
In modern houses, doorways are no stronger than any other part of the house. You are safer under a table.
Earthquake-related injuries are commonly caused by:
1) Partial building collapses, such as toppling chimneys, falling bricks from wall Facings and roof parapets, collapsing walls, falling ceiling plaster, light fixtures, and pictures.
2) Flying or falling glass from broken windows. (This danger may be greater in modern high-rise buildings.)
3) Overturned bookcases, fixtures, and other furniture and appliances.
4) Fires from broken chimneys, broken gas and electric lines, or spilled flammable liquids. The danger may be aggravated by the lack of water due to broken water mains.
5) Fallen Power lines.
6) Human panic reactions, such as crowds stampeding for stairways or exits.
Mobile homes and homes not attached to their foundations are at particular risk during an earthquake. Buildings with foundations resting on landfill and other unstable soils are at increased risk of damage.
Pick safe places in each room of your home, workplace and/or school. A safe place could be under a piece of furniture or against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases or tall furniture that could fall on you.
Practice drop, cover and hold on in each safe place. If you do not have sturdy furniture to hold on to, sit on the floor next to an interior wall and cover your head and neck with your arms.
Check for Hazards in the Home
- Fasten shelves securely to walls.
- Place large or heavy objects on lower shelves.
- Store breakable items such as bottled foods, glass, and china in low, closed cabinets with latches.
- Hang heavy items such as pictures and mirrors away from beds, couches, and anywhere people sit.
- Brace overhead light fixtures.
- Repair defective electrical wiring and leaky gas connections. These are potential fire risks.
- Secure a water heater by strapping it to the wall studs and bolting it to the floor.
- Repair any deep cracks in ceilings or foundations. Get expert advice if there are signs of structural defects.
- Store weed killers, pesticides, and flammable products securely in closed cabinets with latches and on bottom shelves.
- Keep a flashlight and sturdy shoes by each person’s bed.
- Make sure your home is securely anchored to its foundation.
- Bolt bookcases, china cabinets and other tall furniture to wall studs.
- Install strong latches or bolts on cabinets. Large or heavy items should be closest to the floor.
- Learn how to shut off the gas valves in your home and keep a wrench handy for that purpose.
- Learn about your area’s seismic building standards and land use codes before you begin new construction.
- Keep and maintain an emergency supplies kit in an easy to access location
- In new construction or alterations, follow building codes to minimize earthquake hazards. Sites for construction should be selected and engineered to reduce the hazards of damage from an earthquake.
- Identify safe places in each room. Under sturdy furniture such as a heavy desk or table. Against an inside wall. Away from where glass could shatter around windows, mirrors, pictures, or where heavy bookcases or other heavy furniture could fall over. Doorways are no stronger than any other part of the structure. During an earthquake, get under a sturdy piece of furniture and hold on. This will provide some protection from falling objects that can injure you during an earthquake.
Identify Safe Places Outdoors
- In the open, away from buildings, trees, telephone and electrical lines, overpasses, or elevated expressways.
Educate Yourself and Family Members
- Teach children how and when to call 9-1-1, police, or fire department and which radio station to tune to for emergency information.
- Teach all family members how and when to turn off gas, electricity, and water.
The most important thing you can do during an earthquake is to remain calm. By doing this, you will be in a better position to assess your situation and instill confidence in those around you. Think through the consequences of any actions you take. Try to calm and reassure others. Stay as safe as possible during an earthquake. Be aware that some earthquakes are actually foreshocks and a larger earthquake might occur. Minimize your movements to a few steps to a nearby safe place and if you are indoors, stay there until the shaking has stopped and you are sure exiting is safe.
- DROP to the ground; take COVER by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and HOLDON until the shaking stops. If there isn’t a table or desk 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 with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place.
- Use a doorway for shelter only if it is in close proximity to you and if you know it is a strongly supported, loadbearing doorway.
- Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. 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.
- Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.
- DO NOT use the elevators.
- If you must leave the building after the shaking stops, use stairs rather than an elevator in case there are aftershocks, power outages or other damage. The most dangerous thing to do during the shaking of an earthquake is to try to leave the building because objects can fall on you.
- If you happen to be in the kitchen, turn off the stove at the first sign of shaking.
- Watch for falling plaster, bricks, light fixtures and other objects.
- Watch out for high bookcases, china cabinets, shelves, and other furniture or appliances which might fall or topple.
- Stay away from windows, mirrors, and chimneys.
- If in danger, get under a table, desk or bed; in a corner away from windows; or in a strong doorway.
- Encourage others to follow your example. Do not run outdoors - you may be hit by falling debris or electrical wires.
- If in a high-rise office building, move away from windows and outside walls. Get under a desk or table. Do not dash for exits, since stairways may be broken or jammed with people. Power for elevators may fail.
- If in a crowded store, do not rush for a doorway since hundreds may have the same idea. If you MUST leave the building, choose your exit as carefully as possible.
- 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. Many of the 120 fatalities from the 1933 Long Beach earthquake occurred when people ran outside of buildings only to be killed by falling debris from collapsing walls. Ground movement during an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or injury. Most earthquake-related casualties result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects.
If in a moving vehicle
- Stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires. Look for a clear spot to stop in.
- Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake.
- If a power line falls on your vehicle, do not get out. Wait for assistance.
- If you are in a mountainous area or near unstable slopes or cliffs, be alert for falling rocks and other debris. Landslides are often triggered by earthquakes.
If trapped under debris
- Do not light a match.
- Do not move about 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.
Pets after an Earthquake
The behavior of pets may change dramatically after an earthquake. Normally quiet and friendly cats and dogs may become aggressive or defensive. Watch animals closely. Leash dogs and place them in a fenced yard. Pets may not be allowed into shelters for health and space reasons. Prepare an emergency pen for pets in the home that includes a 3-day supply of dry food and a large container of water.
Expect aftershocks.These secondary shockwaves are usually less violent than the main quake but can be strong enough to do additional damage to weakened structures and can occur in the first hours, days, weeks, or even months after the quake. Expect and prepare for potential aftershocks, landslides or even a tsunami. Tsunamis are often generated by earthquakes. Each time you feel an aftershock, drop, cover and hold on.
Listen to a battery-operated radio or television.Listen for the latest emergency information.
Put on long pants, a long sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes and work gloves to protect against injury from broken objects.
Look quickly for damage in and around your home and get everyone out if your home is unsafe.
Use the telephone only for emergency calls.
Open cabinets cautiously.Beware of objects that can fall off shelves.
Stay away from damaged areas.Stay away unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire, or relief organizations. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
Be aware of possible tsunamis if you live in coastal areas.These are also known as seismic sea waves (mistakenly called "tidal waves"). When local authorities issue a tsunami warning, assume that a series of dangerous waves is on the way. Stay away from the beach.
Help injured or trapped persons.Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance such as infants, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Give first aid where appropriate. Do not move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Call for help.
Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately. Leave the area if you smell gas or fumes from other chemicals.
Inspect the entire length of chimneys for damage. Check your chimney over its entire length for cracks & damage, particularly in the attic and at the roof line. Unnoticed damage could lead to a fire or collapse in aftershocks.
The initial check should be made from a distance. Approach chimneys with caution.
Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines and stay out of damaged areas.
Keep animals under your direct control.
Stay out of damaged buildings.
If you were away from home, return only when authorities say it is safe to do so. Use extreme caution and examine walls, floors, doors, staircases and windows to check for damage.
Be careful when driving after an earthquake and anticipate traffic light outages.
Leave the area if you smell gas or fumes from other chemicals.
If water is off, emergency water may be obtained from melted ice cubes, from canned vegetables, from toilet tanks (if no sanitizing chemicals have been added), from swimming pools and spas, and from water heaters (strain this water through a clean handkerchief first).
Check to see that sewage lines are intact before permitting continued flushing of toilets.
Do not eat or drink anything from open containers near shattered glass. Liquids can be strained through a clean handkerchief or cloth if the danger of glass contamination exists.
If power is off, check your freezer and plan meals to use up foods which will spoil quickly.
Use outdoor charcoal or propane broilers for emergency cooking. Do not bring these items indoors. The accumulation of fumes from their use can be deadly.
Do not go sightseeing. Do not use your vehicle unless there is a genuine emergency. Keep the streets clear for emergency vehicles.
- Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can and call the gas company from a neighbor's home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.
- Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice.
- Check for sewage and water lines damage. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and
- call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water by melting ice cubes.
As you rebuild
- Install strong latches or bolts on cabinets.
- Place large and heavy objects and breakable items (bottled foods, glass or china) on lower shelves.
- Anchor overhead lighting fixtures to joists.
- Anchor top-heavy and freestanding furniture such as bookcases, china cabinets and other tall furniture to wall studs to keep these from toppling over in an earthquake.
- Secure gas appliances to the floor to prevent them from tipping over in an earthquake.
- Use heavy gauge metal strapping, sometimes called "strap iron" or "plumber's tape," to anchor the water heater to wall studs to keep it from moving or tipping. Find out if there are local building codes that describe the type of metal strapping that may be required in your area.
Ask a professional to
- Install flexible fittings to avoid gas or water leaks.
- Bolt the frame of the house to the foundation.
- Repair deep cracks in ceilings and foundations and make sure they are not indications of structural damage.
- Provide structural engineering design advice. Ask about home repair and strengthening tips for exterior features, such as porches, decks, sliding glass doors, canopies, carports and garage doors.