Earthquakes

California has been prone to serious earthquakes in recent years. While earthquakes with the power of the one that hit the greater Los Angeles area in January 1994 are rare, smaller earthquakes can interrupt your normal living patterns and cause injury.

During a major earthquake, you may hear a roaring or rumbling sound that gradually gets louder. You may feel a rolling sensation that starts out gently and within a second or two grows violent, or you may first be jarred by a violent jolt. A second or two later, you may feel shaking and find it difficult to stand up or move from one room to another.

The key to surviving an earthquake and lowering your risk of injury is in planning, preparing and practicing what you and your family will do if it happens.

Practice Earthquake Drills

By planning and practicing what to do if an earthquake strikes, you and your family can learn to react correctly and automatically when the shaking begins. During an earthquake, most deaths and injuries are caused by collapsing building materials and heavy falling objects, such as bookcases, cabinets and heating units. Learn the safe spots in each room of your home. If you have children, have the entire family practice going to these locations. Participating in an earthquake drill will help children understand what to do in case you are not with them during an earthquake.

During your earthquake drill:

  • Get under a sturdy table or desk and hold on to it.
  • If you’re not near a table or desk, cover your face and head with your arms and
    • Stand or crouch in a strongly supported doorway.
    • Brace yourself in an inside corner of the house or building.
  • Stay clear of windows or glass that could shatter or objects that could fall on you.
  • If inside, stay inside. Many people are injured at entrances of buildings by falling debris.

Make sure you and your child also understand the school’s emergency procedures for disasters. This will help you know where, when and how to reunite with your child after an earthquake.

Develop an Evacuation Plan

After an earthquake occurs, you may need to evacuate the damaged area. By planning and practicing for evacuation, you will be better prepared to respond to signs of danger or to directions by authorities.

  • Take a few minutes with your family to discuss a home evacuation plan. Sketch a floor plan of your home, walk through each room and discuss evacuation details.
  • Plan a second way to exit from each room or area. If you need special equipment such as a rope ladder, mark where it is located.
  • Mark where your emergency food, water, first aid kits and fire extinguishers are located.
  • Mark where the utility switches or valves are located so that they can be turned off.
  • Indicate the location of your family’s emergency outdoor meeting place.
  • Take time before an earthquake strikes to write an emergency checklist including medicines and documents you will need to take with you during an evacuation and things to do if time permits, such as locking doors and windows and turning off the utilities.

Write Down Important Information

Make a list of important information and put it in a secure location. Include on your list:

  • Important telephone numbers (police, fire, paramedics and medical centers).
  • Names, addresses and telephone numbers of your insurance agents, including policy types and numbers.
  • Telephone numbers of electric, gas and water companies.
  • Names and telephone numbers of neighbors.
  • Name and telephone number of your landlord or property manager.
  • Important medical information, such as allergies, regular medications, etc.
  • Vehicle identification number, year, model and license number of your automobile, boat, RV, etc.
  • Bank or credit union’s telephone numbers, account types and numbers.
  • Radio and television broadcast stations to tune to for emergency broadcast information.

Gather and Store Important Documents in a Fire-Proof Safe

  • Birth certificates.
  • Ownership certificates.
  • Social Security cards.
  • Insurance policies.
  • Wills.
  • Household inventory, including:
    • List of contents.
    • Photographs of contents in every room.
    • Photographs of items of high value, such as jewelry, paintings and collectors’ items.

During an Earthquake

Indoor Safety

There are things you can do, even while an earthquake is happening, that will lower your chances of being hurt. Lights may be out, and hallways, stairs and room exits may be blocked by fallen furniture, ceiling tiles and other debris. Planning for these situations will help you to take action quickly.

  • If an earthquake strikes, you may be able to take cover under a heavy desk or table. It can provide you with air space if the building collapses. If you get under a table and it moves, try to move with it.
  • Inner walls or door frames are the least likely to collapse and might also shield against falling objects. If other cover is not available, go to an inner corner or doorway, away from windows or glass panels.
  • Stay away from glass and hanging objects, bookcases, china cabinets or other large furniture that could fall. Watch for falling objects, such as bricks from fireplaces and chimneys, light fixtures, wall hanging, high shelves and cabinets with doors that could swing open.
  • Use a blanket or pillow to shield your head and face from falling debris and broken glass.
  • If the lights go out, use a battery-operated flashlight. Don’t use candles, matches or lighters during or after an earthquake. If there is a gas leak, these could cause an explosion.
  • If you are in the kitchen, quickly turn off the stove and take cover at the first sign of shaking.

High-Rise Buildings

Get under a desk and stay away from windows and outside walls. Stay in the building. The electricity may go out and the sprinkler system may come on. DO NOT use the elevators.

Crowded Indoor Public Places

If you are in a crowded public place, do not rush for doorways. Others will have the same idea. Move away from display shelves containing objects that may fall. If you can, take cover and use a jacket or other material to shield your head and face from falling debris and glass.

Outdoor Safety

If outdoors, move away from buildings and utility wires. The greatest danger from falling debris is just outside doorways and close to outer walls. Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops.

Automobiles

If you are in a moving automobile, stop as quickly and safely as possible and move over to the shoulder or curb, away from utility poles, overhead wires, and under or overpasses. Stay in the vehicle, set the parking brake and turn on the radio for emergency broadcast information. A car may jiggle violently on its springs, but it is a good place to stay until the shaking stops. If you are in a life-threatening situation, you may be able to reach someone with either a cellular or an emergency roadside assistance phone.

After an Earthquake

Be prepared for additional earth movements called “aftershocks.” Although most of these are smaller than the main earthquake, some may be large enough to cause damage or bring down weakened structures.

Because other effects can include fires, chemical spills, landslides, dam breaks and tidal waves, be sure to monitor your battery-operated radio or TV for additional emergency information.

Injuries

Check for injuries. Do not attempt to move injured or unconscious people unless they are in immediate danger from live electrical wires, flooding or other hazards. Internal injuries may not be evident, but may be serious or life-threatening. If someone has stopped breathing, call for medical or first aid assistance immediately and begin CPR if you are trained to do so. Stop a bleeding injury by applying direct pressure to the wound. If you are trapped, try to attract attention to your location.

Checking Utilities

An earthquake may break gas, electrical and water lines.

  • If you smell gas: open windows, shut off the main gas valve, do not turn any electrical appliances or lights on or off, go outside, report the leak to authorities and do not re-enter the building until a utility official says it is safe.
  • If wiring is shorting out, shut off the electric current at the main box.
  • If water pipes are damaged, shut off the supply at the main valve.

Other Precautions

  • Have chimneys inspected for cracks and damage. Do not use the fireplace if the chimney has any damage.
  • Check to see if sewage lines are intact before using bathrooms or plumbing.
  • Do not touch downed power lines or objects in contact with downed lines. Report electrical hazards to the authorities.
  • Immediately clean up spilled medicines, drugs, flammable liquids and other potentially dangerous materials.
  • Stay off all telephones except to report an emergency. Replace telephone receivers that may have been knocked off by the earthquake.
  • Stay away from damaged areas. Your presence could get in the way of relief efforts, and you could put yourself in danger.
  • Cooperate fully with public safety officials. Respond to requests for volunteer assistance from police, fire fighters, emergency management officials and relief organizations, but do not go into damaged areas unless assistance has been requested.

Evacuating Your Home

If you must evacuate your home:

  • Post a message in a location known only to family members, letting them know where you have gone.
  • Confine pets to the safest location possible and make sure they have plenty of food and water. Pets may not be allowed in designated public shelters.
  • Take vital documents (wills, insurance policies, etc.), emergency supplies and extra medications with you.

People with Special Needs

Persons with Disabilities

Before an Earthquake

  • Write down any specific needs, limitations and capabilities that you have, and any medications you take. Make a copy of the list and put it in your purse or wallet.
  • Find someone (a spouse, roommate, friend, neighbor, relative or co-worker) to help you in case of an emergency. Give them the list. You may wish to provide a spare key to your home, or let them know where they can find one in an emergency.

During an Earthquake

  • If you are confined to a wheelchair, try to get under a doorway or into an inside corner, lock the wheels and cover your head with your arms. Remove any items that are not securely attached to the wheelchair.
  • If you are able, seek shelter under a sturdy table or desk. Stay away from outer walls, windows, fireplaces and hanging objects.
  • If you are unable to move from a bed or chair, protect yourself from falling objects by covering up with blankets and pillows.
  • If you are outside, go to an open area away from trees, telephone poles and buildings and stay there.

After an Earthquake

  • If you are trapped, try to attract attention to your location.
  • Turn on your battery-operated TV or radio to receive emergency information and instructions.
  • If you can, help others in need.

Children’s Special Needs

Fear is a normal reaction to danger. A child may be afraid of the event happening again, injury or death after an earthquake. They may fear being separated from their family or being left alone. Children may even interpret disasters as punishment for real or imagined bad behavior. Children will be less likely to experience long periods of fear or anxiety if they know what to expect before, during and after an earthquake. Talking to children openly will also help them overcome fears.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Explain that an earthquake is a natural event and not anyone’s fault.
  • Talk about your own experiences with natural disasters or read aloud books about earthquakes.
  • Encourage your child to express feelings of fear. Listen carefully and show understanding.
  • Your child may need both verbal and physical reassurance that everything will be okay. Tell your child that the situation is not permanent.
  • Include your child in clean-up activities. It will be comforting to the child to watch the household begin to return to normal and to have a job to do.

NOTE: Symptoms of anxiety may not appear for weeks or even months after an earthquake, and can affect people of any age. If anxiety disrupts daily activities for any member of your family, seek professional help through a school counselor, community religious organization, your physician or a licensed professional listed under “mental health services” in the yellow pages of your telephone book.

Information adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.