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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reminds us that because of the unpredictability of earthquakes, there are no guarantees of safety during the event. However, doing a little advance planning and identifying potential hazards before an earthquake occurs can go a long way in helping to save lives, reduce injuries and lessen property damage.

Before an Earthquake – Be Prepared

FEMA offers the following earthquake planning guidelines:

Check and reduce hazards in the home

  • Fasten shelves securely to walls
  • Place heavy objects on lower shelves
  • Store breakable items in closed cabinets with latches
  • Hang heavy items such as large mirrors away from where people sit or sleep
  • Brace overhead light fixtures
  • Reduce fire risks by repairing defective electrical wiring or leaky gas connections
  • Secure a water heater to the wall or floor
  • Repair deep cracks in ceilings or foundations
  • Store weed killers, pesticides and flammable products on bottom shelves of closed and latched cabinets

Identify safe places inside and outside

  • Under sturdy furniture
  • Away from glass that could shatter (windows or mirrors)
  • Away from heavy bookcases and other furniture that could fall over
  • Open areas outside that are away from buildings, trees, telephone/electrical lines or elevated expressways

Become educated

  • Contact your local emergency management office or American Red Cross chapter for more information on protecting yourself and your property during an earthquake.
  • Teach family members how and when to call 9-1-1, police or fire departments and how to tune into radio stations for more information.
  • Teach family members how and when to turn off gas, electricity and water.

Keep disaster supplies on hand

  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Portable battery-powered radio and extra batteries
  • First-aid kit and manual
  • Emergency food and water
  • Non-electric can opener
  • Essential medicines
  • Cash and credit cards
  • Sturdy shoes

Develop an emergency communications plan

  • In case family members are separated from one another when an earthquake occurs, develop a plan for reuniting after the disaster.
  • Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the family contact. Make sure all family members know the name, address and telephone number of the contact person.

Help your community get ready

  • Publish a special section in the local newspaper with emergency information on earthquakes. Include local information including telephone numbers of emergency services, hospitals and the American Red Cross.
  • Conduct a week-long series on identifying and reducing hazards in the home.
  • Work with local emergency services to prepare special reports for people with mobility impairments on what to do during an earthquake.
  • Provide tips on conducting earthquake drills in the home.
  • Interview representatives of gas, electric and water companies about shutting off utilities for local broadcasts or newspaper articles.

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During an Earthquake – Be Safe

To stay as safe as possible during an earthquake, FEMA recommends that all movements should be minimized to a few steps to a nearby safe place.

If indoors

  • Drop to the ground and take cover by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture. 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 or anything that could fall such as lighting fixtures or book shelves.
  • Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake strikes. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow. If you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall, get out of bed and move to the nearest safe place.
  • Use a doorway for shelter only if it is in close proximity to you and you know it is a strongly supporting, load-bearing doorway.
  • During an earthquake, get under a sturdy piece of furniture and hold on
  • Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside.
  • Be aware that electricity may go out and sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.
  • Do not use elevators.


If outdoors

  • Stay there.
  • Move away from buildings, streetlights and utility wires. Most earthquake-related casualties result from collapsing walls, flying glass and falling objects.
  • Once in an open space, stay there until the shaking stops.

If in a moving vehicle

  • Stop as quickly and safely as you can and stay in the vehicle. Stay away from buildings, trees, overpasses and utility wires.
  • Once the shaking stops proceed with caution. Avoid roads, bridges or ramps that may have been damaged by the earthquake.

If trapped under debris

  • Do not light a match.
  • Stay still; do not move about or kick up dust.
  • Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or piece of 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.

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After an Earthquake – Be Smart

FEMA reminds us that aftershocks are likely and should be expected after the initial shaking has stopped. These secondary shockwaves are usually less violent than the main quake, but can still be strong enough to cause more damage, especially to weakened structures. Aftershocks can occur within hours, days, weeks or months after the initial quake. FEMA recommends the following actions after the initial shaking stops:

  • Listen to a battery-powered radio or television for the latest emergency information.
  • Use a cell phone or landline telephone only for emergency calls.
  • Open cabinets cautiously and watch for objects that may fall off shelves.
  • Stay away from damaged areas. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
  • Be aware of possible tsunamis (seismic sea waves) if you live in a coastal area. If local authorities issue a tsunami warning, assume that a series of dangerous waves is on the way. Stay away from the beach and be prepared to move to higher ground.
  • Help injured or trapped persons. Check on neighbors who may require special assistance such as infants, the elderly and people with disabilities. Give first aid where appropriate, but 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 immediately if you smell gas or fumes from other chemicals.
  • Inspect the entire length of chimneys for damage.
  • Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear blowing or hissing noise, open a window and leave immediately. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if possible, move away from the building and call the gas company for assistance.
  • 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 and electrician for assistance.
  • Check for sewer and water line damage. If you suspect sewage line damage, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and do not use water from the tap.

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