Last Updated on October 18, 2020
Editor’s Note: A contribution from Scott Huntington to The Prepper Journal. As a native and one who has been through multiple earthquakes I can say “amen” to holding our breath. There are so many faults that half of the quakes I experienced personally were generated by previously unknown faults in the Pacific plate, still considered the “ring of fire” by scientists worldwide. Whenever traveling to and from California I cross that mother of all faults, the San Andreas, where discussions always gravitate towards…. while the article speaks to California it applies to anywhere along the ring of fire, and yes, maybe Yellowstone as well.
Californians have been holding their breath for 20 years now, waiting for “the big one” to hit. Living in a fault zone can be nerve-wracking. The mental impact of not knowing when an earthquake might strike might be almost as damaging as the effects of the physical quake when you consider it over time.
But you can do some things to feel better. Earthquakes have been taking place since the beginning of time, and people have come to understand how to prepare for them. Here are our suggestions for the best ways to make ready for a quake.
Know If You Live in a High-Risk Area
Prepping for an earthquake might not be a good use of your time if you live in Nebraska. California gets a reputation as a seismic hotspot, which it probably deserves, but other places are high-risk zones as well. The USGS survey identifies areas across the country with seven levels of risk, which you can view in a color-coded map on their website.
The West Coast is particularly suspect when it comes to the risk of earthquakes, with the USGS map indicating the strongest probability of a quake is in Southern Alaska, Washington, California, Hawaii and Nevada. For those who choose to live in these states, there will always be a high risk, although the right construction can reinforce your home against the harmful effects of a quake. There is also a USGS program called Shakealert that claims to offer early warning of coming earthquakes, which might be worth your time if you live in a high-risk zone.
If earthquakes aren’t your thing, move away. That’s the best way to avoid them. But these are excellent places to live (political climate aside), so if you’re going to stick around…
Prepare Your Home
Minimize loose, heavy items in your house by fastening heavy furniture to the wall or avoiding it altogether. If you have the budget, you can consider installing reinforcing walls like we mentioned earlier, which will help ensure your home remains a safe zone during most earthquakes. If you work or live in a tall building, have a clearly marked evacuation plan and make sure everyone knows how to access it.
Have a communication plan with your children, which is fairly simple in the age of cell phones — but, should damaged cell towers cause coverage to go down, it’s smart for children to have a phone number or two memorized and know how to use social media to communicate they’re safe. At a minimum have a stated, know “meet location” for all family members. You really can’t depend on any infrastructure remaining uninterrupted in an earthquake.
An earthquake readiness kit isn’t quite the same as the bug-out bag you’d pack for a hurricane or tornado, but it’s similar. You could be facing a situation where communications and other infrastructure is down, so have extra doses of any special medications your family needs, clean water and snacks, a powerful flashlight and extra batteries. Apportion your supplies to last at least three days. Pack a first-aid kit with medical supplies to treat lacerations and bruises. While off-the-shelf kits are available for purchase, only YOU know your family and their real needs so start with the basics and build out your kit your way. Pick a couple of 72-hour periods and note everything the family consumes during that period, from water to food to medications as a starting point and then do the “what if’s?” – water supply is compromised, home is compromised, missing family member, what is Plan B – always have a backup/Plan B. As any military officer will tell you Plan A is out the window as soon as the first shot is fired.
In addition to these must-haves, some other items will round out your kit nicely, such as two-way radios and pet supplies if you’ve got any furry friends in the family. A multitool is a good idea as a substitute for a full selection of hand tools, and a breathing mask with a particulate filter is another excellent addition to protect your family’s lungs from the smoke and dust that could fill the air in the aftermath of an earthquake.
Know How to Respond During a Quake
Earthquakes are one natural disaster we usually can’t predict until it’s too late. That means you need to practice what to do when one hits before you’re in a bad situation. If you have kids, make sure you have a plan as a family for what to do if an earthquake starts.
As for what to do, less is more in the case of an earthquake. You aren’t going to have time to seek much shelter. The best motto is “drop, cover and hold on,” which is what children learn in school. If you are outdoors, don’t seek cover indoors. If you’re sleeping, use your pillows to protect your neck and head.
If an earthquake occurs while you’re driving, pull over in a space that’s clear of overhead buildings or potential debris. All you can do is wait the quake out in the safest possible place. Once the shaking stops, it’s time to evaluate the situation. Know what natural gas smells like, and immediately disable the gas lines in your home if you smell a leak. There are valves available to automatically shut off natural gas lines in case of an earthquake, have them installed by a licensed professional. Locate your earthquake kit and check in with your family. Once you have everything squared away, you might head out to see if you can help others.
In the Aftermath
Earthquakes often have aftershocks up to a day later, so be vigilant, because these can be severe incidents if the earthquake was powerful. Once you’ve established that you and your family are unharmed, put on your sturdy footwear and take a walk around the perimeter of your home to spot any damage that may have occurred.
Unlike the movies, and like hurricanes, the majority of injuries and deaths occur in the first 72 hours after the event, downed power lines, floods, broken infrastructure like damns and freeway overpasses, etc.
Monitor your radio and other means of communication for information about the damage the quake did and whether there is any public action to help those affected. Depending on your situation, it may be appropriate for you to help, or you may need to reach out for assistance, which is why it’s so critical to have your radio and supply of batteries.
Perhaps the most frightening thing about an earthquake is the way they happen with little to no warning. Having a practical plan and the right supplies in place can give you the peace of mind to get through an earthquake safely. It’s only a matter of time, so think ahead and practice these good habits to be ready when the day comes. Stay safe!