Earthquake safety is more than minimizing damage to buildings. We must also secure the contents of our buildings to reduce the risk to our lives and our pocketbooks.
Several people died and thousands were injured in the Northridge earthquake because of unsecured building contents such as toppling bookcases. Many billions of dollars were lost due to this type of damage. Much of this damage and injury could have been prevented in advance through simple actions to secure buildings and contents.
You should secure anything 1) heavy enough to hurt you if it falls on you, or 2) fragile or expensive enough to be a significant loss if it falls. In addition to contents within your living space, also secure items in other areas, such as your garage, to reduce damage to vehicles or hazardous material spills.
There may be simple actions you can do right now that will protect you if an earthquake happens tomorrow. START NOW by moving furniture such as bookcases away from beds, sofas, or other places where people sit or sleep. Move heavy objects to lower shelves. Then begin to look for other items in your home that may be hazardous in an earthquake.
What should you do during and after earthquakes?The area near the exterior walls of a building is the most dangerous place to be. Windows, facades and architectural details are often the first parts of the building to collapse. To stay away from this danger zone, stay inside if you are inside and outside if you are outside.
If you are...
Indoors: Drop, cover, and hold on. Drop to the floor, take cover under a sturdy desk or table, and hold on to it firmly. Be prepared to move with it until the shaking stops. If you are not near a desk or table, drop to the floor against the interior wall and protect your head and neck with your arms. Avoid exterior walls, windows, hanging objects, mirrors, tall furniture, large appliances, and kitchen cabinets with heavy objects or glass. Do not go outside!
In bed: If you are in bed, hold on and stay there, protecting your head with a pillow. You are less likely to be injured staying where you are. Broken glass on the floor has caused injury to those who have rolled to the floor or tried to get to doorways.
In a wheelchair: Lock the wheels once you are in a safe position. If unable to move quickly, stay where you are. Cover your head and neck with your arms.
Outdoors: Move to a clear area if you can safely do so; avoid power lines, trees, signs, buildings, vehicles, and other hazards.
Driving: Pull over to the side of the road, stop, and set the parking brake. Avoid overpasses, bridges, power lines, signs and other hazards. Stay inside the vehicle until the shaking is over. If a power line falls on the car, stay inside until a trained person removes the wire.
In a high-rise: Drop, cover, and hold on. Avoid windows and other hazards. Do not use elevators. Do not be surprised if sprinkler systems or fire alarms activate.
In a stadium or theater: Stay at your seat and protect your head and neck with your arms. Don't try to leave until the shaking is over. Then walk out slowly watching for anything that could fall in the aftershocks.
Below a dam: Dams can fail during a major earthquake. Catastrophic failure is unlikely, but if you live downstream from a dam, you should know flood-zone information and have prepared an evacuation plan.
How will I know if an earthquake is big enough to cause a tsunami?
Get into the habit of COUNTING how long the earthquake lasts. If you count 20 seconds or more of shaking and are in a tsunami hazard zone, evacuate to a safe area as soon as you can safely walk. Even if you aren't in a tsunami zone, counting is a good idea - it will help to keep you calm.
EVACUATE if you are in tsunami hazard zone.
For a large local earthquake, feeling strong ground shaking may be the only warning you will get that a tsunami is on its way. Use tsunami hazard maps and posted hazard zone signs to identify safe evacuation areas.
STAY WHERE YOU ARE if you are not in a tsunami hazard zone.
You are not at risk of a tsunami. Unnecessary evacuation will put you at risk and hamper the evacuation of people who really need to get away from danger.
First take care of your own situation. Remember your emergency plans. Aftershocks may cause additional damage or items to fall, so get to a safe location. Take your disaster supplies kit.
If you are trapped by falling items or a collapse, protect your mouth, nose, and eyes from dust. If you are bleeding, put pressure on the wound and elevate the injured part. Signal for help with your emergency whistle, a cell phone, or knock loudly on solid pieces of the building, three times every few minutes. Rescue personnel will be listening for such sounds.
Once you are safe, help others and check for damage. Protect yourself by wearing sturdy shoes and work gloves, to avoid injury from broken glass and debris. Also wear a dust mask and eye protection.
Check for injuries and check for damage.
Fire. If possible, put out small fires in your home or neighborhood immediately. Call for help, but don't wait for the fire department.
Gas Leaks. Shut off the main gas valve only if you suspect a leak because of broken pipes or the odor or sound of leaking natural gas. Don't turn it back on yourself - wait for the gas company to check for leaks. The phone book has detailed information on this topic.
Damaged Electrical Wiring. Shut off power at the main breaker switch if there is any damage to your house wiring. Leave the power off until the damage is repaired.
Broken Lights and Appliances. Unplug these as they could start fires when electricity is restored.
Downed Power Lines. If you see downed power lines, consider them energized and stay well away from them. Keep others away from them. Never touch downed power lines or any objects in contact with them.
Fallen Items. Beware of items tumbling off shelves when you open closet and cupboard doors.
Spills. Use extreme caution. Clean up any spilled medicines, drugs, or other non-toxic substances. Potentially harmful materials such as bleach, lye, garden chemicals, and gasoline or other petroleum products should be isolated or covered with an absorbent such as dirt or cat litter. When in doubt, leave your home.
Damaged Masonry. Stay away from chimneys and walls made of brick or block. They may be weakened and could topple during aftershocks. Don't use a fireplace with a damaged chimney. It could start a fire or let poisonous gases into your home.