Earthquake Planning

Natural disasters can be categorized in two different ways: Those that come with a warning and those that come with no warning. Some examples of disasters that come with warnings are Hurricanes, tornadoes (to the extent that they are a function of storms), wild fires (depending on where they start and how far you are away from them), flooding (associated with heavy rains), etc. Some examples of disasters that do not come with warnings are house fires, EMP's, attacks, and earthquakes, to name a few.

Earthquake planning will be the topic here. Statistically, the chances of being injured during the foreshock of an earthquake are quite low. The foreshock (initial quake) will usually weaken structures, while the aftershocks, despite usually being smaller, capitalize on the work done by the foreshock. So it's really in those scary moments following the earthquake where most injuries happen. For example, the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco rang in at a whopping M 7.9, but they say most of the casualties came from the fires that raged for 3 days. The most common injures from the M 6.7 earthquake in Northridge California was foot injuries, guessed it...broken glass. So the steps and preplanning you take before an earthquake will greatly determine how you fair during and after the earthquake. So lets take a look at the steps you can take to mitigate the effects of an earthquake.

What to do Before an Earthquake:

Earthquakes are unlike other disasters in that they strike suddenly, violently and without warning. So, the key to earthquake preparedness is advance preparation. Identifying potential hazards ahead of time and advance planning can reduce the dangers of serious injury or loss of life from an earthquake.

Five Ways to Plan Ahead

  1. Check for Hazards in the Home

  • Cabinets and dressers- Make sure that there are no cabinets or dressers that when tipped, come in close proximity to any beds or block any doorways. Every room should have at least two exits (window, door, etc). Make sure nothing is blocking (dresser against the window) or could potentially block (dresser tipping over and obstructing a door or window) any of your exits. And to ensure nothing can fall or tip, make sure everything that needs to be is anchored to a stud in the wall.

  • Mirrors and Clocks- Realize that these will probably fall and break, but secure them the best you can. This is why those shoes (near your bed or in your bed kits) are so vital. Try to get the anchors into studs. At the very least, hang these away from beds, couches, and anywhere people sit.

  • TV’s- If your TV's are wall mounted, that is probably as secure as they will get, but if they are heavy, they still may fall. Some choose not to mount their TV’s, but instead use the included table top mounts. This doesn’t mean you still can’t anchor it to the wall. Without anchoring these free-standing TV’s, they are just prime for falling over. Again…shoes.

  • Pictures/Decorations- I make sure none of these are anywhere near the beds, especially in my kids room.

  • Windows- A couple of considerations regarding windows. They are going to break. Again, shoes are your best defense against this, which is why I like the shoes under the beds. The closet sounds fine, but in the case of my kids, one of them has to walk between the bed and the window to get to the closet. So no, the closet is not good enough. They need those shoes the second their feet hit the floor, before is even better. You may want to consider installing plastic liners on your windows. These adhere to your windows and are designed to help insulate the pane, and some even block out the harmful UV rays. But they also do a great job of keeping the window in one piece (no flying glass shards) if it does break. These liners are cheap and easy to install.

  • Beds- I like to make sure the areas around the beds are clear. And anchor those night stands to the walls. I also make sure there are not any dangerous items on their night stands, such as any glassware.

  • Water heater- It is very important that this is anchored to the wall. Not only will you have a major water leak if this falls over, you will also have a major gas leak. In the case of my water heater, it is next to the furnace (not a wall). So, I installed a couple of 4 x 4’s vertically, anchoring each of them to the ceiling joists and also into the concrete floor with concrete anchors. While this may not be quite as good as a wall, it is better than nothing.

  • Cold storage shelves- It would be a real shame to spend years on your food storage just to have it end up all over the floor in a scattered and broken mess. Make sure your shelves are secured to the wall and make sure that you secure the items on the shelves. Depending on your shelves, bungee cords work well for this.

  • Kitchen Cabinets- These worry me, even in my own house. Any moderate shaking and everything is going to fall out. Besides the danger of broken glass and ceramic, replacing them could get expensive. They do make latches that you can install on your cabinets to prevent everything from falling out.

  • Ensure all windows (especially in the bedrooms) open easily and the associated window wells are not obstructed (heavy covers or excessive debris). They make window well covers that can only be released from inside the well, thus acting to secure your basement windows from intruders while allowing egress from the inside.

  • Place large or heavy objects on lower shelves.

  • Fasten shelves securely to walls.

  • Store breakable items such as bottled foods, glass, and china in low, closed cabinets, and use latches on cabinets if able.

  • Secure all priceless items or antiques with museum (or earthquake) wax.

  • Brace overhead light fixtures.

  • Repair defective electrical wiring and leaky gas connections. These are potential fire risks.

  • Store weed killers, pesticides, and flammable products such as solvents securely in closed cabinets on bottom shelves and with latches.

  • Store all fuels such as gasoline, kerosene, and propane in an outside storage area.

  1. Identify Safe Places Indoors and Outdoors

  • Under sturdy furniture such as a heavy desk or table.

  • Against an inside wall.

  • Away from where glass could shatter around windows, mirrors, pictures, or where heavy bookcases or other heavy furniture could fall over.

  • In the open, away from buildings, trees, telephone and electrical lines, overpasses, or elevated expressways.

  1. Educate Yourself and Family Members

  • Contact your local emergency management office or American Red Cross chapter for more information on earthquakes.

  • Teach children how and when to call 9-1-1, police, or fire department and which radio station to tune to for emergency information.

  • Teach all family members how and when to turn off gas, electricity, and water.

  • Run earthquake drills with your kids a couple of times a year.

  • Teach them to stay put during an earthquake. You don't want them frantically running around the house.

  • Make sure they have a Bed Kit. Talk to them about the importance of having shoes following an earthquake. The most common injury in the 1997 Northridge Ca. earthquake was glass in feet.

  1. Have Disaster Supplies on Hand (Bed kits and 72-hour kits)

  • Flashlight and extra batteries. We keep an LED lantern in every room for every occupant (in the bed kit underneath each bed).

  • Portable battery-operated radio and extra batteries.

  • First aid kit and first aid manual.

  • Emergency food and water (72-hour kit at a min, 96-hour is better).

  • Nonelectric can opener.

  • Essential medicines.

  • Cash and credit cards.

  • Sturdy shoes. Keep these in your bed kits or at least near your bed. Especially for your kids. Did you know that the most common injury during the M 6.7 Northridge earthquake in California in 1994 was glass in people's feet? FEET INJURIES. How sad. If nothing else, please keep shoes by your kids' beds. Make sure they are in arms reach. Following a big earthquake, such as the Northridge earthquake, windows are going to be broken and glass is going to be all over the place. The last thing you want to deal with during the immediate aftermath of an earthquake is your 9-year-old (I have one of them) running into your room and not only panicked from the earthquake, but screaming because their feet are bleeding profusely from broken shards of glass. And good luck getting medical attention immediately following a large earthquake. Now you've got a serious problem on your hands. My kids know that the first thing they do is grab their kits, turn on their led lanterns, and put their shoes on. If there is nothing else you do, please take just a couple minutes and make sure your kids have shoes by their bed.

  1. Develop a Rally Plan and Emergency Communications Plan

  • In case family members are separated from one another during an earthquake (a real possibility during the day when adults are at work and children are at school), develop a plan for reuniting after the disaster.

  • If necessary, assign some tasks to some of your older kids. These might include help with younger siblings, those with special needs, pets, etc.

  • Make sure you establish beforehand a meeting or rally point. See the Rally Plan module here for more information on this.

  • Have a communications plan in place. See the Emergency Communications module here for more information.

What to Do During an Earthquake:

Stay as safe as possible during an earthquake. Be aware that some earthquakes are actually foreshocks and a larger earthquake might occur. 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.

If indoors:

  • DROP to the ground; take COVER by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and HOLD ON until the shaking stops. If there isn’t a table or desk near you, 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.

  • If you are in bed, Stay in bed and cover your head with your pillow. As long as you have taken precautions to make sure nothing nearby can fall on your bed, this is a safe place, especially for your kids, who may not think about the broken glass on the floor. If you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall, plan to move to the nearest safe place.

  • Use a doorway for shelter only if it is in close proximity to you and if you know it is a strongly supported, loadbearing doorway.

  • Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave.

  • Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.

  • If in a public building, DO NOT use the elevators.

If outdoors:

  • 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. Many of the 120 fatalities from the 1933 Long Beach earthquake occurred when people ran outside of buildings only to be killed by falling debris from collapsing walls. Ground movement during an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or injury. Most earthquake-related casualties result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects.

If in a moving vehicle:

  • Stop as quickly as safety permits 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 might have been damaged by the earthquake.

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.

What to Do After an Earthquake

  • The first thing that should be done is everyone should get their shoes on. Remember what was just said about the Northridge Earthquake? Shoes are a must.

  • Expect aftershocks. These secondary shockwaves are usually less violent than the main quake but can be strong enough to do additional damage to weakened structures and can occur in the first hours, days, weeks, or even months after the quake. Much of the damage done to structures comes from the aftershocks. Often times, the primary quake weakens structures while the aftershocks bring them down.

  • Listen to a battery-operated radio or television. Listen for the latest emergency information.

  • Use the phone only for emergency calls. The lines will already be at capacity and any non-essential calls you make could possible prevent other people's emergency calls from going out. Texting is best for the initial non-essential communications.

  • Open cabinets cautiously. Beware of objects that can fall off shelves.

  • Stay away from damaged areas. Stay away unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire, or relief organizations. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.

  • Be aware of possible tsunamis if you live in coastal areas. These are also known as seismic sea waves (mistakenly called "tidal waves"). When local authorities issue a tsunami warning, assume that a series of dangerous waves is on the way. Stay away from the beach.

  • Help injured or trapped persons. Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance such as infants, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Give first aid where appropriate. Do not move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Call for help.

  • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately. Leave the area if you smell gas or fumes from other chemicals.

  • Inspect the entire length of chimneys for damage. Unnoticed damage could lead to a fire.

  • Inspect utilities.

  • Check for gas leaks. Do not turn off the gas unless you have a definitive reason. 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. Keep a gas wrench next to your valve. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional. This could take days for them to make it out to your house, so only turn it off if you smell gas.

  • Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice.

  • Check for sewage and water lines damage. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water by melting ice cubes.

The point here is to make sure you have taken all the precautions you can before an earthquake ever hits. And then make sure you drill all of this with your kids, and do this often. See the Drills and Rally Plans module here.

Page updated: 2/4/21