Being prepared for an earthquake

While California has been the state most prone to serious earthquakes in recent years, there are many other fault zones in other areas of the United States. For example, geologists and seismologists have predicted a 97 percent chance of a major earthquake in the New Madrid seismic zone of the central United States (including Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky) between now and the year 2035. While earthquakes with the power of the one that hit the greater Los Angeles area in January 1994 are fairly rare, less severe earthquakes can interrupt your normal living patterns and cause substantial injury.

During a major earthquake, you may hear a roaring or rumbling sound that gradually grows louder. You may feel a rolling sensation that starts out gently and, within a second or two, grows violent.

Or, you may first be jarred by a violent jolt. A second or two later, you may feel shaking and find it difficult to stand up or move from one room to another.

The real key to surviving an earthquake and reducing your risk of injury lies in planning, preparing, and practicing what you and your family will do if it happens.

Earthquake practice drills

By planning and practicing what to do if an earthquake strikes, you and your family can learn to react correctly and automatically when the shaking begins. During an earthquake, most deaths and injuries are caused by collapsing building materials and heavy falling objects, such as bookcases, cabinets, and heating units. Learn the safe spots in each room of your home. If you have children, get the entire family to practice going to these locations. Participating in an earthquake drill will help children understand what to do in case you are not with them during an earthquake.

Make sure you and your child also understand the school's emergency procedures for disasters. This will help you coordinate where, when, and how to reunite with your child after an earthquake.

During your earthquake drill:

  • Get under a sturdy table or desk and hold on to it.

  • If you're not near a table or desk, cover your face and head with your arms; and

    • stand or crouch in a strongly supported doorway, or

    • brace yourself in an inside corner of the house or building.

  • Stay clear of windows or glass that could shatter or objects that could fall on you.

  • Remember: If inside, stay inside. Many people are injured at entrances of buildings by falling debris.

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Earthquake evacuation plans

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 aid 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.

How to establish priorities and personal documentation paperwork

Establish Priorities

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

  • Wills

  • Household inventory, including:

    • list of contents

    • photographs of contents of every room

    • photographs of items of high value, such as jewelry, paintings, collectors' items

Indoor Safety

There are actions you can take, even while an earthquake is happening, that will reduce your chances of being hurt. Lights may be out, and hallways, stairs, and room exits may be blocked by fallen furniture, ceiling tiles, and other debris. Planning for these situations will help you to take action quickly.

  • If an earthquake strikes, you may be able to take cover under a heavy desk or table. It can provide you with air space if the building collapses. If you get under a table and it moves, try to move with it.

  • Inner walls or door frames are the least likely to collapse and may also shield against falling objects. If other cover is not available, go to an inner corner or doorway, away from windows or glass panels.

  • Stay 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.

  • Grab something to shield your head and face from falling debris and broken glass.

  • If the lights go out, use a battery-operated flashlight. Don't use candles, matches, or lighters during or after the earthquake. If there is a gas leak, an explosion could result.

  • If you are in the kitchen, quickly turn off the stove and take cover at the first sign of shaking.

High-Rise Buildings

Get under a desk and stay away from windows and outside walls. Stay in the building. The electricity may go out, and the sprinkler systems may come on. DO NOT use the elevators.

If you are in a crowded public place, do not rush for the doorways. Others will have the same idea. Move away from display shelves containing objects that may fall. If you can, take cover and grab something to shield your head and face from falling debris and glass.

Crowded Indoor Public Places

If you are in a crowded public place, do not rush for the doorways. Others will have the same idea. Move away from display shelves containing objects that may fall. If you can, take cover and grab something to shield your head and face from falling debris and glass.

Outdoor Safety

If outdoors, move away from buildings and utility wires. The greatest danger from falling debris is just outside doorways and close to outer walls. Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops.

Automobiles

If you are in a moving automobile, stop as quickly and safely as possible and move over to the shoulder or curb, away from utility poles, overhead wires, and under- or overpasses. Stay in the vehicle, set the parking brake, and 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 you are in a life-threatening situation, you may be able to reach someone with either a cellular or an emergency roadside assistance phone.

When you drive on, watch for hazards created by the earthquake, such as breaks in the pavement, downed utility poles and wires, a fallen overpasses and bridges.

Emergency supplies for earthquake preparedness

Stock up now on emergency supplies that can be used after an earthquake. These supplies should include a first aid kit, survival kits for the home, automobile, and workplace, and emergency water and food. Store enough supplies to last at least 3 days.

First aid kit

Store your first aid supplies in a tool box or fishing tackle box so they will be easy to carry and protected from water. Inspect your kit regularly and keep it freshly stocked. NOTE: Important medical information and most prescriptions can be stored in the refrigerator, which also provides excellent protection from fires.

Drugs/Medications

  • Hydrogen peroxide to wash and disinfect wounds

  • Antibiotic ointment

  • Individually wrapped alcohol swabs

  • Aspirin and non-aspirin tablets

  • Prescriptions and any long-term medications (keep these current)

  • Diarrhea medicine

  • Eye drops

Dressings

  • Bandage strips

  • Ace bandages

  • Rolled gauze

  • Cotton-tipped swabs

  • Adhesive tape roll

Other First Aid Supplies

  • First aid book

  • Scissors

  • Tweezers

  • Thermometer

  • Bar soap

  • Tissues

  • Sunscreen

  • Paper cups

  • Pocket knife

  • Small plastic bags

  • Safety pins

  • Needle and thread

  • Instant cold packs for sprains

  • Sanitary napkins

  • Splinting materials

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Survival kit for your home

Assemble a survival kit for your home with the following items:

Tools and supplies

  • ax, shovel, broom

  • screwdriver, pliers, hammer, adjustable wrench

  • rope for towing or rescue

  • plastic sheeting and tape

Items for safety and comfort

  • sturdy shoes that can provide protection from broken glass, nails, and other debris

  • gloves (heavy and durable for cleaning up debris)

  • candles

  • waterproof matches

  • change of clothing

  • knife

  • garden hose (for siphoning and firefighting)

  • tent

  • recreational supplies for children and adults

  • blankets or sleeping bags

  • portable radio, flashlight, and extra batteries

  • essential medications and eyeglasses

  • fire extinguisher -- multipurpose, dry chemical type

  • food and water for pets

  • toilet tissue

  • cash

Survival kit for your automobile

Assemble a survival kit for your automobile with the following items. Storing some of these supplies in a small bag or backpack will make them more convenient to carry if you need to walk.

  • Blankets

  • Bottled water

  • Change of clothes

  • Coins for telephone calls

  • Fire extinguisher -- multipurpose, dry chemical type

  • First aid kit and manual

  • Emergency signal device (light sticks, battery-type flasher, reflector, etc.)

  • Flashlight with fresh batteries

  • Food (nonperishable -- nutrition bars, trail mix, etc.)

  • Gloves

  • Local map and compass

  • Rope for towing, rescue, etc.

  • Paper and pencils

  • Premoistened towelettes

  • Prescription medicines

  • Battery-operated radio with fresh batteries

  • Small mirror for signaling

  • Toilet tissue

  • Tools (pliers, adjustable wrench, screwdriver, etc.)

  • Whistle for signaling

  • Jumper cables

  • Duct tape

Survival kit for your workplace

Assemble a survival kit for the workplace with the following supplies:

  • Food (nonperishable -- nutrition bars, trail mix, etc.)

  • Bottled water

  • Jacket or sweatshirt

  • Pair of sturdy shoes

  • Flashlight with fresh batteries

  • Battery-operated radio with fresh batteries

  • Essential medications

  • Blanket

  • Small first aid kit

  • Extra pair of eyeglasses and/or contact lens solution

  • Whistle or other signaling device

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.

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Unsafe Water Sources

Never use water from the sources listed below for drinking.

  • Radiators

  • 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.

Emergency Food

  • 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

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.

SOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control. "Being Prepared for an Earthquake."
<http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/earthquakes/prepared.asp>

Centers for Disease Control. "Emergency Supplies."
<http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/earthquakes/prepared.asp>

Centers for Disease Control. "Food & Water Concerns."
<http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/earthquakes/prepared.asp>

Centers for Disease Control. "What to do During an Earthquake."
<http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/earthquakes/prepared.asp>

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Reviewed on 3/2/2010
References
SOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control. "Being Prepared for an Earthquake."
<http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/earthquakes/prepared.asp>

Centers for Disease Control. "Emergency Supplies."
<http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/earthquakes/prepared.asp>

Centers for Disease Control. "Food & Water Concerns."
<http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/earthquakes/prepared.asp>

Centers for Disease Control. "What to do During an Earthquake."
<http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/earthquakes/prepared.asp>

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