How To Successfully Prepare For An Earthquake [Best Advice 4 Before, During And After]

prepare for an earthquake aftermath

Serious preppers always advise getting prepared for an earthquake because it is one of the most destructive natural disasters that can happen on Earth.

Most of us don’t have firsthand experience with Earthquakes. We have no earthquake preparedness. We have all watched movies where Earth opens, fires start everywhere, buildings collapse in seconds and the Rock saves everybody. We think that’s an unrealistic portrayal of what can happen, meant to amuse the audience. In our minds, earthquakes happen rarely and somewhere far away. We are not convinced they are dangerous at all.

Well, we couldn’t be more wrong. The reality of earthquake aftermath is as much or even harsher than the movies, and far more dangerous. Anything is possible after an earthquake — tsunami, flood, fires, massive destruction, people lost under rubbles, etc. The affected areas usually look like a war zone.

As preppers recommend, we should prepare for an earthquake to minimize its devastating effects. You should also know that is only a matter of time when an earthquake will happen. You shouldn’t live in denial that an earthquake can be avoided.

How to prepare for an earthquake? Firstly, by raising awareness of earthquake danger. Undeniably, our biggest mistake is denial. The famous Earthquake Lady pointed out the necessity to prepare for an earthquake. Earthquake preparedness should be done on the global and state levels.

 Secondly, you can prepare for an earthquake by implementing and practicing earthquake safety procedures.

If you want to learn all about earthquake preparedness and achieve earthquake safety, continue reading this article. Since words often fail to describe and persuade, I urge you to watch all the videos included.

WHAT IS AN EARTHQUAKE?

An earthquake is a natural disaster when the ground shakes. Earthquakes are superficial tremors caused by movements happening below. Powerful earthquakes can be extremely dangerous because they are unpredictable and cause extreme destruction — buildings collapse, electricity is cut off, phone lines disconnect, fires start, landslides, tsunamis, floods, etc.

The causes of earthquakes

Earthquakes are mainly caused by tectonic activity. The causes can also be human activity (explosions) and global warming according to the latest research. There are 7 massive tectonic plates on Earth and many smaller ones that move and their movement causes earthquakes. So, our planet may seem solid and motionless, but in reality, it really isn’t. The Earth is constantly slowly moving (rotating) and the plates themselves are moving at the same time.

Interestingly, the movement of the plates wasn’t described until 1967 when McKenzie and Parker used Euler’s Theorem and proved how once uniform rigid regions started moving away from each other. They described how the boundaries of the plates are where we can find trenches, volcanoes, and earthquakes.

In their research paper, they mentioned both Mendocino and San Andreas faults, the complicated region of ocean floor off the coast of Northern California, and Alaska where a 1964 earthquake proved the activity of several faults.

Types of earthquakes

There are many types of earthquakes — tectonic, volcano-tectonic, collapse, explosion, tsunami, submarine. Their names are indicative of their triggers or effects.

Geologists also differentiate foreshocks that happen before the main earthquake, and aftershocks that occur afterward. Foreshocks and aftershocks are actually smaller earthquakes.

Earthquake stages

5 Earthquake stages are based on Harry Fielding Reid’s Elastic-rebound theory. The theory explains how energy is released during an earthquake.

The 5 earthquake stages are Elastic buildup, Dilatancy, Influx of water, Earthquake, and Aftershocks. It is useful to know these stages when you prepare for an earthquake.

How earthquakes are measured

Scientists measure earthquake vibrations or seismic waves using a seismometer. Today, we can know the exact time, location, and intensity of an earthquake.

Throughout history, scientists have used many models to measure the magnitude of an earthquake starting with the Richter scale (1935) and Moment magnitude (1979) currently being in use. The symbol for the Moment magnitude scale is Mw.

So, if an earthquake has a magnitude of 7.9, we now say that it has an estimated moment magnitude of 7.9. It is especially important to prepare for an earthquake having in mind the possible intensities.

prepare for an earthquake damage
Photo by Sunyu Kim on Unsplash

EARTHQUAKE PREPAREDNESS: HOW TO PREPARE FOR AN EARTHQUAKE BEFORE IT HAPPENS

What are the 5 earthquake hazards?

Earthquake hazards or dangers are ground shaking, liquefaction, ground movement, flooding, and fire.

  • Ground shaking causes structural damage to buildings.
  • Liquefaction happens when underground water comes up to the surface and causes building collapse.
  • Ground movement happens along a fault, so ground cracks open and causes damage to anything above it.
  • Flooding includes both small rivers overflowing and tsunamis.
  • Fire usually follows building damage.

Can we predict earthquakes?

Seismology studies earthquakes which includes trying to predict them. Earthquake hazard maps show us the probability of an earthquake and potential levels of shaking. These seismic maps clearly show hot zones that are potentially dangerous.

If you follow the red dots on the world map, you will see a clear pattern that mostly follows the equator. In the U.S. areas with the highest hazard include all of the western coast, Alaska, and parts of Hawaii. There is also a rather large red zone west of Tennessee.

Therefore, it can be concluded that while you may not know when an earthquake will come, you can certainly predict where it will happen and prepare for an earthquake in time. Countries from these areas are aware of the danger looming over their heads and have been preparing for decades. Areas in red seismic hazard zones can expect to be hit hard, with a lot of damage and human casualties. Therefore, they should prepare for an earthquake on a state level.

earthquake hazard map
Example model of future seismicity in the U.S. (Public domain.)

Earthquake warning signs

There are subtle earthquake warning signs, but you have to know where to look. Seismic activity can cause the rise of water in wells and rivers. Animals start behaving strangely, dogs bark and try to run away. There will be disturbances in the radio and TV reception.

Seismologists study earthquakes extensively, especially foreshocks, striving to predict and warn us about the next Big One. The problem with prediction is the lack of past studies because modern technology that is used to measure earthquakes simply didn’t exist 50 years ago. That’s why science warns us to prepare for an earthquake first.

The importance of earthquake preparedness and awareness

Earthquakes happen daily all over the world. Most of us, apart from scientists, don’t feel them and forget about their existence, because they are minor earthquakes. If you visit earthquaketrack, you can see how active our planet really is. For a full U.S. seismological report visit USGS.

List of Today's earthquakes
Screenshot earthquaketrack

Since we know that earthquakes can’t be avoided, we must do all in our power to prepare for an earthquake to prevent serious damage and casualties.

To prepare for an earthquake on a state level, buildings are built to code that ensures structural safety during earthquakes. In 2007, Japan introduced J-alert: disaster warning system in an effort to save lives after the disastrous Kobe earthquake.

But, what about people? How can we prepare for an earthquake best?

You must educate yourself and prepare for the worst-case scenario, as preppers would say. Because, when SHTF, you better have a plan A, B, and C already in place.

Earthquake lessons from Japan

Japan is a country with the highest risk of earthquakes. The Japanese have embraced the omnipresent danger and learned how to live with it. Because they prepare for an earthquake since childhood, on a state level, everyone can learn from their example.

Firstly, let’s take a fun earthquake test to see how much we really know.

Take this fun Japanese earthquake test.

Hmm. Not so great, right? Well, we’re just getting started. Let’s continue with a video of how little school boys and girls in Japan prepare for an earthquake.

From an early age, kids are taught not to panic and to follow the exact procedure. In Japanese schools, earthquake drills are practiced at least twice a year, sometimes on the anniversary of the Kobe earthquake that happened in 1995.

The aftermath of the Kobe earthquake is astounding — 6,433 people dead, 45,000 left homeless, and $100 billion of damage (explosion at the Fukushima nuclear power plant). What lessons have we learned asks the author of a medical paper. It is extremely difficult to deal with the aftermath unless you prepare for an earthquake in advance. Disaster reduction and preparedness have become a global agenda.

Tourists in Japan should download early earthquake warning apps like Yurekuru Call. It countdowns to an earthquake or tsunami letting you know how much time you have to escape a building, for example.

With practice, everyone can prepare for an earthquake and achieve the same level of earthquake preparedness. Let’s start with a plan for earthquake safety first.

“If you’re not always prepared,

You’re never prepared.”

anonymous prepper

Earthquake preparedness plan

Everybody should make an emergency plan that includes detailed steps on what to do before, during, and after an earthquake. Every member of your family should know their duties when you prepare for an earthquake. Everybody should know exactly what to do, without confusion and panic. When people prepare for an earthquake emergency beforehand they deal better with panic, losses, and damages.

Make a plan on how to communicate and stay in contact with other members of your family if you get separated. Together, as a family, decide on a bug-out location which will serve as a meeting place after an earthquake.

You can investigate your community’s earthquake preparedness plans. Try to find out if there are pre-designated evacuation points. Even if you don’t have to evacuate it is good to know where you can go for medical care, shelter, food, and water.

To properly prepare for an earthquake, you must have an earthquake kit.

Before an earthquake, you should all go through the house and identify safe areas in each room. Find safe spots like a sturdy desk or a bearing wall where you can stay during an earthquake.

Make a list of food and provisions you will need for the first three days after an earthquake. You must imagine there will be no shelter, no food, no water, no electricity, and prepare accordingly. When you prepare for an earthquake you really prepare for the worst-case scenario.

Related posts: What Should You Have Ready In Your Urban Bug Out Bag? Best Foods For Your Bug Out Bag

If you have a shed or a garage, you should think about storing a tent and emergency food and water there. Even if a shed collapses in an earthquake, you will still be able to dig out your things.

When you prepare for an earthquake, don’t forget about your pets. Store at least a week’s worth of pet food, and some toys to keep them occupied in a stressful situation. Always bring your pets with you wherever you go. They are a part of your family and shouldn’t be left behind.

Earthquake preparedness checklist

You should compile your own checklist to prepare for an earthquake best. Your list should include the exact steps you should take in case of an earthquake disaster. On your list, you should also list all the items you need to take with you before evacuation.

To get you started, check what is on the Red Cross disaster preparedness checklist. See what they suggest to achieve earthquake safety and modify it to your family’s needs.

You should post the list in a visible place. People usually put it in the fridge. Each member of the family should know well what’s on the list and how to act in case of an earthquake emergency.

What should you have in an earthquake kit?

An earthquake kit will help you prepare for an earthquake aftermath. You should prepare it beforehand and have it easily accessible, usually by the entrance door.

Standard earthquake kit has:

  • a flashlight
  • a whistle
  • medicine
  • mobile phone and charger
  • hygiene products
  • food
  • water
  • extra clothes
  • a blanket
  • documents
  • first-aid kit
  • money

A flashlight should already be in your EDC (every day carry). A whistle can help you in any kind of emergency situation. If you have any medical issues, try to take care of them before an emergency situation. If you can’t, you should always have extra medicine in your BOB. Prepare for an earthquake well before it happens.

A few of the basic hygiene products you can pack are bare necessities like soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, sun cream, band-aids, hand disinfectant, and paper tissues. Take gloves and medical face masks as well, not just because of COVID-19, but due to a lot of dust and potentially fire smoke.

All food and water items have expiry dates. So, you should rotate your supplies regularly. Use up the oldest items first and replace them as soon as you can.

You can’t just prepare for an earthquake once and then forget about it. Remember that water is most important to have.

“You can survive for three weeks without food.

You can survive for three days without drinkable water.

You can survive three hours without shelter.

You can survive three minutes without air.”

Rule of threes

The clothes that you pack should be waterproof and warm. Make sure to pack extra underwear, socks, and a towel. Prepare a pair of sturdy boots. Earthquakes cause buildings to collapse so expect a lot of debris and glass on the ground.

You should put copies of your important documents (ID, insurance policy, medical history) in a waterproof pouch, along with some physical money. You should prepare for an earthquake aftermath without electricity, which means no ATMs.

The first-aid kit can be simple, containing basic items depending on your family’s needs. Or, you can buy a professional pre-assembled first-aid kit online. You should always have one in your car, but an additional earthquake first-aid kit is an essential part of your BOB.

prepare for an earthquake devastation
Photo by Yves Moret on Unsplash

How do you prepare your house for an earthquake?

All houses built to the code should withstand an earthquake. As a homeowner, you can take additional earthquake safety measures to ensure your home and possessions stay intact.

All tall and massive furniture like bookcases, standing wardrobes, and refrigerators should be secured to the wall. Anything that is hanging on the wall like pictures, TV, etc. should be secured so as not to fall. Nothing should be hanging above the seating area. The same goes for your bed.

Always remember to put heavy objects closer to the ground. Don’t store them on top of a bookcase, for example, from where they can easily fall and cause damage.

If you have any toxic or flammable liquids in your house, store them safely, and away from your main living area, preferably in a basement or outdoor shed.

Check where the main gas switch is in your house. You should know how to turn off the gas to reduce fire risk. Have a regularly checked fire extinguisher in the house. If you live in a residential building, there should be one fire extinguisher on every floor. Check where it is along with the evacuation plan.

Insurance

If you live in a high-risk earthquake area, you should get earthquake insurance because a standard homeowner’s policy won’t cover damage caused by an earthquake.

Houses in high-risk areas will pay a higher premium than other parts of the country. This is good to know when choosing your house location.

Shake Out

You can participate in a global Shake Out event that originated in California. It takes place once a year on the same day, always the third Thursday in October. 11,000,623 participants worldwide practiced earthquake preparedness and safety this year. You can learn more if you prepare for an earthquake in company.

You can download the Shake Out drill manual to practice with your family, neighborhood, or company.  Earthquake safety drills come with detailed step-by-step instructions for 4 different levels (basic to advanced).

prepare for an earthquake destruction
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

EARTHQUAKE PREPAREDNESS: HOW TO SURVIVE AN EARTHQUAKE

What should you do in an earthquake?

When an earthquake starts, stay calm and think clearly. Remember that you have prepared for this moment and there is no need to panic. If you are inside, stay inside. If you are outdoors, stay outside.

Indoors

The best earthquake safety recommendation is called Drop, Cover, Hold. When you practice to prepare for an earthquake you should go over this many times.

If you are inside a house when an earthquake happens, try to find shelter inside. Don’t try to get outside unless you are very close to the exit. You can hide under a table (drop to your knees). You should tuck your head between your legs and embrace yourself (cover). Move away from large pieces of furniture that could fall on you and injure you.

Stay away from the kitchen, especially kitchen cabinets because they are full of dishes that can fly out and break easily. Anything that is hanging on the walls or the ceiling is not safe. Stay away from windows because they might break and glass could injure you. Stay inside and wait (hold). Don’t come out until the earthquake is over.

If you are caught in an office building during an earthquake, try to get out. Don’t run. If you see there are a lot of people crowded at the exits, you should find a safe place inside. Stay away from elevators and stairs.

Outdoors

If you happen to be outdoors when an earthquake happens, don’t run. Stay away from buildings, street lamps, trees, or anything that may fall on you. Stay away from bridges, tunnels, and anything that could collapse.

Even with nobody and nothing around, you should still implement the Drop, Cover, Hold tactics.

Being outdoors in the open is the best possible earthquake scenario because there is nothing to fall on you. Watch out for possible openings in the ground, trenches, and water flooding.

Wait until it’s over. Don’t talk, because it encourages other people to start yelling and panicking.

Is it safe to be in a car during an earthquake?

Yes. If you are driving pull up to clear the road for ambulance and fire trucks. Pull the parking brake. Don’t get out. Keep your car and yourself at a safe distance from other buildings and objects. Stay inside until the earthquake shaking is over. If for some reason you have to leave your car, leave the keys inside the ignition so it can be moved by other people if an emergency calls for it.

What are the three things you shouldn’t do in an earthquake?

  1. Don’t talk, yell, run, or cause panic. People running in panic can harm themselves and others.
  2. Don’t use your mobile phone unless to call emergency services. Expect the phone lines to be unavailable so don’t wait for saviors.
  3. Don’t turn on the gas yourself. Let the power company check it first.

Related post: Should You Get A Military Survival Radio?

man standing on earthquake ruins
Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

EARTHQUAKE PREPAREDNESS: WHAT TO DO AFTER AN EARTHQUAKE [RECOVER]

The period after the earthquake is also dangerous because there might be aftershocks. You should check the warnings on the radio to get a clearer picture of what’s happening. Always follow instructions by the official authorities and not random people in the street. If you are traveling in a foreign country, contact the embassy or the nearest tourist office. Before your trip, prepare for an earthquake and have their numbers memorized.

Now is the time and place to pull out your earthquake plan. When you prepare for an earthquake you drill closing the water and gas inlet connection. Open doors and windows in case of a gas leak.

If you live in a residential building, prepare to leave your apartment safely. Remember to take your bug out bag, earthquake emergency kit, and whatever you have previously planned. Don’t forget your ID.

Don’t use an elevator. There is potentially a risk of getting stuck inside if the electricity goes out or worse, the building collapses.

Get out as quickly as possible, but safely, without running. Beware that after a strong earthquake some parts of the building may not be safe. You must prepare for an earthquake damage. The damage should be visible by the cracks on the walls or stairs. If you forgot something, don’t go back because of the possible damage.

Go to a safe location where you can meet with other members of your family and get help if you need one. People who live near the coast should immediately head inland because there may be a risk of a tsunami. After the earthquake danger is over, you should check if your home is safe for return. You can come home only after water and gas installations have been cleared as safe by the professionals.

Related post: Checklist: What Should You Do When Electricity Goes Out?

If you are hurt during an earthquake, you should check if you need urgent medical assistance. Don’t use your phone unless it is an emergency. If you or somebody around you is bleeding, you can stop it by putting direct pressure on the wound. Put a blanket around the injured person to keep them warm after the shock. You can drill all this before when you prepare for an earthquake.

If you are buried under a collapsed building, don’t panic. Try not to move too much or breathe in dust. Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth.

To let others know where you are, use a whistle or bang on pipes. Yelling should be your last option because you’ll inhale a lot of dust. You shouldn’t worry because a rescue team will find you.

Once you get to safety, ready.gov recommends visiting the American Red Cross website Safe and Well. You can register to let others know you are OK.

The recovery after an earthquake can take months, even years. Overwhelming destruction leaves a heavy toll on families and whole communities, physically and mentally. If you prepare for an earthquake, you can minimize the damage. Earthquake preparedness is crucial.

Pacific ring of fire
Gringer (talk) 23:52, 10 February 2009 (UTC), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

MISCELLANEOUS EARTHQUAKE FACTS

Largest earthquakes in history

Wikipedia states that the vast majority (90%) of the largest earthquakes happen along the Pacific Ring of Fire.

1960 – Great Chilean earthquake (9.5)

1964 — Good Friday earthquake in Anchorage, Alaska (9.2)

2004 — Sumatra, Indonesia (9.1)

2001 — Sendai, Japan (9.0)

1906 — San Francisco (7.9)

2010 — Haiti (7.0)

1755 — a 6.0 earthquake destroyed Boston

Earthquakes underwater

Earthquakes can happen anywhere, underwater as well. While we can’t feel those shakings, instruments can sense and measure them. Such earthquakes can trigger tsunamis and early warnings will be issued in that case. Human earthquake preparedness is nothing without technology.

If you happen to be on a ship during an underwater earthquake and afterward a tsunami, you will probably not have any difficulties, all depending on how far you are from the coast. Ships are built to go over high waves.

Earthquakes in space

NASA proved that space earthquakes really do happen. Earthquakes on Mars are called marsquakes. NASA’s InSight mission will carry a seismometer to Mars to study seismic activity there.

FAQ

Who is the Earthquake Lady?

Lucy Jones is a seismologist with the nickname Earthquake Lady. She is a science advisor for risk reduction at the USGS. She is all for earthquake preparedness.

What is the safest place to be in an earthquake?

It is better to be outside than inside. If you happen to be inside, the hallway is the safest because it usually has the least amount of stuff that can fall on you. If you could choose any place on Earth, go to Antarctica.

Is it better to be outside or inside during an earthquake?

Outside. When everything starts falling down there are more things inside the building that can hurt you than outside.

What do you do in an earthquake in bed?

Lay on your stomach, protect your head with a pillow and your hands. Don’t get under the bed because it could collapse and bury you. Wait until the shaking is over.

Is it better to be upstairs or downstairs in an earthquake?

Upstairs. Powerful earthquakes can cause serious damage. When houses collapse, the ground floor gets totally destroyed and covered in the rumble. You have better chances of survival on the upper floors.

What areas are at higher risk of earthquakes?

The western coast of the U.S., Japan, Indonesia, and everything along the equator line. Scientists call this area a Pacific Ring of fire.

What time of day do earthquakes usually occur?

Earthquakes are completely unpredictable and can happen at any time. That’s why earthquake preparedness is vital for survival.

Do dogs know when an earthquake is coming?

Yes. They can’t sense it, but rather hear it.  Dogs can hear the difference in the movement of the ground and shaking noise before people do. Dogs will try to get your attention and bark a lot to make you prepare for an earthquake. Some dogs may even run away searching for safety.

Which earthquake was the deadliest?

In 1553 in Shaanxi, China 830,000 people died. In more modern history, in 2010, 316,000 people died in a Haiti earthquake. Early warnings and earthquake preparedness can minimize losses.

Final thoughts

I realize this article has a sense of doom and despair. I deliberately wrote it this way because we underestimate our adversary in this case — nature itself. Earthquakes are giant natural disasters that occur out of a sudden and leave nothing behind. Minor tremors give us material for amusing dinner chats, but the big ones leave nations behind for decades.

We mustn’t be in denial.

Everybody should be aware that earthquakes pose a real danger and should immediately prepare for an earthquake. Earthquake preparedness should be a top priority. Just like for every emergency you need to make a plan, create a checklist, get your family involved, and practice so you don’t panic when disaster strikes.

I want to leave you with a sense of hope. With proper earthquake preparedness, you and your family can stay safe and live to tell the story.