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 to Los Angeles, but in the unlikely event that an earthquake does occur while you're in town, it doesn't hurt to know what to do during an earthquake and have a plan. Small tremors occur pretty regularly in Southern California, but larger earthquakes that do damage are much less frequent.

Here are FEMA's recommendations for surviving an earthquake, with a few additions.

If You Are Indoors

  • DROP to the ground; take COVER by getting under a sturdy table or another piece of furniture; and 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, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.
  • Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake strikes. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture, window or anything else that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place (i.e. under a desk or in an inside 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.

Caveat: All the advice about getting under furniture assumes that you are in California in an earthquake retrofitted building and that the biggest danger is from falling and flying debris. If the walls are crumbling and the ceiling is falling in, it is recommended that you lie down NEXT TO a bed, sofa, desk or heavy piece of furniture. In these conditions, 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.

If Outdoors

  • Stay there.
  • Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires.
  • Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops. The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits, and alongside exterior walls. Many of the 120 fatalities from the 1933 Long Beach earthquake occurred when people ran outside of buildings only to be killed by falling debris from collapsing 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 in a Moving Vehicle

    • 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. (Note: An earthquake while you're driving feels like there's something wrong with your car. Don't stop in the middle of the freeway if traffic is still moving around you. Slow down and put on your turn signal to get to the side of the road. If everyone else is doing the same thing, it was most likely an earthquake.)
    • Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake.

      If Trapped Under Debris

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

      After an Earthquake

      • Be prepared for aftershocks. They may come immediately, or 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.

      Things to Pack That Can Help You Survive

      • A crank radio or battery-operated radio, including MP3 players with radio. They don't take up much room and if the power goes out, you will be able to get current information.
      • A small flashlight in case the power goes out.
      • Travel snacks like granola bars, beef jerky and trail mix in case you're stuck in one place for a while.
      • Water. You can't pack it if you're flying, but keep a couple of bottles in your hotel room once you settle in, and in your rental car if you have one.
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