Updated: June 2015
Unlike other weather events, earthquakes strike without warning, oftentimes leaving devastation and heartache behind. Usually, earthquakes in the U.S. occur along the West Coast. However, earthquake potential exists in all states. Although nothing can stop an earthquake, careful preparation and planning can make a difference when it comes to protecting your home and family from their effects.
To protect you and your family, develop an earthquake safety action plan by identifying places that can provide the highest amount of protection during an earthquake, as well as an escape route and off-premises meeting place.
- Become familiar with your community's disaster preparedness plan.
- Teach your family members how to shut off water, gas and electricity to the house.
- Purchase at least one multi-purpose dry chemical fire extinguisher.
- Install smoke detectors and change the batteries every six months.
- Prepare an emergency supplies kit including a three day supply of bottled water and non-perishable food, as well as a manual can opener, paper plates, cups, utensils, first-aid kit, flashlight and battery-operated radio with extra batteries.
- Retrofit your home's structure to better withstand the forces of an earthquake. This is a job for a professional architect, engineer or building contractor.
- Retrofit nonstructural areas of your home to protect your personal property, including earthquake straps.
It's also important to make sure that your household items are safe and secure for when an earthquake happens. Anchor your large appliances (e.g. refrigerator, stove) to walls using safety cables or straps. You can also apply safety film to your home's windows and glass doors.
Remember to secure these objects to the wall using safety straps or brackets:
- Cabinets and bookcases
- Heavy objects like televisions, stereos, computers, armoires
- Picture frames and bulletin boards
- Ceiling lights to supports using safety cables
To prevent items from falling, install latches on kitchen cabinet doors. You can also tack down glassware, heirlooms and figurines with putty.
You've followed precautions and made your home safer if an earthquake strikes. So what happens if an earthquake happens?
Follow these tips to stay safe:
- At the first sign of an earthquake, drop and take cover under a sturdy piece of furniture or against an inside wall away from objects that may fall on you.
- Sit or stay close to the floor and hold on to furniture legs for balance.
- Use your arm to cover and protect your eyes.
- If there's no sturdy furniture nearby, kneel or sit close to the floor next to a structurally sound interior wall away from windows, shelves, or furniture that could fall and place your hands on the floor for balance.
- Stay away from doorways, violent motion could cause the doors to slam against your body, crush your fingers or inflict other serious injuries.
- Do not run outside.
- If outdoors, quickly move into the open, away from electrical lines, trees and buildings.
- If driving, bring your vehicle to a stop at the side of the road away from traffic.
- Do not stop on or under bridges, near or under power lines or road signs.
After the earthquake is over, it's important to be alert for aftershocks. Once you feel safe, look for injured victims and help administer first aid.
Be sure to pay attention to damaged utilities. Avoid loose or dangling electric power lines and report all gas and electrical problems to the proper authorities. Turn off any damaged utilities that you find.
Also, remember these important tips:
- Check for fire hazards and use flashlights instead of candles or lanterns.
- Wear protective shoes. Have them by your bed in case the earthquake happens in the middle of the night.
- If your building is sound, stay inside and listen for radio advisories.
Special thanks to the following organizations for their contributions to this information:
- American Red Cross
- U.S. Geological Survey
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
- California Seismic Safety Commission
- California Contractors State License Board
- Institute for Business and Home Safety