A few years ago, I woke up in the morning to the feeling of my bed shaking – hard. Still half asleep, I mumbled to my husband to stop shaking the house. He, who was innocently getting dressed for work, responded with a smug smile and said, “It’s a mild earthquake, sweetheart, and I didn’t do it.”
I learned that morning that not everything can be blamed on my husband, and that Georgia is not spared from an occasional earthquake.
Mild earthquakes, or tremors, can serve as a ‘wake up’ call for why you need an earthquake preparedness plan: It can save lives. Read on to learn how to prepare for an earthquake, as well as how to respond before, during and after one occurs.
Taking steps to be prepared
- The first step in making an emergency plan is getting on the same page as the rest of the family. Hold a short meeting with family members to map out a plan of action in case of a natural disaster or large scale crisis. Be sure to fill in out-of-town relatives so they’ll know where and how to find you.
- Establish a local spot where you can all meet up in case your home is affected. A church, synagogue, community center or a neighbor’s home are all viable options. Better yet, make a plan A and plan B in case one of your meeting spots is also damaged.
- Talk to your kids’ school or daycare facility to find out what their emergency plan is, and where the students would be taken for shelter.
- Create an emergency kit to keep in your trunk. This should contain items such as non-perishable liquids, nourishing snacks, a first-aid kit, blankets, tissues, flashlights and battery-operated radios.
- Locate the shut-off valve for your gas and electric lines. Demonstrate to all family members capable of handling utility valves how and when to shut off these sources.
- Determine which medical facility is closest to your home, as well as the local police and fire stations. Save this info into each family member’s cellphone and post it in a highly visible place in your home.
What to do during an earthquake
Being caught in an earthquake is terrifying, but knowing how to act can help you take control of the situation. FEMA suggests minimizing movements to the few steps it takes to get to a safe place. Know that some earthquakes are foreshocks, and larger earthquakes can follow. Similarly, large earthquakes can be followed by aftershocks, so wait until an area has been declared safe before you leave your shelter.
The best place to take shelter indoors is by dropping to the ground and getting under a sturdy piece of furniture. If none are nearby, cover face and head with arms and crouch in a corner far from windows, outside doors, and anything that can fall. Do not attempt to run outside, as this is when many injuries occur.
If you’re outside when an earthquake hits, stay away from buildings, streetlights and electrical wires. Crouch down low and survey your surroundings to be sure you’re far from any crumbling walls or falling debris. While in a car, stop in a safe place away from trees and overpasses and cut the engine. Do not attempt to cross any roads, bridges or ramps that may have sustained damage.
In the worst scenario, if you're caught under debris, cover your mouth with a cloth, and tap on something loudly to attract attention. Shouting can lead to dangerous dust inhalation, so best to use other mains to alert rescuers unless there is no other choice.
What to do after an earthquake
Earthquakes are often followed by secondary waves that are typically less violent in nature, but can do more damage – particularly to weakened structures. Stay away from buildings, streetlights or electric wires until the danger has passed.
When it is safe for you to return home, be cautious when opening closet and cabinet doors to avoid tumbling objects. Be on the lookout for spilled chemicals or gas smells, and alert the gas company with any suspicion of a leak. If you hear a hissing noise, leave immediately as this can indicate a damaged line that can cause a possible explosion. Sparks, frayed wires or a smoky smell may be signs of a potential electrical fire. Turn off the main breaker in the fuse box and call an electrician before turning it back on.
Got other ideas for an earthquake preparedness plan? Leave us a note in the comments below.