One of the biggest threats we have facing us today are earthquakes. It isn’t just the “Big One” in California either. Earthquakes can hit anywhere, even outside of fault zones. Despite the risk, few people know how to survive and prepare for an earthquake.
Surviving an Earthquake Top Tips
These are the most important things you need to know to survive a quake:
Preparedness Before the Earthquake
1. Stay Informed
2. Prepare Your Home for an Earthquake
3. Earthquake Survival Supplies
4. Run an Earthquake Drill
Here are some guidelines on running an emergency drill:
5. Communication Plan
6. Evacuation Plan
Unless the earthquake has made your location unstable, it is best to remain where you are even after the quake. You risk being caught outdoors during an aftershock if you try to leave. Wait until authorities say it is okay to evacuate.
Tsunami Zones and Evacuation
Survival during the Earthquake
1. What to Expect during an Earthquake
2. Safest Place during Earthquake
Drop to the ground where you are. This position prevents you from getting knocked off your feet.
Cover your head and neck with your hands to prevent injury.
In school drills, they had us use textbooks for covering our heads.
If cover such as a sturdy desk or table is nearby, crawl underneath it.
If you cannot find cover, then crawl towards an interior wall (one away from windows).
Obviously avoid crawling under any large furniture or wall hangings that you did not secure.
Don’t be surprised if your cover starts wobbling across the floor during the quake.
Hold on and move with the cover if you must.
Quaking usually lasts just a minute or two.
During an Earthquake Do NOT:
3. If Outdoors during an Earthquake
Unless you are lucky enough to be in a wide open field, being outdoors is one of the worst places to be when an earthquake hits.
Outdoors, you have a lot of things to worry about like:
Don’t try to rush indoors if a quake hits though. You’ll just put yourself at risk of getting hit by flying debris. Instead, look for an open space that is free of electric poles, trees, and large buildings.
Go there and follow drop and cover.
4. If Driving When a Quake Hits
If an earthquake hits while you are driving, it will probably feel like your car suddenly had serious problems. It might take you a moment to realize it's an earthquake and not your steering going out of control.
Steps to Take:
5. Stay Calm
It is important to stay calm during the earthquake. Freaking out has never helped anyone during a survival situation. It just causes them to make poor decisions.
Staying calm is especially important if you have small children as they will be taking their cues about how to react from you. If you can stay calm, the event will be less traumatic for them.
To help you stay calm during a disaster, practice mental preparedness training techniques.
After an Earthquake
1. Prepare for Aftershocks
When an earthquake occurs, it destabilizes the entire fault line. The result is that aftershock earthquakes can occur.
The worst case of aftershocks occurred after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan. The original 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit at 2:46pm. Just 22 minutes later, a 7.4 mag quake hit. This was followed by two more large aftershocks within 18 minutes.
Large aftershocks continued for weeks after the quake. Even a year later, smaller aftershocks were still occurring.
The bigger the original earthquake, the bigger and more frequent the aftershocks will be.
We don’t know if and when aftershocks will occur. So, you can’t be expected to cower down for weeks in a safe spot. However, you can use extra caution after a quake to make sure you aren’t in dangerous areas – like right next to a building about to topple.
2. Stay Informed
Hopefully you have stored your emergency radio someplace accessible. It will be your lifeline to the outside world.
Pay attention to whether there are any evacuation notices in place. Even if you think you are safe at home, always follow the evacuation instructions. There are dangers you can’t predict (such as chemical spills or nuclear plant meltdowns), which is why authorities make the call.
3. Gas Leaks and Fire Risk after Earthquakes
Before we had electricity, earthquakes would almost inevitably result in huge fires caused by overturned lamps and candles.
Today, the risk of fires isn’t as bad. However, gas leaks can still pose a huge fire risk.
To stay safe:
When to turn off the gas:
After shutting off the gas, only the utility provider will be able to turn it back on again. For this reason, utilities companies only recommend shutting off the gas if you suspect a leak.
I personally would play it safe though and just shut off the gas – especially if it was a large earthquake and aftershocks were likely, or if I was going to evacuate the home.
However, I have an emergency stove and heater so I could easily live without my gas supply after a disaster.
4. Tap Water after Earthquakes
After a large quake, expect the water mains to be damaged. You might even need to shut off your own water main if the quake caused pipes to burst.
Even if your tap water still is working, it doesn’t mean you should drink it. Water treatment plants often stop working during emergencies. The water coming out of your taps might be tainted with bacteria, protozoa, or other contaminants.
How to Tell if Tap Water Is Safe to Drink
You can try calling the water company to ask about the tap water, but good luck getting through. The phone line (if it is even working) will likely be flooded with callers.
Instead, turn on your emergency radio and listen for a water update. If you can’t get any information about the tap water, assume the water is unsafe to drink.
Treating Water after an Earthquake
Hopefully you have enough bottled water to last you for at least three days (though a 30 day stockpile is recommended).
If not, you can use one of these methods for treating water:
Bear in mind that every disaster is different. For example, if the quake occurred near a chemical plant, the chemicals could contaminate your water supply. You would need to use a purification method like activated charcoal to remove the chemicals.
It is recommended that you have more than one way to treat water.
5. If You Get Trapped during an Earthquake
After the earthquake in Haiti, Evans Monsignac found himself trapped under the rubble of a marketplace. He stayed there for 27 days before finally being rescued.
Monsignac barely survived. He had no food and his only source of water came from leaking sewage. When he was found, he had lost 60lbs, his wounds were festering, and he was severely dehydrated.
But he survived. It is amazing what the human body can endure.
There are numerous other earthquake survival stories about people being pulled out of the rubble. If I were ever to be trapped under earthquake rubble, I’d like to remember these stories to give me hope.
What to Do:
The video below shows rescue workers pulling a 10 year old girl out of the rubble after an earthquake in Italy.
6. Assist Others
If you’ve managed to survive the earthquake without serious injuries, now is the time to go out and help others.
Start by checking on your neighbors to see if anyone is injured. Join rescue teams who are working to save people trapped under rubble.
Disasters are terrible times, but they also bring out the heroes in us. This is just one more reason to get prepared for an earthquake. You not only will save yourself, but be in a better position to save others.
Learn more about how to become a disaster rescue hero.