Earthquakes: What to Do Before, During and After
If you’re thinking of moving to an earthquake-free state in the US, you’re out of luck. All 50 states and five territories have a risk of earthquakes. So it’s best to begin preparing for the inevitable shaker.
An earthquake is caused by the shifting of the huge underground plates that make up the earth’s surface. The plates slowly move miles beneath our feet, sometimes sliding over or under each other. At times they break apart, unleashing a tremendous amount of energy that causes the surface areas to shift. These manipulations are the reason we have mountain ranges and volcanoes.
Since there’s no escaping the likelihood of experiencing an earthquake, it’s best to prepare for them ahead of time.
Before the Earthquake
Make sure you have an emergency kit available in your home. Ideally, this includes supplies that can last you and your family members for at least three days without electricity or need for cooking. Since an earthquake can strike during any season, make sure you also have warm clothing and blankets, a flashlight with extra batteries, and a portable radio. And a great idea is to make sure you have an escape bag that has an extra pair of shoes, in case something happens in the middle of the night.
Non-perishable foods, including canned goods and dry mixes that don’t need a lot of water, are the ideal emergency supplies. Suggestions include canned tuna, powdered milk/juice, beans, peanut butter, a few health bars and baby food if you have an infant (or even if you don’t, and just happen to like mashed peas).
Adults need to drink two quarts of water every day to maintain optimal health, and the elderly and children need to ingest more. Keep a three-day supply on hand, which comes out to roughly a gallon per person per day.
A few things to remember: choose foods your family will actually eat. That stew may look good on the label, but may be inedible once the can is open. Make sure you have a can opener and some paper plates/plastic utensils on hand to keep things civilized.
For the rest of the house, make sure shelves are bolted tight, with large and heavy objects on lower shelves. Take a look around your home and imagine a violent shaker – would the objects on the walls become dangerous projectiles? If so, find a way to fasten them. Pay particular attention to securing your water heater, refrigerator, and gas appliances. Many gas companies require an automatic shut-off valve that triggers upon strong vibrations. It’s a good idea to get one no matter where you live.
A Note About Special Objects: Binding adhesives like museum wax are not recommended for use on delicate objects like Native American pottery. The strong bonding can damage thin finishing material.
During an Earthquake
There are a lot of variables that go into what to do during the quake – how far are you from the epicenter? What kind of soil is your home built on? What’s the magnitude? Are you home or in the office or car?
The best advice is something you’re likely to do instinctively – get away from anything that might fall on you. If indoors, that likely means getting on the ground and underneath something sturdy. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says that you can crouch in a corner of a building if you’re not near a table or desk. Stay away from windows, outside doors and walls and anything that could fall.
If you are at home, stay in your bed and cover your head with a pillow. Many people think they need to get to a doorway – that’s true only if it’s a strongly supported, load-bearing frame.
If outdoors, stay there and away from anything that could fall on you, including walls, glass and falling objects. If you are in your car, remain inside and try to stay away from anything that can fall or shatter.
After an Earthquake
If you are unfortunate enough to be trapped because of falling debris, stay calm. Don’t light a match or move about – things are unstable and you could make your situation worse. Best to cover your mouth and nose with a handkerchief or other clothing until the dust settles. When rescuers approach, tap on something to attract attention. Shouting will cause you to inhale dust.
Keep in mind that rescuers may take a while to reach you, so don’t panic. You’re in a tough spot with a lot of variable unknowns, so it’s best to remain calm and try to make the best of it.
Even if your home appears unaffected by the quake, it’s a good idea to inspect the property closely after a big shaker. Your chimney could be damaged, and cracks in the foundation may indicate a shift that has bad consequences for the rest of the construction. It’s also a great idea to check the gas and water shutoffs to make sure they’re still viable.
A building that appears safe usually is. But keep in mind that most earthquakes have after-shocks, some of them quite large. If there’s hidden damage to the home or office building, it can pose as big a problem as the initial earthquake during the after-shock. Wait for the all-clear from a trained building professional if at all possible.