Surviving an earthquake and reducing its health impact requires preparation, planning, and practice. Far in advance, you can gather emergency supplies, identify and reduce possible hazards in your home, and practice what to do during and after an earthquake. Learning what actions to take can help you and your family to remain safe and healthy in the event of an earthquake.
- DROP down onto your hands and knees before the earthquake would knock you down. This position protects you from falling but still allows you to move if necessary.
- COVER your head and neck (and your entire body if possible) under the shelter of a sturdy table or desk. If there is no shelter nearby, get down near an interior wall or next to low-lying furniture that won’t fall on you, and cover your head and neck with your arms and hands. Try to stay clear of windows or glass that could shatter or objects that could fall on you.
- HOLD ON to your shelter (or to your head and neck) until the shaking stops. Be prepared to move with your shelter if the shaking shifts it around.
DO NOT stand in a doorway. You are safer under a table. In modern houses, doorways are no stronger than any other part of the house. The doorway does not protect you from the most likely source of injury−falling or flying objects. Most earthquake-related injuries and deaths are caused by falling or flying objects (e.g., TVs, lamps, glass, bookcases), or by being knocked to the ground.
You can take other actions, even while an earthquake is happening, that will reduce your chances of being hurt.
- If possible within the few seconds before shaking intensifies, quickly move away from glass and hanging objects, and bookcases, china cabinets, or other large furniture that could fall. Watch for falling objects, such as bricks from fireplaces and chimneys, light fixtures, wall hangings, high shelves, and cabinets with doors that could swing open.
- If available nearby, grab something to shield your head and face from falling debris and broken glass.
- If you are in the kitchen, quickly turn off the stove and take cover at the first sign of shaking.
- 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.
If you are outside, stay outside, and stay away from buildings utility wires, sinkholes, and fuel and gas lines.
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. Also, shaking can be so strong that you will not be able to move far without falling down, and objects may fall or be thrown at you. Stay away from this danger zone–stay inside if you are inside and outside if you are outside.
If outdoors, move away from buildings, utility wires, sinkholes, and fuel and gas lines. The greatest danger from falling debris is just outside doorways and close to outer walls. Once in the open, get down low (to avoid being knocked down by strong shaking) and stay there until the shaking stops.
If you are in a moving automobile, stop as quickly and safely as possible. Move your car to the shoulder or curb, away from utility poles, overhead wires, and under- or overpasses. Stay in the car and set the parking brake. 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 a power line falls on the car, stay inside until a trained person removes the wire.
When you drive on, watch for hazards created by the earthquake, such as breaks in the pavement, downed utility poles and wires, rising water levels, fallen overpasses and collapsed bridges.
If an earthquake occurs, you may need to evacuate a damaged area afterward. By planning and practicing for evacuation, you will be better prepared to respond appropriately and efficiently to signs of danger or to directions by civil 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 possible. If you need special equipment, such as a rope ladder, mark where it is located.
- Mark where your emergency food, water, first aids kits, and fire extinguishers are located.
- Mark where the utility switches or valves are located so that they can be turned off, if possible.
- Indicate the location of your family’s emergency outdoor meeting place.
Take time before an earthquake strikes to write an emergency priority list, including:
- Important items to be hand-carried by you
- Other items, in order of importance to you and your family
- Items to be removed by car or truck if one is available
- Things to do if time permits, such as locking doors and windows, turning off the utilities, etc.
Write Down Important Information
Make a list of important information and put it in a secure location. Include on your list:
- Important telephone numbers, such as police, fire, paramedics, and medical centers
- The names, addresses, and telephone numbers of your insurance agents, including policy types and numbers
- The telephone numbers of the electric, gas, and water companies
- The names and telephone numbers of neighbors
- The name and telephone number of your landlord or property manager
- Important medical information, such as allergies, regular medications, etc.
- The vehicle identification number, year, model, and license number of your automobile, boat, RV, etc.
- Your bank’s or credit union’s telephone number, 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 (automobiles, boats, etc.)
- Social Security cards
- Insurance policies
- Household inventory, including:
- List of contents
- Photographs of contents of every room
- Photographs of items of high value, such as jewelry, paintings, collectors’ item
Food and Water Concerns
Emergency Water Storage And Purification
Following are recommendations for storing and purifying water supplies.
- The minimum drinking water supply is 1 gallon per person per day. You will also need water for food preparation, bathing, brushing teeth, and dish washing. Store a 3-5 day supply of water (at least 5 gallons for each person).
- Water should be stored in sturdy plastic bottles with tight-fitting lids. Rinsed chlorine bleach bottles work well for water storage. Plastic containers for juice and milk do not work as well because they tend to crack and leak more readily. All containers should be labeled.
- Stored water should be changed every 6 months.
- Avoid placing water containers in areas where toxic substances, such as gasoline and pesticides, are present. Vapors may penetrate the plastic over time.
- Do not store water containers in direct sunlight. Select a place with a fairly constant, cool temperature.
Safe Water Sources In The Home
If you do not have enough water stored, there are sources in your home that may provide safe, clean water for drinking purposes.
- Water drained from the water heater faucet, if the water heater has not been damaged.
- Water dipped from the tank of the toilet (not the bowl). The water in the bowl can be used for pets. Do not use water that has been chemically treated or “blue” water.
- Melted ice cubes.
- Canned fruit, vegetable juice, and liquids from other canned goods.
- Water from swimming pools and spas can be used for personal hygiene, cleaning, and related uses, but not for drinking.
Unsafe Water Sources
Never use water from the sources listed below for drinking.
- Hot water boilers (home heating system)
- Water beds (fungicides added to the water or chemicals in the vinyl may make water unsafe for use)
NOTE: Remember that carbonated beverages do not meet drinking water requirements. Caffeinated drinks and alcohol dehydrate the body, which increases the need for drinking water.
Water for Drinking and Cooking
Safe drinking water includes bottled, boiled, or treated water. Your state, local, or tribal health department can make specific recommendations for boiling or treating drinking water in your area. Here are some general rules concerning water for drinking and cooking. Remember:
- Do not use contaminated water to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, or make ice.
- If you use bottled water, make sure the seal has not been broken. Otherwise, water should be boiled or treated before use. Drink only bottled, boiled, or treated water until your supply is tested and found safe.
- Boiling water kills harmful bacteria and parasites. Bringing water to a rolling boil for 1 minute will kill most organisms.
- If you can’t boil water, you can treat water with chlorine tablets, iodine tablets, or unscented household chlorine bleach (5.25% sodium hypochlorite). If you use chlorine tablets or iodine tablets, follow the directions that come with the tablets. If you use household chlorine bleach, add 1/8 teaspoon (~0.75 milliliter [mL]) of bleach per gallon of water if the water is clear. For cloudy water, add 1/4 teaspoon (~1.50 mL) of bleach per gallon. Mix the solution thoroughly and let it stand for about 30 minutes before using it. Treating water with chlorine tablets, iodine tablets, or liquid bleach will not kill many parasitic organisms. Boiling is the best way to kill these organisms.
Containers for water should be rinsed with a bleach solution before using and reusing. Use water storage tanks and other types of containers with caution. For example, fire truck storage tanks, as well as previously used cans or bottles, can be contaminated with microbes or chemicals.
Keep foods that:
- have a long storage life
- require little or no cooking, water, or refrigeration, in case utilities are disrupted
- meet the needs of babies or other family members who are on special diets
- meet pets’ needs
- are not very salty or spicy, as these foods increase the need for drinking water, which may be in short supply
How To Store Emergency Food
- A disaster can easily disrupt the food supply at any time, so plan to have at least a 3-day supply of food on hand.
- When storing food, it is not necessary to buy dehydrated or other types of emergency food. Canned foods and dry mixes will remain fresh for about 2 years.
- Certain storage conditions can enhance the shelf life of canned or dried foods. The ideal location is a cool, dry, dark place. The best temperature is 40 to 60°F. Keep foods away from ranges or refrigerator exhausts. Heat causes many foods to spoil more quickly.
- Keep food away from petroleum products, such as gasoline, oil, paints, and solvents. Some food products absorb their smell.
- Protect food from rodents and insects. Items stored in boxes or in paper cartons will keep longer if they are heavily wrapped or stored in airtight containers.
- Date all food items. Use and replace food before it loses freshness.
How To Use Emergency Food
- Use perishable food in your refrigerator or freezer before using food in your emergency supplies.
- Discard cooked, unrefrigerated foods after 2 hours at room temperature, regardless of appearance.
- Eat only foods that have a normal color, texture, and odor.
- Discard cans that bulge at the ends or that are leaking.
Preparing food after an earthquake may be complicated by damage to your home and loss of electricity, gas, and water. The following items will help you to prepare meals safely:
- Cooking utensils
- Knives, forks, and spoons
- Paper plates, cups, and towels
- A manual can- and bottle-opener
- Heavy-duty aluminum foil
- Gas or charcoal grill; camp stove
- Fuel for cooking, such as charcoal. (CAUTION: Never burn charcoal indoors. The fumes are deadly when concentrated indoors.)
NOTE: Do not use your fireplace for cooking until the chimney has been inspected for cracks and damage. Sparks may escape into your attic through an undetected crack and start a fire.