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Earthquake Preparedness

A severe earthquake is a frightening and destructive phenomenon of nature and its terrible aftereffects can leave people injured and in many cases homeless without needed supplies.

An earthquake (also known as a tremor or temblor) is the Earth’s continental plates moving slowly over, under, and past each other. Sometimes, the continental plate movement is gradual resulting in a tremor and at other times an abrupt shift results in an earthquake. Earthquakes occur because the plates are locked together, unable to release the accumulating energy; when the built-up energy grows strong enough, the plates push free.

When earthquakes occur in a populated area, the outcome may be many injuries, deaths, and extensive property damage.

Earthquake Kit Checklist:

  • Emergency water
  • Survival food rations
  • Breathing protection
  • Emergency light (flashlights and lanterns)
  • Emergency shelter (blankets, tents, etc)
  • Emergency communication (radio – crank, solar, battery powered)
  • Emergency first aid
  • Emergency tools
  • Emergency warmth
  • Emergency sanitation and hygiene

Earthquake Preparedness Terms

Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify an earthquake hazard:

  • Earthquake – A sudden slipping or movement of a portion of the earth’s crust, accompanied and followed by a series of vibrations.
  • Aftershock – An earthquake of similar or lesser intensity that follows the main earthquake.
  • Fault – The fracture across which displacement has occurred during an earthquake. The slippage may range from less than an inch to more than 10 yards in a severe earthquake.
  • Epicenter – The place on the earth’s surface directly above the point on the fault where the earthquake rupture began. Once fault slippage begins, it expands along the fault during the earthquake and can extend hundreds of miles before stopping.
  • Seismic Waves – Vibrations that travel outward from the earthquake fault at speeds of several miles per second. Although fault slippage directly under a structure can cause considerable damage, the vibrations of seismic waves cause most of the destruction during earthquakes.
  • Magnitude – The amount of energy released during an earthquake, which is computed from the amplitude of the seismic waves. A magnitude of 7.0 on the Richter Scale indicates an extremely strong earthquake. Each whole number on the scale represents an increase of about 30 times more energy released than the previous whole number represents. Therefore, an earthquake measuring 6.0 is about 30 times more powerful than one measuring 5.0. The largest earthquake ever recorded occurred near Santiago, Chile, in 1960. Known as the Great Chilean Earthquake, the quake measured an impressive 9.5 on the Richter scale. More recently was the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake which was recorded at 9.1 on the Richter Scale and generating a formidable tsunami which damaged much of the coastline of Southeast Asia.

Preparing for an Earthquake

Before an Earthquake

The following are things you can do prior to an earthquake to protect yourself, your family, and your property:

  • Hold earthquake drills regularly with your family members: Drop, cover, and hold on!
  • Locate and identify safe spots in each room of your home or business (e.g.) under a sturdy table or against an inside wall. Store your emergency earthquake kit in a safe central location that will be accessible after an earthquake. Be sure each member of the home or business is aware of these locations and reinforce this information by moving to these places during each drill.
  • Ensure that you have supplies accessible for you and each member of your household.
  • Should an earthquake occur when you are away from home, having an earthquake kit in your car and another earthquake kit at work may be critical to your comfort and survival.
  • If you have school aged children, don’t forget to make sure that their schools have adequate earthquake kits and earthquake supplies. Many schools have an earthquake plan but no earthquake supplies or classroom earthquake kits to support the plan.
  • Have defective electrical wiring, leaky gas lines, and inflexible utility connections repaired by a professional. (Do not work with gas or electrical lines yourself, leave this to a professional.)
  • Have an emergency tool with a gas main shut-off notch and water main shut-off notch, like the 4-in-1 Emergency Tool (72060) included with your kit and know how to use it.
  • To avoid gas or water leaks install flexible pipe fittings as flexible fittings are more resistant to breakage.
  • Bolt down and secure your water heater, refrigerator, furnace, and gas appliances to the wall studs. If recommended by your gas company, have an automatic gas shut-off valve installed that is triggered by strong (seismic) vibrations.
  • Be sure to brace tall top-heavy objects like shelves with straps or wall mount brackets and place large or heavy objects on lower shelves and fasten mirrors and large picture frames to walls.
  • Store bottled foods, glass, china, and other breakables on lower shelves or in cabinets that fasten shut.
  • Anchor overhead lighting fixtures with proper and secure fitted anchor screws.
  • Be sure the residence is firmly anchored to the foundation and when appropriate have the foundation inspected.

During an Earthquake

Minimize your movements during an earthquake to a few steps to a nearby safe place. Stay indoors until the shaking has stopped and you are sure exiting is safe.

If you are Indoors:

  • Take cover under a sturdy desk, table, or bench or against an inside wall, and hold on. If there isn’t a table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.
  • Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.
  • Stay in bed—if you are there when the earthquake
    strikes—hold on and protect your head with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place.
  • Use a doorway for shelter only if it is in close proximity to you and if you know it is a strongly supported, loadbearing doorway.
  • Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Most injuries during earthquakes occur when
    people are hit by falling objects when entering into or exiting from buildings.
  • Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler
    systems or fire alarms may turn on.
  • DO NOT use the elevators.

If you are Outdoors during an Earthquake:

  • Stay there.
  • Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires.

If you are in a moving vehicle:

  • Stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires.
  • Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped,
    watching for road and bridge damage.

Trapped under debris:

  • Do not light a match.
  • Do not move about or kick up dust.
  • Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.
  • Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort— shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.

After an Earthquake

  • After an earthquake you may be left with only the emergency survival supplies you have on hand. Without an earthquake kit or earthquake supplies, you may be left without the basics for survival for hours, days or longer.
  • Be prepared for aftershocks. These secondary shockwaves are usually less violent than the main quake but can be strong enough to do additional damage to weakened structures.
  • Open cabinets cautiously. Beware of objects that can fall off shelves.
  • Stay away from damaged areas unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire, or relief organizations.
  • Be aware of possible tsunamis if you live in coastal areas. These are also known as seismic sea waves (mistakenly called “tidal waves”). When local authorities issue a tsunami warning, assume that a series of dangerous waves is on the way. Stay away from the beach.


For More Information
If you require more information about any of these topics, the following are resources that may be helpful.

FEMA Publications

Avoiding Earthquake Damage: A Checklist for Homeowners. Safety tips for before, during, and after an earthquake

Preparedness in High-Rise Buildings. FEMA-76. Earthquake safety tips for high-rise dwellers

Learning to Live in Earthquake Country: Preparedness in Apartments and Mobile Homes. L-143. Safety tips on earthquake preparation for residents of apartments and mobile homes

Family Earthquake Safety Home Hazard Hunt and Drill. FEMA-113. How to identify home hazards; how to conduct earthquake drills

Earthquake Preparedness: What Every Childcare Provider Should Know. FEMA 240. Publication for teachers and for presentation to children. Available online at