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Disaster Preparedness: Earthquake Safety

An earthquake is the sudden shift of energy within the Earth's Crust that causes seismic waves, which can manifest in tremors and sometimes in the upheaval of land. The tremors of a quake may generate other disasters such as tsunamis, fires, and volcanic eruptions. Heavily populated areas naturally suffer more devastation during an earthquake due to congestion, transportation, buildings, plants, and mines. As with any natural disaster, Mother Nature is unpredictable. Since we do not know when an earthquake will happen and often have little warning, the best protection is to be prepared.

Preparing for an Earthquake

The following preparations can improve your earthquake response:

  • If you are planning on building a house on or near a fault zone, conduct research on how to improve the structure of your house to better withstand an earthquake. You can also make improvements to an older house.
  • It is important to have a first aid kit in your home. Also, be sure to have any medications that might be unique to you or your family members readily available (e.g., allergy, insulin, or asthma medication).
  • Know how to quickly shut off gas, power, and water in your home. Keeping utility leaks to a minimum will help deter further damage or injury.
  • Secure anything that could come loose during an earthquake (such as cabinet doors, furniture, and anything hanging on the wall or ceiling) with bolts and clamps.
  • Have a safety plan with your family and rehearse it often. You should know the safest places in your home (low against a corner or under furniture) as well as the most dangerous places (near utilities or around hanging objects). You should also know where to relocate with your family until the danger passes.

During an Earthquake

If you are indoors when an earthquake hits, stay safe with the following tips:

  • Crouch down to the ground and take cover under furniture, such as a table or desk, if possible. If not, then squat low next to an inside wall and protect your face and head with your arms. Interior corners usually are the safest, unless they are next to utility outlets for gas or electricity.
  • Hold on until the shaking stops. If you are not in imminent danger, stay in place for a few moments as earthquakes often have follow-up tremors or aftershocks.

When outdoors, try to move to an open area if possible, and keep these tips in mind:

  • Move away from any structures such as buildings, bridges, utility poles, or wires, as most injuries during an earthquake result from falling objects.
  • When out in the open, duck down to prevent injuries that result from falling.

After an Earthquake

Danger doesn't end with the last tremor. After an earthquake, remain vigilant with these safety steps:

  • Observe your surroundings to make sure it is safe to leave your shelter. Exit your house or building if you were inside, and go to a clear area in the open.
  • Remain clear of any utilities or structures that may still be a danger, and remember that there could be aftershocks.
  • Use first aid if applicable. Remember not to move anyone with a serious injury unless there is immediate risk of further harm.
  • Directly following an earthquake, phone towers, and call centers become very busy. Do not use your phone unless it is an emergency. This will help first responders act quickly and efficiently.
  • Follow directions of police officers, security officers, or emergency workers. Only return to your building when they say it is safe to do so.
  • When you return to your home or building, be sure to inspect everything to make sure it is safe. Check all gas, electric, and water lines for leaks. If there are leaks, do not try to fix these yourself; instead, turn off the utility and exit the house. You will need to call the appropriate trained professional before it is safe to use these utilities again.
  • If you are unable to return to your home, you can find a local public shelter by asking the authorities or listening to a radio for information. After disasters, emergency shelters usually open up in local gyms, schools, and stadiums.

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