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Earthquake Safety – How to Prepare for One

Earthquake tragedies throughout the globe continue to remind us all of the suddenness with which an natural disaster can hit…, and the devastation that it can wreak.

Whether you are a resident of an “earthquake prone area” or merely a tourist that happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, knowing what to do is essential.

The real key to surviving an earthquake and reducing your risk of injury lies in planning, preparing, and practicing what you and your family will do if it happens.

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One of the key things you can do before a disaster is to take some basic training in both Standard First Aid and Basic Life Support. You should also acquire sufficient battery powered flashlights and test them regularly.

Battery powered radios and televisions can be essential in the immediate post-disaster period. You should be familiar with the exits and escape routes wherever you are staying, be it your own home, an office or a hotel.

During Crisis

During a major earthquake, you may hear a roaring or rumbling sound that gradually grows louder. You may feel a rolling sensation that starts out gently and, within a second or two, grows violent.

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Alternatively, you may first be jarred by a violent jolt. A second or two later, you may feel shaking and find it difficult to stand up or move from one room to another.

Indoor Safety

  • According to the American Rescue Team International (ARTI), the best way to avoid getting squashed during an earthquake is to curl up in areas most likely to become voids in case of the building collapsing. Voids are spaces created around large objects such as a desk, bed, couch, filing cabinet etc., and if a person is in a void when the building collapses, he will most likely survive.
  • Stay away from glass and hanging objects, and bookcases, china cabinets, or other large furniture that could fall. Watch for falling objects, such as bricks from fireplaces and chimneys, light fixtures, wall hangings, high shelves, and cabinets with doors that could swing open. Grab something to shield your head and face from falling debris and broken glass.
  • Use a battery-operated flashlight if the lights go out. Don’t use candles, matches, or lighters during or after the earthquake. If there is a gas leak, an explosion could result.
  • If you are in the kitchen, quickly turn off the stove and take cover at the first sign of shaking.
  • Never ever use the elevators during the earthquake.
  • If you are in a crowded public place, don’t rush for the doorways. Others will have the same idea. Move away from display shelves containing objects that may fall. If you can, take cover and grab something to shield your head and face from falling debris and glass.

Outdoor Safety


  • If outdoors, move away from buildings and utility wires. The greatest danger from falling debris is just outside doorways and close to outer walls. Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops.
  • f you are in a moving automobile, stop as quickly and safely as possible and move over to the shoulder or curb, away from utility poles, overhead wires, and under- or overpasses. Stay in the vehicle, set the parking brake, and turn on the radio for emergency broadcast information. A car may jiggle violently on its springs, but it is a good place to stay until the shaking stops. If you are in a life-threatening situation, you may be able to reach someone with either a cellular or an emergency roadside assistance phone.
  • When you drive on, watch for hazards created by the earthquake, such as breaks in the pavement, downed utility poles and wires, a fallen overpasses and bridges.

After Earthquake

  • Be prepared for “aftershocks.” Although most of these are smaller than the main earthquake, some may be large enough to cause additional damage or bring down weakened structures.
  • Because other aftereffects can include fires, chemical spills, landslides, dam breaks, and tidal waves, be sure to monitor your battery-operated radio or TV for additional emergency information.
  • Check for injuries. Don’t attempt to move injured or unconscious people unless they are in immediate danger from live electrical wires, flooding, or other hazards. Internal injuries may not be evident, but may be serious or life-threatening. If someone has stopped breathing, call for medical or first aid assistance immediately and begin CPR if you are trained to do so. Stop a bleeding injury by applying direct pressure to the wound. If you are trapped, try to attract attention to your location.
  • An earthquake may break gas, electrical, and water lines. If you smell gas: (1) open windows; (2) shut off the main gas valve; (3) do not turn any electrical appliances or lights on or off; (4) go outside; (5) report the leak to authorities; and (6) do not reenter the building until a utility official says it is safe to do so.
  • If electric wiring is shorting out, shut off the electric current at the main box.
  • If water pipes are damaged, shut off the supply at the main valve.
  • Have chimneys inspected for cracks and damage. Don’t use the fireplace if the chimney has any damage.
  • Check to see if sewage lines are intact before using bathrooms or plumbing.
  • Don’t touch downed power lines or objects in contact with downed lines. Report electrical hazards to the authorities.
  • Immediately clean up spilled medicines, drugs, flammable liquids, and other potentially hazardous materials.
  • Stay off all telephones except to report an emergency. Replace telephone receivers that may have been knocked off by the earthquake.
  • Stay away from damaged areas. Your presence could hamper relief efforts, and you could endanger yourself.

Evacuating Your Home

If you must evacuate your home:

  • Post a message, in a prearranged location known only to family members, indicating where you have gone.
  • Confine pets to the safest location possible and make sure they have plenty of food and water. Pets won’t be allowed in designated public shelters.
  • Take vital documents (wills, insurance policies, etc.), emergency supplies, and extra medications with you.

The only sure way to optimize your chances of surviving an earthquake or any potential disaster is to develop a workable plan. The other key step is reviewing it with family members and practicing it.

There is no sure way to avoid calamity, but proper precautions and understanding can make a disaster, even a catastrophic one, survivable.