Editor's note: An earthquake hit several U.S. states on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. Read our coverage of it here.
Because earthquakes offer little warning, earthquake safety tips are very important.
Science and satellites provide a bit of warning for most other natural disasters. A hurricane is carefully tracked and forecasts of a storm’s projected path provide days to brace for the wind and the rains. While there may be just a few minutes warning of an approaching tornado, weather experts will know when conditions are ripe for an outbreak.
There is no such foreshadowing when an earthquake rumbles. The sudden cracking and shifting of rock beneath the Earth's surface can collapse buildings and bridges, crack open natural gas pipelines, trigger landslides and tsunamis.
The risk of an earthquake varies widely across the county. Most earthquakes in the United States occur west of the Rocky Mountains, but an area of very high risk is near Memphis, Tennessee and the New Madrid Fault.
A map of earthquake risk can be found on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s web site.
Before an earthquake
- Pack an emergency preparedness kit that will meet the needs of you and your family for three days. The kit, of course, will be handy in the wake of any natural or man-made disaster. An emergency preparedness kit needs to include food and water for each member of your family for three days, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, flashlight, spare batteries, first aid kit, can opener, toilet paper, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation. A complete list of recommended items for an emergency kit can be found at Ready.gov, FEMA’s emergency preparedness Web site.
- If you live in an area at very high risk for earthquake — southern California, for example — you should pack a smaller emergency preparedness kit to keep in your car.
- Identify possible hazards in your home. For example, fasten shelves and large pieces of furniture such as a cupboard securely to walls. Make sure your hot water heater is braced and strapped (See this PDF document for more details on bracing and strapping your water heater).
- Learn how to turn off the natural gas, water and electricity to your home. Practice it.
- Download free publications on earthquake survival preparedness on FEMA’s website.
During an earthquake
- If you’re in bed, stay there unless there is a heavy light fixture above the bed. Protect your head with your pillow.
- If you’re indoors, drop to the ground and take cover under a sturdy table or other piece of stout furniture.
- Stay away from windows, mirrors and any other sort of glass.
- If you’re outside, stay there. Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires.
- If you’re driving, stop as quickly as you safely can. Don’t stop near buildings, trees, bridges or power lines. Stay in the car.
After an earthquake
- Check everyone for injuries. Don’t move anyone seriously injured unless they are at risk for further injury.
- Put on a stout pair of shoes if you’re barefoot.
- Check for fires. Put out small ones — if you can — using the fire extinguisher that is part of your emergency preparedness kit.
- Check for natural gas leaks. If you smell gas, leave the house and shut off the gas from the main valve.
- Check for damage to electrical wiring in the home. If you find any, shut off the power to the house.
- Plug bathtub and sink drains to prevent sewage backup.
- Stay away from downed power lines.
- Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches and flammable liquids as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of fire and exposure to toxic fumes.
- If you live along the coast, be alert to the risk of tsunamis.
- Expect aftershocks.