- In the past decade, there have been at least 16 magnitude 8.0-plus earthquakes around the globe.
- The 1994 Northridge Earthquake near Los Angeles that killed 57 and caused an estimated $50 billion in property damage was a 6.7.
- Proper earthquake preparedness could mean the difference between life and death, and between property damage or catastrophic loss.
- With a plan in place and with the proper supplies at the ready, you greatly increase your chances of getting through an earthquake and its aftermath relatively unscathed.
- In this guide, we’ll walk you through how to prepare for an earthquake, how to come up with an emergency plan, and all the things you need to assemble a bugout bag.
I lived in Southern California for 12 years, and in all that time, the extent of earthquake damage I incurred was a single bottle breaking after it fell off a shelf during a mild tremor.
According to experts from the United States Geological Survey, the fact that California has not experienced a major earthquake in some 25 years is statistically unlikely; in other words, the state is due for a serious shakeup. Overdue, in fact.
While the West Coast of America is indeed the region most prone to major seismic activity in the US, in fact, high-hazard earthquake zones exist in the interior West, the Midwest, the coastal region of South Carolina, and in pockets of Upstate New York and New England. All in all, the Red Cross reports that 45 states and territories “are at moderate to very high risk of earthquakes.”
Nowhere on the planet are you 100% safe from earthquakes, and as much of the planning and procuring that goes into earthquake preparation can be used to help ameliorate the effects of other types of disasters, you should prepare for such incidents regardless. Ideally, the money you spend on supplies will be money wasted, and the plans you and your family come up with will never be enacted. In the worst-case scenario of a catastrophic event, it will be money and time very well spent.
How to prepare for an earthquake in 5 steps:
- Make an earthquake emergency plan and memorize it.
- Sign up for earthquake alerts.
- Get an emergency radio like this one from FosPower.
- Prepare your home and get a gas and water shutoff tool.
- Assemble an earthquake preparedness kit with a fire extinguisher and bugout bag.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through how to prepare for an earthquake, how to come up with an emergency plan, and all the things you need to assemble a bugout bag.
Make an earthquake emergency plan and make sure your family commits it to memory
Your earthquake plan should be simple and direct. Overcomplicate things, and you or a family member is likely to forget the plans in the high-stress conditions following the disaster. Once you have plans in place, write them down and keep a copy at home, in your cars, and at work.
As Skyler Hallgren, co-founder of Redfora – a company that specializes in earthquake emergency supplies and kits – says: “Why make a plan? So you and those you care about can get in touch and meet back up after a major emergency. While documenting your plan is crucial, a big part of it is simply talking and planning together.”
Here’s what you need to cover in your plan:
1. Discuss what to do during the actual quake. Get under and hold onto a large piece of furniture; don’t stand in a doorway, that old advice has been ditched by the experts. If you’re in bed, stay there and hold on. If you’re in a car, stop driving and keep your seatbelt fastened. If you’re outside, get to an open area, away from powerlines, trees, and anything else that may well be coming down.
2. Know where emergency supplies are and designate who is responsible for what. We’ll cover the tools, provisions, and other supplies to have on hand soon, but keep in mind that the perfect earthquake emergency kit is useless if no one knows where it is or thinks to grab it.
3. Make a plan for how you will reconnect. Communication lines may fail and regular methods of transportation may be curtailed during and after an earthquake. Plan who will retrieve the kids from school or daycare, how you will get home from work, and where the family will meet up if home is not an option. Designate a primary and a secondary meeting point, and discuss how long family members should wait at the primary before moving to the secondary spot. Also consider keeping an actual paper map handy, as your phone will likely be out of service and you might be surprised how little you know the area without GPS.
4. Make a plan for evacuation. When possible, you should stay inside during and after an earthquake, but if your home is suddenly imperiled – on fire or at risk for collapse, say – you need to know how you are getting everyone out quickly and safely, and what are the few items you need to bring along. Who grabs the baby? Who gets the dog? Who gets the emergency kit?
Sign up for earthquake alerts and get an emergency radio
Earthquakes strike with little to no warning, but every second counts when the earthquake wave – the actual shaking effects triggered by the seismic event – is headed your way. Get an app like Earthquake Network and you might just buy yourself enough time to get under a desk or table or to stop your car on an open patch of road.
After the quake, you may well find your phone useless for communication as cell and internet service fails. An emergency radio that offers hand-crank powering (or solar power) can keep you informed when you tune into NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) emergency broadcasts.
Prepare your home for an earthquake
The better you prepare your home for the potential devastation caused by an earthquake, the more the damage will be reduced, and the better chance you and your family have of avoiding injury or property damage.
Here are 5 steps to take that will keep you and your home safer:
1. Keep closed-toed shoes with rubber soles under your bed. After a quake, there may be broken glass, cracked flooring, and exposed wires over which you’ll have to walk. Keep a pair of tennis shoes – or better yet hiking boots – close at hand, and make sure everyone else in the family has a pair handy as well.
2. Move heavy objects to lower shelves. Once the shaking starts, you can count on things flying off shelves and crashing to the floor. It’s far better to have your three-gallon stew pot, printer, and other heavy objects fall a foot or two than from above head height.
3. Remove or secure artwork hanging over beds or seating. Assume that anything that could fall will fall during an earthquake, so make sure nothing dangerous can fall onto someone sitting or lying just below.
4. Secure heavy appliances and shelving. Use wall straps to secure shelves in place, secure stackable washer/dryer units, and consider strapping down your hot water heater, which could cause both broken gas and water lines should it fall over.
5. Practice shutting off the gas, water, and power. Somewhere in your home, there will be a circuit box you can use to cut off the power, a valve you can close to shut off the water, and a crank you can turn to shut off the gas. If any wires are severed, water is leaking (or flooding), or you even think there might be gas escaping, shut these utilities down at once. Your gas shutoff may require a special tool; get one, and keep it near the shutoff point.
Your earthquake preparedness kit
After a sizable earthquake, you and your family should be equipped to be totally self-sufficient for at least two or three days. You may be cut off from access to food, water, medicine, power, and other necessities we take for granted on a daily basis.
You likely have enough food in the home to last for several days, but double check that you have sufficient non-perishable things to eat. (Don’t forget the pets, either!) Keep at least a gallon of water per person on hand – you will need clean water for drinking, cooking, hygiene, and possibly to tend to wounds.
Beyond food and water, make sure you have several flashlights with spare batteries, a good first aid kit, a water filter, blankets, personal items (like contact lens fluid, hygiene products, etc.), medicine, blankets, several ways to make a fire, and even some ways to pass the time, like books and board games.
And a fire extinguisher. Have at least one good fire extinguisher on hand. Better yet, have two or three. Make sure they are not too old.
As sheltering in place might not be an option, you should have your earthquake kit stored in a bag you can grab and go. Or better yet, buy a pre-assembled emergency bag that has all the staples you will need for several days of survival. Redfora offers a Complete Earthquake Bag that has food, water, first aid supplies, lighting, and many other items that will be precious in those harrowing days after the unthinkable becomes reality.
And for the record, I practice what I preach. My bugout bag is three feet from my left knee as I write. I keep it tucked next to my desk at all times, because this is where you’ll find me most of the time.