The United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that several million earthquakes occur worldwide every year, although the majority are of minimal magnitude or affect remote locations. However, certain areas of the world are prone to high-magnitude earthquakes. With the number of casualties still rising from the recent earthquakes in Ecuador and Japan, and international aid pouring in, we would like to remind you how to prepare for and recover from a major earthquake.
What is an earthquake?
Earthquakes are a sudden rolling and/or shaking of the earth’s surface. They typically last for less than a minute, although aftershocks can persist for days and even weeks after the initial earthquake. Earthquakes happen when the ground beneath the surface of the earth breaks or shifts, typically occurring along fault lines, and they can be felt over extremely large areas. Earthquakes can also lead to other disasters, like tsunamis.
How to prepare
Do some research to determine whether you live in an area that is at risk for earthquakes or whether your upcoming travel plans may take you into an earthquake-prone area. If you are, consider the following measures to prepare for an earthquake:
- Practice drills: drop to your hands and knees, cover your head and neck (entire body if possible), and hold on to until the shaking stops
- Identify safe places, like underneath a piece of stable piece of furniture or against an interior wall
- Make sure you have an evacuation plan
- Write down important information (e.g., emergency phone numbers and medical info) and store it in a safe place.
- Create an emergency priority list of things to do if an earthquake strikes
- Stock up/gather emergency supplies that can be used in the days following an earthquake
- Stay informed and connected through local authorities and news outlets
How to respond
If you are in an area that is experiencing an earthquake, you can take a number of steps to help reduce your risk of suffering an injury. These steps differ depending on whether you are indoors or outdoors.
- Drop, cover, and hold on. Try not to move. Lock your wheels if you use a wheelchair
Stay away from windows and tall furniture, and do not stay in a doorway—go to an interior wall or corner if possible. If you are in bed, stay there and cover your head and neck with pillows
- Stay indoors until the shaking stops. When it is safe to exit, use the stairs instead of an elevator (in case of aftershocks or power outages)
- Be aware that fire alarms often go off during earthquakes, even if there is no fire
- Find a clear spot away from buildings, lights, wires, and other infrastructure, and then drop, cover, and hold on
- If you are in a city and cannot find an open area, you may need to enter a building to avoid falling debris
- If you are in a vehicle, pull over to a clear location, stop, fasten your seatbelt, and do not move When the shaking stops, drive carefully and avoid damaged bridges and roads
- Never exit your vehicle if a power line has fallen on it
- Be alert for falling rocks, debris, and landslides if you are in a mountainous location
- If you are near the shore and there is significant shaking for more than 20 seconds, immediately head several kilometres inland or get to higher ground
How to recover
If you are trapped in debris, call for help using your voice or cell phone, tap on a wall or pipe so rescuers can locate you. Do not move or kick up dust. Do not shout, since this could cause you to inhale a dangerous amount of dust. If you are not trapped in debris, you can take the following measures to recover from an earthquake:
- Leave the building and go to an open space if the path is clear and safe. Stay away from damaged areas, broken gas lines, and fallen power lines
- Prepare for potential aftershocks, landslides, or tsunamis
- Get medical assistance, if necessary
- Monitor reports of local authorities (radio, TV, social media, etc.)
- Wear long clothing to protect yourself against broken objects
- Get everyone out of the area if it is unsafe
- Extinguish small fires if needed
- Help those who require assistance
- Be careful when driving, avoiding damaged bridges, roads, and power lines
- Let your family know you are safe
- Do not use water sources that may have become contaminated
- Return to your place of residence only when authorities say it is safe to do so
Who to contact
- Local authorities (police, emergency services, etc.)
- Your local embassy
- Your insurance company or assistance provider
- After the event, contact your family and friends once you are safe
For information on travel insurance and products, visit Ingle International.