Earthquake Safety Tips: What to Do During an Earthquake

Standing in doorway during earthquake

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Earthquake safety should not be a big concern when traveling, but in the unlikely event that an earthquake does occur, it doesn't hurt to know what to do during and have a plan. Especially if you are traveling to a region known for frequent earthquakes like California, Japan, or New Zealand, you may experience small tremors. All the same, you should memorize the basic earthquake safety tips according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

If You Are Indoors

If you are not sure that the building has been built for earthquakes, you should lie down next to a large and heavy piece of furniture like a bed, sofa, or desk. In this case, the triangle of space created when a bookshelf, wall, or part of a ceiling falls against a large piece of furniture is your best chance of not getting crushed. Assuming you are in a region where buildings have been retrofitted for earthquakes, like California, the biggest danger will be from debris and you should follow the following tips:

  • Stay where you are. Many of the 120 fatalities from the 1933 Long Beach earthquake occurred when people ran outside only to be killed by falling debris from collapsing walls.
  • Drop to the ground and take cover by getting underneath a sturdy table or another piece of furniture. Hold on to something until the shaking stops. If there's nothing around you to get under, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in the corner of the building.
  • Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures, or furniture.
  • If you're in bed when the earthquake strikes, stay there. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow. If you are under a heavy light fixture or window, move to the nearest safe place like under a desk or in the corner.
  • Use a doorway for shelter only if it is in close proximity to you and if you know it is a strongly supported, load-bearing doorway. Brace yourself on the side with the hinges to avoid the door swinging at you.
  • Stay inside until shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave.
  • Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.
  • Do not use the elevators, even if they are working. There may be aftershocks.
  • If you're in your hotel room, stay there. There are usually aftershocks, and sometimes they may be worse than the original earthquake. Under a sturdy desk or in an inside corner of your room is the safest place to be, even if you're on the 40th floor. If there's a heavy bookcase next to a match-stick desk, don't get under the desk.
  • If you are in a restaurant, get under the table.

If You Are Outdoors

The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits, and alongside exterior walls. Ground movement during an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or injury. Most earthquake-related casualties result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects.

  • If you are outdoors when the earthquake starts, do not seek shelter inside. Instead, move towards the most open space you can find in the moment.
  • Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires.
  • Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops.

If You Are in a Moving Vehicle

An earthquake while you're driving feels like there's something wrong with your car. The biggest potential dangers are ground movement, cracks opening up in the road, and distracted drivers. If you are in your car during an earthquake, do the following:

  • Don't stop in the middle of the freeway if traffic is still moving around you. If you are on a quieter road, pull over to the side of the road and stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle.
  • Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires.
  • Slow down and put on your turn signal to get to the side of the road.
  • Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake.

If You Are Trapped Under Debris

If the worst happens and you are trapped under the debris of the earthquake, remember these safety tips:

  • 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.
  • Do not light a match.
  • Do not move about or kick up dust.
  • Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.

What You Should Do After the Earthquake

Just because the earthquake is over, that doesn't mean you're in the clear. Following the first tremor, keep these safety tips in mind:

  • Be prepared for aftershocks. They may come within minutes, hours, or days later, and can be weaker or stronger than the original quake.
  • If you're near the coast after a major quake, pay attention to tsunami warnings and move inland and to higher ground immediately.
  • Follow local media for emergency broadcasts.
  • Check for gas leaks or exposed wires and turn off gas or fuse box if necessary. Don't light any candles unless you've ruled out gas leaks.
  • Watch out for shifted items when opening cupboards, especially those containing glass or heavy items.
  • Get dressed and put on sturdy shoes before you start cleaning up or go outside.
  • If you have internet or cell access, post your status to social media so that your friends and family know you're ok, or send a text. Stay off the phone unless it's an emergency.

Preparing for an Earthquake

If you are worried about earthquakes, there are a few things you can pack and keep on you or in your car, which will be of great use in an emergency.

  • A crank radio or battery-operated radio
  • A small flashlight
  • Travel snacks
  • Water
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