Be Earthquake Smart: Tips for Before, During and After the Tremor

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During the recent flurry of baby-proofing in my home, my husband included earthquake-proofing in the mix. As a lifelong Pacific Northwest resident, I've become rather immune to the constant low-level attention given to earthquake risk. However, my husband is a recent transplant and takes a more serious view of it.

If you're like me, you may want to rethink your family's haphazard earthquake plan. I pulled together a few recommendations from FEMA's ready.gov site to help you get started on behalf of Secure Pacific.

Do today, before an earthquake:

  • Start by building an emergency kit and creating your family communications plan.
  • Secure shelves and large, heavy furniture pieces to walls.
  • Place large or heavy objects on lower shelves.
  • Store breakable items such as bottled foods, glass, and china in low, closed cabinets with latches.
  • Hang heavy items like pictures and mirrors securely to walls and away from beds, couches and anywhere people sit.
  • Brace overhead light fixtures and top heavy objects.
  • Have a professional repair defective electrical wiring and leaky gas connections.
  • Install flexible pipe fittings to avoid gas or water leaks.
  • Secure your water heater, refrigerator, furnace and gas appliances by strapping them to the wall studs and bolting to the floor.
  • Have an automatic gas shut-off valve installed that is triggered by strong vibrations.
  • Repair any deep cracks in ceilings or foundations.
  • Be sure your home is firmly anchored to its foundation.
  • Store weed killers, pesticides, and flammable products securely in closed cabinets with latches and on bottom shelves.
  • Locate safe spots in each room (under a sturdy table or against an inside wall) to go to in an earthquake.
  • Hold earthquake drills with your family members: Drop, cover and hold on.

During an earthquake:

Drop, cover and Hold On. Minimize your movements to a few steps to a nearby safe place and if you are indoors, stay there until the shaking has stopped and you are sure exiting is safe.

Inside:

  • Drop to the ground; take cover by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and hold on until the shaking stops. Nothing solid near you to get under? Cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.
  • Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.
  • Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake strikes. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place.
  • Do not use a doorway except if you know it is a strongly supported, load-bearing doorway. Many inside doorways do not offer protection.
  • Stay inside until the shaking stops. Do not exit a building during the shaking. Research shows most injuries occur when people attempt to move to a different spot inside the building or try to leave.
  • DO NOT use the elevators.
  • Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.

Outside:

  • Stay there.
  • Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires.
  • Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops. The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits and alongside exterior walls.

In a car:

  • Stop as quickly as you safely can and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires.
  • Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped.

If trapped under debris:

  • Do not light a match.
  • Do not move about or kick up dust.
  • Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.
  • Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort. Shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.

After an earthquake:

  • When the shaking stops, look around to make sure it is safe to move. Then exit the building.
  • Expect aftershocks. These secondary shock-waves are usually less violent, but can do additional damage to weakened structures and can occur in the first hours, days, weeks, or even months after the quake.
  • Help injured or trapped persons.
  • Give first aid where appropriate. Do not move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Call for help.
  • Look for and extinguish small fires.
  • Listen to a battery-operated radio or television for the latest emergency information.
  • Be aware of possible tsunamis if you live in coastal areas. Stay away from the beach.
  • Use the telephone only for emergency calls.
  • Go to a designated public shelter if your home had been damaged and is no longer safe.
  • Stay away from damaged areas.
  • Be careful when driving after an earthquake and anticipate traffic light outages.
  • Safety should be your primary priority as you begin clean up and recovery.
  • Open cabinets cautiously. Beware of objects that can fall off shelves.
  • Find out how to keep food safe during and after and emergency at the food safety.gov site.
  • Put on long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes and work gloves to protect against injury from broken objects.
  • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately.
  • Inspect the entire length of chimneys for damage.
  • Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can and call the gas company from a neighbor's home.
  • Look for electrical system damage. If you see items of concern, call for help.
  • Check for sewage and water lines damage.

Hopefully, you'll never need these emergency preparation tips. However, taking a little time now, could make a major difference for the safety, security and well-being of your family in the future.