Many people live and travel where a major earthquake could occur at any moment. Knowing how to prepare for and act during an earthquake could save your life. When the earth begins to shake, and buildings begin to fallTake the time now to learn the skills you will need and learn what items you should keep to prepare for a disaster.

How to Prepare Before an Earthquake Strikes

It's always prudent to prepare for disasters before they occur. It's usually impossible to predict just when an earthquake will strike, so taking some time beforehand to prepare could save your life.

Be sure to plan what you will do and where you will go in the event of an earthquake. Prepare a 72-hour kit and place it in a location that is accessible during an emergency.  In addition to the supplies in the 72-hour kit, keep a supply of water and non-perishable food in case you are stranded or trapped. Where possible, keep tools (e.g. a hammer, crowbar, knife, shovel, etc.) in an accessible location in case you need to dig or pry someone or something out of wreckage. Even if your location isn't severely damaged you may be able to help someone less fortunate than you.

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There are many excellent books and online resources about how to prepare for a disaster and how to build an emergency kit and stockpile of supplies. An excellent book to start with is When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need to Survive When Disaster Strikes by Cody Lundin. Another excellent book that focuses on building a 72-hour kit is Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag: Your 72-Hour Disaster Survival Kit by Creek Stewart.

Teach all family members about earthquake safety, including what they should do during in an earthquake, and safe places to take cover.

Have a communication plan in place beforehand including where to gather, and who to contact. It is a good practice to have a contact in another location that may not be affected by the earthquake, each person can then communicate with the designated contact. The designated contact can then keep track of who is accounted for and communicate that information to authorities.

Communicate and practice your emergency plan, so that in the event of a real earthquake you and your family will be familiar with what you will need to do to stay safe. There are no guarantees of safety during an emergency, but being prepared will increase the chance of survival and rescue.

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Try to arrange objects in your home safely. Use earthquake straps or anchors to secure heavy furniture and objects to the walls. Do not hang heavy objects or decorations above places in the home where individuals sleep. It's also best to store heavy objects on bottom shelves and to secure breakable items in cupboards with latches. Be sure to correctly secure the water heater with a water-heater strap. Store any dangerous chemicals such as pesticides on bottom shelves and in cabinets with latches if possible. Also, be sure to check with a home inspector to ensure that your home is correctly attached to the foundation.

Above all, hold periodic earthquake drills with the family to simulate how you would act in event of a real earthquake. Hold the drills at various times of day or night and it difference seasons and weather, as an earthquake could strike at any time. It is much easier to follow the plan when it has already been practiced.

How to Survive an Earthquake

If you are indoors, stay there. "Drop, cover and hold," is the United States standard for earthquake safety. Move quickly and calmly to a safe location such as under a strong desk or table, along and interior wall, or in an interior doorway. Avoid taking cover near windows or any large items that could fall and injure you (decorations, large mirrors, bookshelves, etc.). If you are in the process of cooking, turn off the stove before taking cover if possible to help avoid a fire.

If you are located in a high-rise building and are not near a desk or table, move toward an interior wall to take cover. Do not use the elevators. Additionally, if you are in a crowded store or similar location, stay calm and resist the urge to run to the exits. Take cover away from any shelving or merchandise that could potentially fall on you.

If you are outdoors when an earthquake strikes, move to an open area away from any objects or structures that strike you if they fall. This includes trees, buildings, power lines, etc. If you are driving, slow down smoothly and stop on the side of the road. Avoid stopping on or under overpasses and bridges, under power lines, and near any trees and large signs. Do not exit the vehicle, unless you are in a parking structure that could collapse; in which case you should crouch next to the car.

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What to do After an Earthquake

After an earthquake subsides you should first check for injuries, and attend to injuries of others if necessary. If you are in a familiar location such as your home or office, know where to find medical supplies and keep a first aid kit in you emergency kit.

Check water, electric, and gas lines for damage. If you smell gas or hear natural gas leaking, evacuate the building and, if possible, open windows and doors. If you suspect that gas lines may be damaged, turn off the gas at the meter if it can be done safely. Using someone else's telephone of a cell phone from a safe location, notify the fire department and gas company of the leak. Avoid using any electrical devices that could cause a spark and ignite the gas.

If you see any sparks, see exposed or damaged wires, or smell wire insulation burning you should turn off the electricity at the fuse box or breaker. However, if you must step into water to turn off the electricity, contact a professional to turn off the power. 

The power could very well be knocked out during an earthquake. When practicing your earthquake plan, be sure to practice taking cover and evacuating in the dark and after daylight.

After securing your location or moving to a safe location, turn on the radio to listen for reports and emergency information regarding the earthquake. Avoid using the telephone unless it is an emergency. If you are using a cell phone, it is often more successful to communicate via text message rather than by phone conversation during a disaster.

Take care when near debris and broken glass, avoid any damages structures and buildings. Also, if you live near the ocean avoid beaches in case of a tsunami or seiche.

Expect that there will be subsequent aftershocks, and take appropriate measures to protect yourself when one occurs.

Above all, rely on your practice and follow your emergency plan as best as you can. Make a plan for shelter, food, water, etc. as you wait for help to arrive or as you evacuate the location.

How to Survive an Earthqauke