Earthquake Preparedness 101: How to Prepare for an Earthquake

Say the word earthquake and most people will think of California. But earthquakes are not limited to the California lifestyle. In fact, sixteen states are in the highest risk category for major earthquakes in the coming years, according to the US Geological Survey, and several more states are in areas of moderate risk.

While earthquakes don’t announce themselves before they strike, that doesn’t mean you can’t be ready for them. Even a modest level of preparedness can go far in keeping your family safe and calm during an earthquake. If you are wondering how to prepare for an earthquake, read on to learn some simple, low-cost steps.

How to Prepare for an Earthquake

To prepare for an earthquake, you should consider the following preparedness steps:

  1. Secure items in your home to prevent them from falling.
  2. Prepare needed supplies for aftershocks and other post-earthquake events.
  3. Make a family plan and be sure everyone knows it!

1. Securing Your Home

Give yourself peace of mind by securing your home before an earthquake hits. The goal in securing your home is to reduce the number of items that can collapse, fall, or break and cause injury.

Start by identifying large, heavy, or breakable objects that may fall when the room shakes. You will need to safely store and stabilize large or heavy items by using devices like wall studs for large or hanging objects. You’ll also need to repair structural or electrical problems in your home. Below are some specific changes that will make you and your family more resilient during an earthquake.

Did You Know?
California’s Northridge earthquake was the deadliest in the US in the 20th Century. Falling objects were the leading cause of injuries requiring hospitalization.

Store Smarter:

  • Store large or heavy objects on the floor or on the lowest shelves.
  • Do not store unstable or heavy items like bookshelves near doors or escape areas.

Secure Heavy Objects & Breakable Items:

  • Do not hang or store heavy items like mirrors or that Harry Potter box set above areas where you spend a lot of time, like your bed or couch.
  • Use picture hangers to hang mirrors and pictures, rather than nails.
  • Use anchors and brackets for wall shelving, instead of screws.
  • When possible, choose non-breakable materials (non-glass) in light fixtures.
  • Store breakable objects like your tequila collection or fine china in latched cabinets.
  • Keep toxic or flammable products on bottom shelves in latched cabinets.
  • Secure refrigerators and other heavy appliances. The most effective way is to install an angle bracket into a stud in the wall and attach it to the refrigerator. (This requires drilling a screw into the refrigerator.)
  • Attach water heaters to wall studs as well and wrap two metal straps around the heater.

Make Needed Repairs:

  • Fix considerable or deep cracks in the ceiling or foundation.
  • Repair defective electrical wiring.
  • Fix unsecured gas connections.
  • Ensure your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are functioning properly by testing them regularly and changing the batteries.

TAKE THE NEXT STEP: Go through your house and move all heavy objects and flammable products and aerosol cans to bottom shelves and move breakable items into latchable cabinets.

2. Gather Post-Earthquake Supplies

Did You Know?
Fires are the most common hazard following an earthquake, according to
Red Cross. Something as simple as having an easily accessible fire extinguisher and checking your home for small fires after an earthquake can prevent further disaster.

The scene after a significant earthquake will be full of hazards like broken glass, downed electrical lines, and strewn debris that is jagged and unstable. Besides the dangers from the initial shock, there are the added risks of fire, flood, tsunami, loss of utilities, and aftershocks in the hours after an earthquake.

A little preparedness with these post-earthquake supplies will make all the difference for your family’s safety and comfort level. You don’t need to go full-on prepper. Just the basics will be enough to see you and your family through the days following a big quake, such as:

  • Store flashlights in various easily accessible areas.
  • Store a fire extinguisher in your home, preferably next to an exit or in the kitchen.
  • Incorporate all medical or dietary needs of family members into your supplies plan. Don’t forget the fur babies!
  • Keep copies of identification, insurance, and financial documents in a waterproof container with your disaster supplies.
  • Have a disaster kit in a secure location with:
    • A first aid kit
    • Extra water
    • Nonperishable food
    • Toiletries
    • Batteries
    • Battery-operated radio
    • Emergency cash
    • Prescriptions and medications
    • Extra eyeglasses or contact lenses

Learn how to build a full earthquake preparedness kit here.

TAKE THE NEXT STEP: Stop, drop...and go put flashlights in an easy-to-reach place (good for any type of emergency). Add flashlights and/or batteries to your shopping list if you don’t already have them. Next make sure you have a fire extinguisher and that it’s also in an easy-to-reach place.

3. Make a Family Earthquake Response Plan

After an earthquake, your flight or fight response will have kicked in. Your first thoughts will go to your own safety and the safety of loved ones. Especially during daytime earthquakes, family members are often separated. Getting in touch during an emergency can be challenging, especially if cell towers have been affected.

This is where a response plan comes into play. A response plan is designed to keep your family calm and connected in the chaotic aftermath of an earthquake. Develop the plan together and communicate it regularly, so your household is conditioned to making safe choices at the time of emergency.

Did You Know?
Research shows that during an earthquake you should never run outside or stand in a doorway as you may have been told in the past. Earthquake preparedness professionals advocate seeking protection under sturdy furniture versus doorways.

Planning a Safe Response During the Earthquake:

  • Identify places of safe cover in each room of your home, preferably under sturdy furniture. If this is unavailable, go to an inside wall.
  • Identify places of safe cover outdoors, away from buildings, electric lines, phone lines, or overhead construction like a balcony or overpass.
  • Keep at least one pair of sturdy shoes in an easily accessible spot at all times. Remember, there might be aftershocks, so even if there is not much debris at first, there could be some later.
  • Choose safe spaces indoors and outdoors should be away from glass that can break, including windows or mirrors, and away from heavy furniture, including bookshelves or cabinets, that can topple over.
  • Practice Drop, Cover & Hold On:
    • Drop to the ground once you feel the shaking.
    • Take cover under nearby sturdy furniture and fold yourself over your knees.
    • Hold onto the furniture with one hand and use your other hand to cover the back of your neck.

TAKE THE NEXT STEP: Pick an earthquake-safe spot in each room (preferably under sturdy furniture) and make sure the whole family has this list memorized.

Planning a Safe Response After the Earthquake:

  • Pick a safe place outside of your home where your household can meet, and only move when the shaking has stopped.
  • Know the school and workplace emergency plans of your loved ones. Make reunification plans if an earthquake occurs while you are separated.
  • Designate an out-of-area emergency contact that your household can call if local calls are difficult to make. Be sure your family has memorized this person and their phone number.
  • Teach your household to use emergency whistles or knock three times repeatedly if trapped under rubble.
  • Identify gas, water and electricity shut offs and keep shutoff tools nearby. Teach all able family members how to shut off utilities.
  • Coordinate with neighbors to identify people with special needs who may need help, like the disabled or elderly. Also, know the people in your neighborhood with emergency skills such as first aid administration.

TAKE THE NEXT STEP: To kickstart the creation of your earthquake preparedness family plan, pick and communicate a place outside your home for all family members to meet after the earthquake. Also consider how your family should meet back up if the earthquake occurs while the family is apart (a reunification plan).

By accomplishing as many of these suggestions as possible, you increase the chances that you and your family will be as safe as possible in the event of an earthquake.

4. Download the harbor App

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