An average of 500,000 earthquakes occur around the world each year, approximately one-fifth of which can be felt by humans. Measured on the Richter scale, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 to 7.9 is considered “major,” while an 8.0 quake or higher is considered “great.” The U.S. Geological Society estimates that since 1900 there has been an average of 18 major and one great earthquake per year. The most recent great quake occurred in Japan in 2011, measuring 9.0 on the scale.
The result of a sudden release of energy in the Earth’s crust that creates seismic waves, an earthquake is usually caused by the rupture of a geological fault, but can also be caused by volcanic activity, landslides, mine blasts and nuclear tests. The point of initial rupture is called the “focus” or “hypocenter,” while the point at ground level directly above is known as the “epicenter.”
In addition to the incredible amount of damage that an earthquake can cause, one of the scariest things about a quake is how quickly it occurs. We can see a storm brewing and we usually receive plenty of advance notice if a hurricane is approaching, but an earthquake seemingly comes out of nowhere. Still, there are preparations you can make, and knowing what to do during and after an earthquake could save the lives of you and your family members.
As with other potential crises, you should have an emergency response plan in place in the event an earthquake occurs near you. Assemble your 72-hour survival kit, have bug-out bags ready for you and your family, and organize important documents in advance to be as prepared as possible.
Here are 4 things you can do in advance to make yourself ready for an earthquake:
- Practice your disaster plan with your family members. Don’t just talk about it – although that’s a good first step – but occasionally play it out so that it will seem like second nature if you have to deal with an earthquake.
- If you live in an area where earthquakes are common or even occasional, make sure that your shelves are fastened securely to walls, breakables are in cabinets that latch shut, heavier objects are on lower shelves, rollers and casters are off your heavy furniture, and walls and foundations are structurally sound.
- Know where your utility shut-off switches are in the house and keep bug-out bags near an exit.
- Don’t buy into earthquake myths. Doorframes are not safe to stand under, earthquakes do not always occur in the morning and sheltering next to sturdy furniture is not better than sheltering under it.
Most earthquake-related injuries occur due to flying debris and falling objects. Following are 4 steps you can take during an earthquake:
- Shield yourself immediately, whether indoors or out. Get under sturdy furniture. If in bed, cover your head with a pillow and hang on.
- If you’re indoors, stay away from windows, shelves and hanging fixtures. Get under a desk if you’re near one.
- If you’re outdoors, stay clear of buildings, trees, utility poles, streetlights and construction equipment.
- If you’re in a vehicle, stop as soon as you’re away from tall objects. Stay in the car and try to avoid bridges and ramps.
Aftershocks, which can be just as deadly as the original earthquake, and the damage that has been caused by an earthquake mean you need to be very cautious about what you do following a quake. Below are 4 actions you can take to avoid injury after a quake has already struck:
- Listen to emergency radio and pay attention to mainstream media reports about the damage in your area.
- Don’t assume that you are now safe. Structures that were loosened or uprooted during the quake may still be standing but could fall at any moment.
- Meet family members and/or co-workers in a safe place to make sure everyone is OK and to make any necessary plans to deal with the aftermath.
- Watch out for hanging wires, fires, gas leaks, falling glass, uneven ground and any other problems that may have been caused by the earthquake and its aftershocks.