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How to Prepare for an Earthquake

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The tragedy in Japan is the perfect example of how disaster can strike unexpectedly. I don’t live in an area that gets many earthquakes so I haven’t written about earthquake preparedness yet, but with the increasing number of earthquakes over the past year and signs that earthquake activity may be increasing, I think it’s time I did.

The Dangers of Earthquakes

Every year 70-80 harmful earthquakes occur around the world, and there are over 40 states in the U.S. that are at a moderate or high risk of earthquakes. Most earthquakes occur at the boundaries of tectonic plates, such as along the California coastline, but they can also occur in the middle of a plate. The damage from an earthquake can range anywhere from a few broken dishes to collapsed buildings and bridges, water and power outages, fires, avalanches, and tsunamis (as what happened in Japan).

Secure Everything

The first step to earthquake preparedness involves securing everything in your home that could be a hazard.

  • Bolt bookcases, cabinets and other tall furniture to the wall.
  • Install latches on cabinets so items don’t spill out on the floor.
  • Move heavy and easily breakable items to lower shelves.
  • Secure other large items that might fall such as televisions, microwaves, computers, etc.
  • Move heavy items like pictures and mirrors away from beds and places where people sit.
  • Reinforce light fixtures and other hanging objects.
  • Strap the water heater and gas appliances to the wall.

Make a Plan

Prepare a disaster plan. That means having an evacuation route, a location where you can meet up with friends and family, a secure place where you’ve stored emergency supplies and a list of important phone numbers. You should also identify “safe places” in each room of your home or workplace. Safe places are usually under a sturdy table or desk, near an interior wall and away from windows, tall furniture and hanging objects.

Get a Disaster Kit

Earthquake kits have items such as food, water, first aid kits, portable radios, cash, and other things you will need in an emergency. If you want to make your own, check out the article What Goes in a Bug Out Bag and include a fire extinguisher. Otherwise, check out these Earthquake Survival Kits

What to Do When the Earthquake Strikes

Drop, cover up, and hang on! That means get near the floor, move to a safe place (which you’ve identified ahead of time), keep your head down and hang on to whatever you can. But don’t move too far; many injuries occur because of people running during earthquakes.

If you’re in bed during an earthquake, stay there and cover your head with a pillow. If you’re outside, get away from buildings, power lines, streetlights and other tall objects, then get down and cover your head. If you’re in a vehicle, pull over and keep your seat belt on. Wait until the earthquake is over, then check to see if you’re okay. Be aware that earthquakes are often followed by aftershocks.

The Lost Ways

What to Do When It’s Over

If you’re near a coastal area, gather your family and your disaster kits as quickly as possible and head for higher ground. Tsunamis are extremely dangerous. Even if the best you can do is run to the top of a hill or climb on top of a house, that would be better than staying in place.

If you’re farther inland, the first thing you should do is look for people who need help. It’s a good idea to have some training in first aid and CPR. Also be on the lookout for fires, damaged gas and electrical lines, and other hazards and move away from them. Turn on your radio and listen for safety advisories and other information.

Talk to Your Family

You want everyone in your family to be as prepared as you are, so talk to them about what you’ve learned here. When earthquakes occur, people tend to panic and forget what they’re supposed to do. It’s better if they’ve put some thought into it ahead of time. Remind them where the safe places and disaster kits are and where to meet up afterward.


As I said before, there are a lot of indications that earthquake activity may be on the rise. But either way, it’s best to be prepared. For more details on earthquake preparation, check out this earthquake preparedness guide on the ebooks page. It was created by the Los Angeles Fire Department and is a fantastic resource.

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