Read the Disclaimer!
of this page) Earthquakes
strike suddenly, without
warning. Earthquakes can occur at any time of the year and
at any time
of the day or night. On a yearly basis, 70 to 75 damaging earthquakes
throughout the world. Estimates of losses from a future earthquake in
United States approach $200 billion.
Why Talk About Earthquakes?
There are 41 states and territories in the United
States at moderate
to high risk from earthquakes, and they are located in every
of the country. California experiences the most frequent damaging
however, Alaska experiences the greatest number of large
located in uninhabited areas. The largest earthquakes felt in
United States were along the New Madrid Fault in Missouri, where a
long series of quakes from 1811 to 1812 included three quakes larger
a magnitude of 8 on the
Richter Scale. These earthquakes were felt over the
United States, with Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois,
Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi experiencing the strongest ground
What Are Earthquakes, and What Causes Them?
An earthquake is a sudden, rapid shaking of the Earth caused
breaking and shifting of rock beneath the Earth's surface.
of millions of years, the forces of plate tectonics have shaped the
as the huge plates that form the Earth's surface move slowly over,
and past each other. Sometimes the movement is gradual. At other times,
the plates are locked together, unable to release the accumulating
When the accumulated energy grows strong enough, the plates break free
causing the ground to shake. Most earthquakes occur at the boundaries
the plates meet; however, some earthquakes occur in the middle of
Ground shaking from earthquakes can collapse
buildings and bridges;
disrupt gas, electric, and phone service; and sometimes trigger
avalanches, flash floods, fires, and huge, destructive ocean waves
Buildings with foundations resting on unconsolidated landfill and other
unstable soil, and trailers and homes not tied to their foundations are
at risk because they can be shaken off their mountings during an
When an earthquake occurs in a populated area, it may cause deaths and
injuries and extensive property damage.
The Northridge, California, earthquake of January 17,
a modern urban environment generally designed to withstand the forces
earthquakes. Its economic cost, nevertheless, has been estimated at $20
billion. Fortunately, relatively few lives were lost. Exactly
later, Kobe, Japan, a densely populated community less prepared for
than Northridge, was devastated by the most costly earthquake ever to
Property losses were projected at $96 billion, and at least 5,378
were killed. These two earthquakes tested building codes and
practices, as well as emergency preparedness and response procedures.
Where earthquakes have occurred in the past, they will happen
Learn whether earthquakes are a risk in your area by contacting your
emergency management office, American
Red Cross chapter, state geological survey, or department of
Expect aftershocks. Aftershocks are smaller
earthquakes that follow
the main shock and can cause further damage to weakened buildings.
can occur in the first hours, days, weeks, or even months after the
Be aware that some earthquakes are actually foreshocks, and a larger
Ground movement during an earthquake is seldom the
direct cause of
death or injury. Most earthquake-related injuries result
walls, flying glass, and falling objects as a result of the ground
or people trying to move more than a few feet during the shaking. Much
of the damage in earthquakes is predictable and preventable. We must
work together in our communities to apply our knowledge to building
retrofitting programs, hazard hunts, and neighborhood and family
Plan for an Earthquake
Develop a Family Disaster Plan. Please see the "Family
Disaster Plan" section for general family planning
earthquake-specific planning. Learn about earthquake risk in
Contact your local emergency management office, American Red Cross
state geological survey, or department of natural resources for
information and earthquake preparedness for your area. Although there
41 states or territories at moderate to high risk, many people do not
the potential for earthquakes in their area.
If you are at risk from earthquakes:
- Pick "safe places" in each room of your home.
A safe place could
be under a sturdy table or desk or against an interior wall away from
bookcases, or tall furniture that could fall on you. The shorter the
to move to safety, the less likely you will be injured. Injury
show that persons moving more than 10 feet during an earthquake's
are most likely to experience injury.
- Practice drop, cover, and hold-on in each safe
place. Drop under
a sturdy desk or table, hold on, and protect your eyes by pressing your
face against your arm. Practicing will make these actions an automatic
response. When an earthquake or other disaster occurs, many people
trying to remember what they are supposed to do. Responding quickly and
automatically may help protect you from injury.
- Practice drop, cover, and hold-on at least twice
a year. Frequent
practice will help reinforce safe behavior.
- Talk with your insurance agent.
Different areas have different requirements
for earthquake protection. Study locations of active faults, and if you
are at risk, consider purchasing earthquake insurance.
- Inform guests, babysitters, and caregivers of
your plan. Everyone
in your home should know what to do if an earthquake occurs. Assure
that others will respond properly even if you are not at home during
- Get training. Take a first aid class
from your local Red Cross chapter.
Get training on how to use a fire extinguisher from your local fire
Keep your training current. Training will help you to keep calm and
what to do when an earthquake occurs.
- Discuss earthquakes with your family.
Everyone should know what
to do in case all family members are not together. Discussing
ahead of time helps reduce fear and anxiety and lets everyone know how
What to Tell Children
- Find safe places in every room of your home and
your classroom. Look
for safe places inside and outside of other buildings where you spend
The shorter the distance you have to travel when the ground shakes, the
safer you will be. Earthquakes can happen anytime and anywhere, so be
wherever you go.
- If you're indoors during an earthquake, drop,
cover, and hold on.
Get under a desk, table or bench. Hold on to one of the legs and cover
your eyes. If there's no table or desk nearby, sit down against an
wall. An interior wall is less likely to collapse than a wall on the
shell of the building. Pick a safe place where things will not fall on
you, away from windows, bookcases, or tall, heavy furniture. It is
to run outside when an earthquake happens because bricks, roofing, and
other materials may fall from buildings during and immediately
earthquakes, injuring persons near the buildings.
- Wait in your safe place until the shaking stops,
then check to see if
you are hurt. You will be better able to help others if you
of yourself first, then check the people around you. Move carefully and
watch out for things that have fallen or broken, creating hazards. Be
for additional earthquakes called "aftershocks."
- Be on the lookout for fires. Fire is
the most common earthquake-related
hazard, due to broken gas lines, damaged electrical lines or
and previously contained fires or sparks being released.
- If you must leave a building after the shaking
stops, use the stairs,
not the elevator. Earthquakes can cause fire alarms and fire
to go off. You will not be certain whether there is a real threat of
As a precaution, use the stairs.
- If you're outside in an earthquake, stay
outside. Move away from buildings,
trees, streetlights, and power lines. Crouch down and cover your head.
Many injuries occur within 10 feet of the entrance to buildings.
roofing, and other materials can fall from buildings, injuring persons
nearby. Trees, streetlights, and power lines may also fall, causing
Assemble a Disaster
Please see the "Disaster
Supplies Kit" section
for general supplies kit information. Earthquake-specific supplies
include the following:
- A flashlight and sturdy shoes by each person's
- Disaster Supplies Kit basics
Evacuation Supply Kit.
How to Protect Your Property
- Bolt bookcases, china cabinets, and other tall
furniture to wall studs.
Brace or anchor high or top-heavy objects. During an
items can fall over, causing damage or injury.
- Secure items that might fall (televisions,
books, computers, etc.).
Falling items can cause damage or injury.
- Install strong latches or bolts on cabinets.
The contents of cabinets
can shift during the shaking of an earthquake. Latches will prevent
from flying open and contents from falling out.
- Move large or heavy objects and fragile items
(glass or china) to lower
shelves. There will be less damage and less chance of injury
items are on lower shelves.
- Store breakable items such as bottled foods,
glass, and china in low,
closed cabinets with latches. Latches will help keep contents
- Store weed killers, pesticides, and flammable
products securely in closed
cabinets with latches, on bottom shelves. Chemical products
less likely to create hazardous situations from lower, confined
- Hang heavy items, such as pictures and mirrors,
away from beds, couches,
and anywhere people sit. Earthquakes can knock things off
damage or injury.
- Brace overhead light fixtures. During
earthquakes, overhead light
fixtures are the most common items to fall, causing damage or injury.
- Strap the water heater to wall studs.
The water heater may be your
best source of drinkable water following an earthquake. Protect it from
damage and leaks.
- Bolt down any gas appliances. After an
earthquake, broken gas lines
frequently create fire hazards.
- Install flexible pipe fittings to avoid gas or
water leaks. Flexible
fittings will be less likely to break.
- Repair any deep cracks in ceilings or
foundations. Get expert advice
if there are signs of structural defects. Earthquakes can
into ruptures and make smaller problems bigger.
- Check to see if your house is bolted to its
foundation. Homes bolted
to their foundations are less likely to be severely damaged during
Homes that are not bolted have been known to slide off their
and many have been destroyed because they are uninhabitable.
- Consider having your building evaluated by a
design engineer. Ask about home repair and strengthening tips
features, such as porches, front and back decks, sliding glass doors,
carports, and garage doors. Learn about additional ways you can protect
your home. A professional can give you advice on how to reduce
Follow local seismic building standards
and safe land use codes
that regulate land use along fault lines. Some municipalities,
and states have enacted codes and standards to protect property and
Learn about your area's codes before construction.
Media and Community Education Ideas
- Ask your community to develop stronger building
codes are the public's first line of defense against earthquakes. The
specify the levels of earthquake forces that structures must be
to withstand. As ground motions of greater intensity have been
the minimum earthquake requirements specified in building codes have
- Publish a special section in your local
newspaper with emergency information
on earthquakes. Localize the information by printing the
of local emergency services offices, the American Red Cross, and
- Conduct a week-long newspaper series on locating
hazards in the home.
- Work with local emergency services and American
Red Cross officials to
prepare special reports for people with mobility impairments about what
to do during an earthquake.
- Provide tips on conducting earthquake drills in
- Interview representatives of the gas, electric,
and water companies
about shutting off utilities.
What to Do During an Earthquake
- Drop, cover, and hold on! Move only a
few steps to a nearby safe
place. Most injured persons in earthquakes move more than five feet
the shaking. It is very dangerous to try to leave a building during an
earthquake because objects can fall on you. Many fatalities occur when
people run outside of buildings, only to be killed by falling debris
collapsing walls. In U.S. buildings, you are safer to stay where you
- If you are in bed, hold on and stay there,
protecting your head with
a pillow. You are less likely to be injured staying where you
Broken glass on the floor has caused injury to those who have rolled to
the floor or tried to get to doorways.
- If you are outdoors, find a clear spot away from
buildings, trees, streetlights,
and power lines. Drop to the ground and stay there until the shaking
Injuries can occur from falling trees, street-lights and power lines,
- If you are in a vehicle, pull over to a clear
location, stop and stay
there with your seatbelt fastened until the shaking has stopped.
power lines, poles, street signs, and other overhead items may fall
earthquakes. Stopping will help reduce your risk, and a hard-topped
will help protect you from flying or falling objects. Once the shaking
has stopped, proceed with caution. Avoid bridges or ramps that might
been damaged by the quake.
- Stay indoors until the shaking stops and you're
sure it's safe to exit.
More injuries happen when people move during the shaking of an
After the shaking has stopped, if you go outside, move quickly away
the building to prevent injury from falling debris.
- Stay away from windows. Windows can
shatter with such force that
you can be injured several feet away.
- In a high-rise building, expect the fire alarms
and sprinklers to go
off during a quake. Earthquakes frequently cause fire alarm
sprinkler systems to go off even if there is no fire. Check for and
small fires, and, if exiting, use the stairs.
- If you are in a coastal area, move to higher
ground. Tsunamis are
often created by earthquakes. (See the "Tsunami"section
for more information).
- If you are in a mountainous area or near
unstable slopes or cliffs,
be alert for falling rocks and other debris that could be loosened by
earthquake. Landslides commonly happen after earthquakes.
(See the "Landslide"
section for more information.)
What to Do After an Earthquake
When entering buildings, use extreme caution.
Building damage may
have occurred where you least expect it. Carefully watch every step you
- Check yourself for injuries. Often
people tend to others without
checking their own injuries. You will be better able to care for others
if you are not injured or if you have received first aid for your
- Protect yourself from further danger by putting
on long pants, a long-sleeved
shirt, sturdy shoes, and work gloves. This will protect your
injury by broken objects.
- After you have taken care of yourself, help
injured or trapped persons.
If you have it in your area, call 9-1-1, then give first aid when
Don't try to move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate
danger of further injury.
- Look for and extinguish small fires. Eliminate
fire hazards. Putting
out small fires quickly, using available resources, will prevent them
spreading. Fire is the most common hazard following earthquakes. Fires
followed the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 for three days, creating
more damage than the earthquake.
- Leave the gas on at the main valve, unless you
smell gas or think it's
leaking. It may be weeks or months before professionals can
back on using the correct procedures. Explosions have caused injury and
death when homeowners have improperly turned their gas back on by
- Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline,
or other flammable liquids
immediately. Avoid the hazard of a chemical emergency.
- Open closet and cabinet doors cautiously.
Contents may have shifted
during the shaking of an earthquake and could fall, creating further
- Inspect your home for damage. Get everyone out
if your home is unsafe.
Aftershocks following earthquakes can cause further damage to unstable
buildings. If your home has experienced damage, get out before
- Help neighbors who may require special
assistance. Elderly people
and people with disabilities may require additional assistance. People
who care for them or who have large families may need additional
in emergency situations.
- Listen to a portable, battery-operated radio (or
television) for updated
emergency information and instructions. If the electricity is
this may be your main source of information. Local radio and local
provide the most appropriate advice for your particular situation.
- Expect aftershocks. Each time you feel
one, drop, cover, and hold
on! Aftershocks frequently occur minutes, days, weeks, and even months
following an earthquake.
- Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas
lines, and stay out of
damaged areas. Hazards caused by earthquakes are often
see, and you could be easily injured.
- Stay out of damaged buildings. If you
are away from home, return
only when authorities say it is safe. Damaged buildings may be
by aftershocks following the main quake.
- Use battery-powered lanterns or flashlights to
inspect your home.
Kerosene lanterns, torches, candles, and matches may tip over or ignite
- Inspect the entire length of chimneys carefully
for damage. Unnoticed
damage could lead to fire or injury from falling debris during an
Cracks in chimneys can be the cause of a fire years later.
- Take pictures of the damage, both to the house
and its contents, for
- Avoid smoking inside buildings.
Smoking in confined areas can cause
- Examine walls, floor, doors, staircases, and
windows to make sure that
the building is not in danger of collapsing.
- Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas
or hear a blowing or hissing
noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas,
using the outside main valve if you can, and call the gas company from
a neighbor's home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be
back on by a professional.
- Look for electrical system damage. If
you see sparks or broken or
frayed wires, or if you smell burning insulation, turn off the
at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water
get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for
- Check for sewage and water line damage.
If you suspect sewage lines
are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes
are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the
You can obtain safe water from undamaged water heaters or by melting
- Watch for loose plaster, drywall, and ceilings
that could fall.
- Use the telephone only to report
life-threatening emergencies. Telephone
lines are frequently overwhelmed in disaster situations. They need to
clear for emergency calls to get through.
- Watch animals closely. Leash dogs and place them
in a fenced yard.
The behavior of pets may change dramatically after an earthquake.
quiet and friendly cats and dogs may become aggressive or defensive.
Produced by the National
Disaster Education Coalition: American
Red Cross, FEMA,
IAEM, IBHS, NFPA, NWS, USDA/CSREES,
and USGS. HTML
formating By the
From: Talking About Disaster: Guide for Standard
by the National Disaster Education Coalition, Washington, D.C., 1999.
For information pertaining to emergency planning and response in your
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