You can prepare for an earthquake by taking just a few steps. Everyone in the family should know what to do when an earthquake strikes. Know where utility shut-off valves are located and how to turn them off. A packed emergency kit should be ready to go and be prepared for aftershocks.
I have honestly never been more scared than when I was on the second floor of our house with two little children when I felt the entire house move. I knew I had mere seconds to get us downstairs and under a door frame or outside. I couldn’t move fast enough, and fortunately, I knew how to prepare for an earthquake.
We were living in Alaska at the time, and I knew we lived in an earthquake-prone area. Thank God I knew what to do, but I will never forget that feeling in the pit of my stomach when the house shook.
Earthquakes happen with no notice and can strike almost anywhere in the world. However certain areas, like Alaska and the West coast, are more prone to them. If you just moved to an area that is in an earthquake zone, you need to know how to prepare for an earthquake. Here are some tips to help you prepare for “the big one.”
How to prepare for an earthquake
The best family earthquake drill advice is simple.
- Get under something sturdy, in a door frame, or go outside.
- Do NOT use the so-called “Triangle of Life”. Emergency planning experts consider it to be unsafe.
- Hold a family meeting. Talk about getting under a sturdy piece of furniture and then holding on until the quake ends.
- Go through each room of the house. Look for places to “hide and hold”.
- Let kids know in advance you’ll be having an earthquake drill
- Blow a whistle, yell out “It’s an earthquake”. See how quickly everyone can get to a safe location.
Take time to run through this drill at different times of the day and even from different locations so your whole family can quickly evaluate where the closest safe spot is to them. It doesn’t take but mere moments for things to start falling apart when the earth moves.
Young children can be taught the importance of running to their parents in emergency situations. Use a certain phrase that catches their attention to have them come to you so you can get them to safety.
Know where to turn off utilities
It’s important to know how to turn off the gas line at your home if you have one. Gas explosions can occur because of earthquakes, which can break gas lines. Know where the gas shutoff valve is and have the right tool somewhere outside to use to turn it off.
It’s good to know how to turn off your electricity and water, too, until after you inspect all the damage in the area.
Have emergency bags ready to go
Place your bug-out bags or emergency kits somewhere that can be easily accessed if a house collapses on it. Garages with no rooms on top of them or sheds may be the easiest places to dig into to find a bug-out bag. If your home is severely damaged, there is a good chance your vehicle may be, too, along with local roads.
Plan on walking to wherever you need to go or plan to camp out in your backyard. Have a couple of locations in mind since the earthquake damage will be unpredictable.
Your earthquake-ready bag should include:
- N95 face masks to help filter out dust and fine debris
- Safety glasses to protect eyes
- A whistle to get attention if you’re trapped
- Red Cross emergency app on your phone
- Flashlight and other light sources
Protect head, feet, and eyes
When an earthquake shakes and rattles your world, there are three parts of your body that are particularly vulnerable: your head, feet, and eyes. When the earth shakes, everything shakes, and that includes shelves, cupboards, appliances, mirrors, office equipment, and anything mounted on a wall. As those things come tumbling down, and shattering, not only are you dealing with the fear factor but also dodging falling objects and trying to get to safety quickly.
To protect your head, along with the rest of your body, dive under the nearest sturdy table or desk. Once the rattling stops, you’re still not safe from falling beams, ceiling tiles, light fixtures, etc. An inexpensive hard hat, stored in an accessible location, may turn out to be your best friend. You’d be surprised by how many injuries during an earthquake are caused, not by people falling through fissures in the earth (that’s 100% Hollywood!) but by the ordinary injury of being knocked on the head by a lamp or a flying copy of a Tom Clancy book.
Anything breakable is a likely casualty during an earthquake, and as heartbreaking as it might be to discover the shattered remains of your favorite china or Grandma’s collection of porcelain dolls, a more serious casualty could be your feet. Unless you wear shoes 24/7, there’s a good chance you’ll be barefoot. Many earthquake-savvy Californians have learned to always keep a pair of shoes at their bedside, specifically for this reason. If your feet are cut and bleeding, you’ll have a much harder time getting to safety, much less helping other members of your family.
Here’s where a pair of Crocs might come in handy. Love ’em or hate ’em, they are great for slipping on, they’re wide enough to allow for thick socks (important if you’re dealing with chilly temperatures), and because of their sizing and design, it takes a while for kids to outgrow them. No, they aren’t Red Wing work boots, but neither are they $200+. If you have panicking children nearby, your first thought will be to get to them, even if it means walking over broken glass, so protect those feet!
So how is protecting your eyes important in an earthquake? Well, a pair of safety goggles is helpful because once the tremors stop, there will be dust, debris, and possibly smoke in the air. You’ll be grateful for a way to protect your eyes at that point.
However, I am also highly recommending keeping a pair of eyeglasses or your contact lens case close by, always. I’m particularly sensitive to this because one thing you probably don’t know about me is that my eyes are about as sharp as a naked mole rat’s. One optometrist told me that my vision was in the 20/800 range (compare those numbers to the ideal 20/20). In layman’s terms, that’s blind! If you wear contacts or eyeglasses, even if your vision is better than mine, you absolutely must have your glasses or contacts within arm’s reach, especially at night.
When the earth starts shaking and you hear glass breaking (and kids screaming), you can’t afford to be stumbling around, unable to see potential hazards. If you can’t see those hazards, you may be in more danger than you realize. Make it a habit to keep those eyeglasses or your contact case right next to your bedside, and preferably in a drawer where they can’t slide off.
It’s usually not a one-time event
Remember that there will probably be aftershocks, which could lead to more damage. Earthquakes can also trigger landslides, avalanches and volcanic eruptions (or vice versa on that one). Each of these events has its own preparation list.
Duct tape and plastic tarps are key to have on hand for volcanic eruptions. Try to imagine keeping ash out of a house damaged by an earthquake. What other supplies and tools might you need? And, where would you go if your home was no longer a safe place to stay? It’s highly important to stay connected with the most recent news by radio, TV, your cell phone and neighborhood forums. Nextdoor.com is an invaluable resource with very likely, the most accurate updates.
It can strike when you’re not at home
You may be at work and need to walk home. You may have to gather family members from school or friends’ houses. You may be stranded on the one highway that leads anywhere because it is damaged. Have enough emergency gear in your vehicle to prepare you for these scenarios. If you live near a volcano, consider having air masks for people and air filters for your car – a vehicle can only drive so far if it’s sucking up ash.
I hope you never feel the earth move under your feet, but if you live in an area where it could happen, please take the time to be prepared. A little bit of thinking and planning will pay off if “the big one” ever hits. Know how to prepare for an earthquake!