Earthquakes are more likely in some areas than others however it may surprise you that a lot of areas that people often don’t associate with seismic activity are at least post a moderate risk of an earthquake. To determine the risk you face the maps below are useful. As you can quickly see, those in the Western part of the USA are those that need to take the most caution. All maps are courtesy of FEMA.
Keep reading for tips on how to prepare for an earthquake. The higher your risk level the more serious you need to be about your level of preparedness. Some things you may already do in preparation for other disasters but there are some other special considerations you should make too!
Create A Earthquake Plan For You & Your Family
A good plan that everyone knows and understands is one of the best ways to ensure you are ready if an earthquake occurs. Typing up your plan and laminating it so it is sturdy and long lasting is a good idea. Place a copy in a few key areas of your home so everyone has access. Of course, you can also store a copy electronically on your phone in case you or someone else is away and gets caught in an earthquake or the aftermath.
Plans On How To Get Home
What if you are caught at work or school and then need to get home after the quake happens? Knowing alternative routes and being able to navigate can help you get where you need to be in less time and with less risk to your personal safety.
Write Down and Show Others Where Utility Cut Offs Are
It is a good idea to turn off any natural gas or propane coming into your home. This is usually done with the twist of a valve. Older kids and adults are both capable of this.
Electricity is usually controlled by the main breaker. Make sure anyone old enough knows where this is and how to throw it.
If you are able to cut off your water then it may be advisable. If an earthquake damages plumbing that can lead to major water damage and property loss or even major flooding of your entire home. If you evacuate and then forget to turn off all your utilities then an aftershock may come through and cause even more damage.
Food and Water
Most government agencies recommend having 72 hours worth of food and water for everyone in your home. I don’t think 72 hours is enough. 3 days is better than nothing but I think that 7 days gives you a cushion of safety that is a lot a better. You should have at least that on hand at all times in case of any supply disruptions.
Type Up A List Of Important Phone Numbers and Emergency Contacts
A list of direct lines to the Fire Department, Hospital, Police or Sheriff, disaster relief services, doctors, insurance companies, and any family and friends is recommended. Your phone may have all that info now but what if you can’t use your cell phone or someone else in the family needs to get a number that only you typically use? Not many people keep a paper phone book around anymore it seems like so making your own list and then laminating to waterproof is not a bad idea. You could even have a few copies just in case.
While having some water stored is great, a good water filter offers some long-term security so long as you can get to some source of water. It could save you from those long lines for bottled water during and after any major disaster.
Letting your meds get down to only a weeks supply could make things harder if anything happens. Try to have a months supply just in case things get crazy during a major earthquake. It is one less thing to have to worry about.
Have a good medical kit put together.
Medical supplies are essential earthquake gear. Since earthquakes can be so severe you may consider having a major trauma kit put together and then a more basic kit for your typical scenarios of cuts, scrapes, or sprains. Broken bones are common when you have a lot of falling objects so including splints and splinting materials is something worth major consideration.
In many cases, you are better off buying a base kit and then adding supplies to it as needed. Putting together your own complete kit might be less expensive if you have the time. I have found a few kits that offer everything. It really seems like you have to add some things regardless of the cost or size of the kit.
Look For Hazards Within Your Home
Things falling are one of the major safety concerns during an earthquake. This means you might consider what you have hanging on your walls or from your ceiling. Try to avoid any items that could fall on you or someone else if an earthquake occurs when you are in bed or watching TV. Having a lot of decor and figurines on the wall may look good but be incredibly unsafe.
Attaching Things To Walls and Shelves Is Recommended
Of course, you are going to want to have things on shelves and you need furniture. There are brackets and other items that can attach things in a way that is not very visible. This keeps everything from falling during any seismic event and can be handy if you have kids that might pull something over on themselves. Putty that is easily removed can be used to attach decor and other items to shelves.
Cabinets and Storage With Door or Lids Helps
Anything that closes is a good thing in an earthquake zone. This allows items to stay in place somewhat or at least not fall on you. This is good for those things like books that you don’t want to use anything sticky on. Really heavy items should be stored as low down as possible generally speaking.
Reinforce Windows With Security Film
Window film can be a lifesaver during a disaster. This film goes over your windows and offers some resistance to objects. While it will not keep a window from breaking, it will make the window shards hold together and not become deadly projectiles. For more info on window films, I advise reading the post “The Best Window Security Film and Why It Matters”. It explains the different types and thicknesses available. It is great stuff and it is something you can do even if you are renting since it is just clear film that will not be noticed and can be removed if necessary.
Consider Condition Of Your Home and Trees or Other Hazards
Cracked foundations or supports can make it more likely to suffer hard or impossible to entirely fix issues in your home. Of course, living in a seismic zone this can happen regardless of what you do. At the same time, it is important to monitor the condition of your home because any shaking can make some problems worse or be a major safety issue if you are inside during an earthquake.
One thing I learned building a house with my husband is that it pays off, in the long run, to clear trees well away from your house. We cleared more after the house was built and it was harder to do. If you have large trees close to your home they are a major hazard in the event of a natural disaster of any type. Sick trees that are shedding branches or showing other signs of disease should be removed as soon as possible. If they are near the utility lines you may be able to get the utility company to remove them at no cost. It can take them awhile to get around to you but it is free.
Put Together An Escape Kit In Case You Are Trapped
Being trapped in your house by debris is no doubt a nightmare regardless of how good you are in a tight space. There are commonly available tools that you can use to get out of your home and to your rendezvous point. Here are a few things I suggest.
- 1-2 hammers.
- Pry Bars/Crow Bars
- Glass Breaker. There are plenty of things that can be used. Remember that regular glass must be broken with care or you will have shards everywhere. If you have window film to prevent this than while it may take a bit more effort to break the glass to get out, you won’t have shards flying great distances. That doesn’t mean you still won’t need to be careful of small bits and pieces.
- R95 Dust Masks Or Better
Any dust mask is better than nothing but R95 is really inexpensive and does a good job. A 20 pk is $12 or so. A respirator or gas mask will do the job too but they are less comfortable to wear, cost more, and take up more space. During an earthquake, it can take awhile for dust and debris to settle and then it can be stirred up easily with the wind.
- Adjustable Crescent Wrench for cutting off gas lines or other valves.
- Rope Or Fire Escape Ladder
If you need to go down a bit to escape then you will be glad to have an escape ladder. You can order or buy these at any home improvement store. While many people attach them to second story windows, you can just store one where it is easy to get to and put in place where needed.
I recommend having a pack of work gloves on hand. You can get them in packs of multiple pairs. One good set is better than nothing but you need to consider what type of protection other members of your family might need to escape safely or pitch in if you have to dig your way out a bit.
Having multiple fire extinguishers is a good idea. While a larger main extinguisher for the house is nice, having some auto-sized ones or the type that just comes in a spray can is a supplement that could save your life. Stash a few here and there and have one in your vehicle. Remember that fire is a major danger during an earthquake. If you live in close quarters you have no control over how prepared the others in your building are. Fire can spread rapidly and trap!
Clean Clothing and Linens
Washing clothing and linens might not be possible for a while. Have some extras put away and clean so you can be more comfortable no matter where you have to go. Even if your home is relatively undamaged that doesn’t mean utility services will be working in your area. Damage to power lines and infrastructure a mile away may mean you are out of power and water for a week.
Closed Toed Shoes For Everyone
It actually never ceases to amaze me how many people overlook the need for close-toed shoes. There are plenty of people that don’t have any at all. Even if you normally can get away with wearing the bare minimum of flip-flops or similar you still should have a good pair of close-toed shoes available to you. If you have to deal with debris and rubble from an earthquake or walk home you will be glad to have them. You may want to have a pair stashed in your car too in case you get caught at work, school, or out on the town and an event happen.
For some tips on boots and footwear, check out “Best Boots For Preppers”.
At a certain point during an emergency boredom and stress can reach a point where some entertainment is needed. This is especially true for those that have kids and teens. Since it seems that the younger generation is so dependent on small devices like tablets and cell phones, I advise that you keep some way of allowing them to keep things charged up.
Remember that the internet might not be available so having some actual digital files saved to devices is highly advisable. There are many flashlights and radios that have battery banks in them or you can get small solar chargers made for the specific job of keeping small USB chargeable devices going. E-readers are great because of the long battery life and the fact that you can store 1000 books on one very basic Kindle.
Board games, notepads and paper, coloring books for kids and grown-ups, and crayons or colored pencils are easy to stash back in a small tote.
Oh, I cannot stress the importance of good lighting enough during any disaster. Everyone in the home should have a quality flashlight or lantern in their room where they can get to it regardless of where they live or what type of disaster is most likely in their area. Just a power outage can make things dangerous if you can’t see what you are doing. For hand-cranked lights, you may want to take a look at my post on “The Best Hand Crank Flashlights.” Some of these lights have various options for power but the hand crank is a good back up to have even if you use AA batteries usually.
A good radio can provide entertainment, battery charging, lighting, and more. My post on emergency radios has some inexpensive options that offer a lot of features. Some radios even have a slot for SD cards so you can store music, audiobooks, and podcasts and have them on hand for when internet streaming is not an option.
Emergency Cash Or Checks
I remember one time while living in Ketchikan, Alaska a storm took out some lines on an island over. As a result, all the businesses in town would not take anything except cash or a local check. This lasted for a day or two and I was sure glad to have real paper checks on hand so I could buy something if needed. All the stuff was there but that wasn’t much help with no way to accept payment for a lot of people.
It can also be useful to have a way set up to move funds electronically between accounts so you have good access to money. There is an argument to be made for having a few accounts so you have better access. Pay Pal and a regular bank account is one way to be able to juggle funds if needed.
Secure What You Can If You Have To Leave
Looters can be a problem during any disaster. If you suspect this may be an issue where you live then you should take steps to secure valuables. Either take items with you or hide them very well. Since all situations are different this is a decision that I cannot really tell you what is best for you.
Have ID For Every Family Member
ID cards are great if you have them. Copies of a birth certificate will also do in a lot of cases. This can help you get assistance or check into a hotel even. Simply put, it is good to be able to prove who you are. I live in North Carolina and even during regular everyday life if you go through a license check they have the right to ask for the ID of everyone in the car. If you don’t show it they can technically detain you until you prove who you are. It normally doesn’t happen but better to be safe.
If someone that looks like you did something then it can be really annoying. My father while living in western Washington looked like a person that was wanted for murder. This was the early 80s. He would get tailed at the laundromat and it was really embarrassing for him but he eventually was able to get them to stop watching him every time he was doing everyday things. This was because he had ID each time and after a second incident, he was a lot firmer with them. The way things are now, mistaken identity doesn’t always go so well.
Earthquakes cause secondary events like flooding, tsunamis, fires, etc.
This is a photo of the Skagit River flooding in 2006 in Mount Vernon, Washington. I grew up further up the river in Hamilton which was worse for flooding. This pales in comparison to the floods of 1990 and 1994 that I remember.
As if an earthquake is not bad enough, the events that can follow can be as bad or even worse. Seismic events can damage water lines, levees, dams, and water drainage areas. Massive amounts of debris can clog drains in little time. Here are some tips for flooding survival.
- Seek higher ground but don’t trap yourself in an attic or another area with no way out.
- Do not drive through water. You can get away with driving through some water but the trick is that you have no way of knowing just how deep it is. Moving water is especially hazardous.
- Flash flooding is a major concern too. A break in a levee or a dam or a clog somewhere could cause a lot of water to come down a path at once.
- Don’t go back to your home too soon. Flood waters can carry a ton of bacteria and debris. You also do not want to become trapped if there is more water coming.
- Avoid the urge to take a risk to save meaningful items. It is terrible to lose things that mean a lot to you but going back to save material items is not worth the risk to your life.
Thanks to modern monitoring equipment, a tsunami is often very predictable. The initial event is usually over fairly fast but the terrible damage that they can inflict can last a long time and be very widespread. If a tsunami is predicted then seek higher ground and a place to ride it out ASAP.
Avalanches & Landslides or Mudslides
There have been a lot of people lose their homes due to land sliding and shifting. Landslides and mudslides are the most common but if you live in an area with a snowpack then avalanches are something to be aware of. A lot of nice homes are unfortunately built on slopes that are not stable. Those that live in these types of homes often know the risk. My advice is if you have an earthquake you might want to get out of the house as soon as safe and have your place inspected or check yourself for any unusual cracks or fissures in the frame, supports, or ground itself. If you own this type of property then do yourself a favor and get some help to reinforce and inspect before anything even happens.
Mudslides occur due to heavy saturation of the ground. A few years back a particularly bad mudslide happened in Oso, Washington. This is an example of just how bad it can be. I don’t think they ever found everyone.
Getting Help In An Earthquake
Disaster response can happen slower than everyone would like. There are usually a lot of people out there that need help and are not prepared to deal with even the smaller things when a disaster hits. By being prepared and being able to take care of some of your own needs and those of your family, you are actually helping others because resources can go to others.
I agree that more people need to be prepared but I do feel for those that are suffering and need help. Sometimes going through an event is what gives people the wake-up call needed to start getting prepared so they are better off the next time something happens.
Do you have an earthquake preparedness plan? Have you been through an earthquake? Please share your experience and what tips you have for being prepared and surviving!