Earthquake Safety at Home
Know your risk
An earthquake is the sudden, rapid shaking of the earth, caused by the breaking and shifting of subterranean rock as it releases strain that has accumulated over a long time. Initial mild shaking may strengthen and become extremely violent within seconds. Additional earthquakes, called aftershocks, may follow the initial earthquake. Most are smaller than the initial earthquake but larger magnitude aftershocks also occur. Earthquakes may cause household items to become dangerous projectiles; cause buildings to move off foundations or collapse, damage utilities, roads and structures such as bridges and dams, or cause fires and explosions. They may also trigger landslides, avalanches, and tsunamis.
All 50 states and 5 U.S. territories are at some risk for earthquakes. The risk is higher in identified seismic zones including the San Andreas Fault in California, the Cascadia Subduction Zone in western Oregon and Washington and Alaska, the New Madrid Fault Zone spanning areas in Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and areas on the east coast including the mid-Atlantic, coastal South Carolina and New England..
Earthquakes can happen at any time of the year and occur without warning, although they usually last less than one minute. Aftershocks following the initial earthquake may occur for hours, days, or even months. Earthquakes cannot be predicted — although scientists are working on it!
Unlike hurricanes and some other natural hazards, earthquakes strike suddenly and without warning. Nevertheless, if you live in an area at risk for earthquakes, there are things that you can do to reduce the chances that you or other members of your household will be injured, that your property will be damaged, or that your home life will be unduly disrupted by an earthquake. These things all fit under the term preparedness, because to be effective, they must be done before earthquakes occur.
Preparing for earthquakes involves (1) learning what people should do before, during, and after earthquakes; and (2) doing or preparing to do those things now, before the next quake.
Before The Next Earthquake
Following are activities that you can undertake now:
Prepare Your Home
Make your home safer to be in during earthquakes and more resistant to earthquake damage by assessing its structure and contents. Depending on when and how it was designed and built, the structure you live in may have weaknesses that make it more vulnerable to earthquakes. Common examples include structures not anchored to their foundations or having weak crawl space walls, unbraced pier-and-post foundations, or unreinforced masonry walls or foundations.
If you own your home, find and correct any such weaknesses, yourself or with professional help. If you are a renter, ask what has been done to strengthen the property against earthquakes, and consider this information in deciding where to rent. If you are building or buying a home, make sure that it complies with the seismic provisions of your local building code.
What is in your home can be as or more dangerous and damage-prone than the structure itself. Any unsecured objects that can move, break, or fall as an earthquake shakes your home are potential safety hazards and potential property losses. Walk through each room of your home and make note of these items, paying particular attention to tall, heavy, or expensive objects such as bookcases, home electronics, appliances (including water heaters), and items hanging from walls or ceilings. Secure these items with flexible fasteners, such as nylon straps, or with closed hooks, or by relocating them away from beds and seating, to lower shelves, or to cabinets with latched doors. Ensure that plumbers have installed flexible connectors on all gas appliances.
Prepare Yourself and Your Family to
React Safely Learn what to do during an earthquake. Hold periodic family drills to practice what you have learned. Through practice, you can condition yourselves to react spontaneously and safely when the first jolt or shaking is felt.
Take Cover In each room of your home, identify the safest places to “drop, cover, and hold on” during an earthquake. Practice going to these safe spots during family drills to ensure that everyone learns where they are.
Survive on Your Own Assemble and maintain a household emergency supply kit, and be sure that all family members know where it is stored. The kit should consist of one or two portable containers (e.g., plastic tubs, backpacks, duffel bags) holding the supplies that your family would need to survive without outside assistance for at least 3 days following an earthquake or other disaster. Make additional, smaller kits to keep in your car(s) and at your place(s) of work.
Stay in Contact List addresses, telephone numbers, and evacuation sites for all places frequented by family members (e.g., home, workplaces, schools). Include the phone number of an out-of-state contact. Ensure that family members carry a copy of this list, and include copies in your emergency supply kits.
Care for People, Pets, and Property Get training in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) through your local chapter of the American Red Cross. Find out where you could shelter your pet should it become necessary to evacuate your home. Ensure that family members know how and when to call 9-1-1, how to use your home fire extinguisher, and how, where, and when to shut off your home’s utilities (water, natural gas, and electricity). Ask your state insurance commissioner about the availability of earthquake insurance in your state.
Prepare Your Community
Consider becoming involved in local, voluntary programs that strengthen your community’s disaster resilience. Investigate training and volunteer opportunities available through the American Red Cross. FEMA works with local governments and other community stakeholders to provide free training and volunteer opportunities through its Citizen Corps and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) programs.
During An Earthquake
If you are inside a building:
Drop down onto your hands and knees so the earthquake doesn’t knock you down. Drop to the ground (before the earthquake drops you!)
Cover your head and neck with your arms to protect yourself from falling debris.
If you are in danger from falling objects, and you can move safely, crawl for additional cover under a sturdy desk or table.
If no sturdy shelter is nearby, crawl away from windows, next to an interior wall.Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as light fixtures or furniture.
Hold on to any sturdy covering so you can move with it until the shaking stops.
Stay where you are until the shaking stops. Do not run outside. Do not get in a doorway as this does not provide protection from falling or flying objects, and you may not be able to remain standing.
If getting safely to the floor to take cover won’t be possible:
If getting safely to the floor will be difficult, actions before an earthquake to secure or remove items that can fall or become projectiles should be a priority to create spaces..
Identify an away from windows and objects that could fall on you. The Earthquake Country Alliance advises getting as low as possible to the floor. People who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices should lock their wheels, bend over, and remain seated until the shaking stops. Protect your head and neck with your arms, a pillow, a book, or whatever is available.
If you are in bed when you feel the shaking:
If you are in bed: Stay there and Cover your head and neck with a pillow. At night, hazards and debris are difficult to see and avoid; attempts to move in the dark result in more injuries than remaining in bed.
If you are outside when you feel the shaking:
If you are outdoors when the shaking starts, move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires. Once in the open, “Drop, Cover, and Hold On.” Stay there until the shaking stops.
If you are in a moving vehicle when you feel the shaking:
It is difficult to control a vehicle during the shaking. If you are in a moving vehicle, stop as quickly and safely as possible and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires. Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that the earthquake may have damaged.
After The Next Earthquake
Once the shaking stops, check for injuries among your family and neighbors and, as needed, administer first aid and call for emergency medical assistance. Also check for hazards in and around your home created by earthquake damage. Keep in mind that aftershocks may strike at any time, exacerbating these hazards and requiring you to immediately drop, cover, and hold on.
Responding promptly to hazards can prevent further damage and injuries. This may entail extinguishing small fires or reporting larger blazes; shutting off the water supply when broken pipes are leaking; shutting off the electricity when damaged wiring threatens to spark fires; shutting off the natural gas when you suspect that gas is leaking; or evacuating your home when any of these hazards or others, such as structural damage, make continued occupancy potentially unsafe.
If it is necessary to leave your home, you may, in the days and weeks following the quake, need to seek emergency assistance from the American Red Cross. In the event of a presidential disaster declaration, assistance for housing and other needs may also become available from FEMA.
Regardless of the severity of this earthquake, learn from the experience. If there are things that you could have done better in preparing for this quake, do them better now in preparation for the next earthquake. If your home must be repaired or rebuilt, for example, use this opportunity to correct any structural weaknesses and ensure compliance with seismic building standards. If unsecured belongings were damaged, improve how you secure your home’s contents. If your emergency supply kit proved inadequate, use what you learned to make a kit that will better meet your needs.
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