For most people living in the United States, how to prepare for an earthquake is the furthest thing from their minds. However, for those living in earthquake zones or earthquake country, such as California, earthquake “season” is 365 days a year. Disaster experts stress that it is imperative to prepare for an earthquake by educating oneself on disaster preparedness.
Since most of the major population centers in California are situated in earthquake hotspots or along major fault lines, having to ride out an earthquake at some point is inevitable. Taking steps to mitigate the damage in your home or office is a good start to prepare for an earthquake. Your home should be secured to the foundation or retrofitted to make it strong enough to withstand a quake. If you rent, ask the owner of the building whether any steps have been taken to make it more structurally sound in an earthquake. While making plans to prepare for an earthquake at home is smart, ask your work and your child’s school if they have emergency plans as well.
Inside your home or office, the next step to prepare for an earthquake is to make sure that large bookcases and top-heavy pieces of furniture are securely attached to the wall to prevent falling. Four of the deaths that occurred in the Northridge earthquake in California were attributed to falling objects or furniture. Experts suggest securing furniture and water heaters to the wall studs using straps. Water heaters are a particular danger because they can be knocked over, causing the gas line to become damaged or ruptured.
Latches on cabinets can also prevent items from falling out during a quake. Heavy electronics can be strapped down to shelves using nylon straps, and breakables or valuables can be secured to the shelves with Velcro. Closed hooks are good for keeping hanging frames on the wall, which can also become hazards in a quake.
Once you have made your house safe, the next step to prepare for an earthquake is to devise a home earthquake plan. Find a safe area in every room of your house — usually an interior doorway or under a strong table is the best place. Practice often with children getting quickly to the safe area, away from heavy furniture and windows. Next, designate an out-of-town contact whom everyone can get a message to if family members are separated and there is a communication breakdown. Also, pick a spot outside of the house where the family can regroup after an earthquake.
One of the most important aspects of earthquake preparation is to stock an emergency supply kit. Your kit should include necessary medications, a first aid kit, food, water, clothing, bedding, a radio, a flashlight and batteries. Many experts say that the supply should get you through three to seven days, but some suggest supplies to last three months to a year. Children’s needs should not be forgotten, and emergency supply kits should include diapers, formula and comfort foods for both adults and children. Of course, this is only a partial list of the many things you may need to prepare for an earthquake — The Red Cross is an excellent resource for a more complete list.
It is a good idea to prepare in advance to be able to turn off potentially hazardous utilities in the moments immediately following an earthquake. Make sure you know where the turn-off locations are and how to turn them off. It is a good idea to include a wrench or the necessary tools in your emergency supply kit.
In order to prepare for an earthquake, you must predict some obstacles you may face in the aftermath. Widespread power outages may mean that banks and ATMs will not be able to function normally. For this reason, it is smart to have a small amount of cash on hand for emergencies. Copies of important documents, insurance information and a household inventory will also help you pick up the pieces in the aftermath. If your home is unlivable after an earthquake, it is also helpful to know where the closest emergency shelters will most likely be and to draw out maps on how to get there by car or on foot.