If you live anywhere along the west coast, you know that an earthquake can happen at any time. There is no warning to when it will happen and how long the shaking will continue. No doubt that even a moderate earthquake will shake you up for some time after the quake. Have a plan and practice it for when the quake arrives and what to do after.

What an Earthquake Is

An earthquake is a sudden shift of earth causing sudden and violent shaking with the potential of both earth and structures cracking and crumbling. The shaking happens at the outermost layer of the earth where tectonic plates have a massive shift due to the viscous layer below.

In layman’s terms: the layer we walk on is suddenly shifted by the layer that is always moving that is otherwise unnoticed by us. Earthquakes happen more frequently around active volcanoes and can lead to tsunamis in coastal regions that are more destructive than the earthquake itself.

What is the Richter Scale?

The Richter Scale is a magnitude scale determining how strong the earthquake was at its epicenter. The epicenter is the point of initial movement and strongest impact. It uses mathematical algorithms to read the wave strength of shakes emerging from the center to determine the strength. Each level in the scale represents a 10 times greater impact from a lower number.

Richter Scale of Earthquake Magnitudes

Magnitude Level Category Effects Earthquakes per Year
<1.0 – 2.9 Micro Generally not felt by people 100,000+
3.0 – 3.9 Minor Felt by many but no damage 12,000 – 100,000
4.0 – 4.9 Light Felt by all minor damage 2,000 – 12,000
5.0 – 5.9 Moderate Some damage to weak structures 200 – 2,000
6.0 – 6.9 Strong Moderate damage in cities 3 – 200
7.0 – 7.9 Major Serious damage and loss of life 3 – 20
8.0 + Great Severe destruction over wide areas < 3

*Credit John P. Rafferty, Britannica

Know the Risks During and After an Earthquake

While most of us fear falling into a giant crack that opens up in the earth below, the biggest concern during an earthquake is getting hit by falling objects and debris. As the severity of the earthquake increases landslides and potential avalanches can occur. Buildings, bridges and roads may fail and crumble apart.

Electrical, gas and water lines can break from connections leading to serious and deadly potential hazards. Electrocution, fire, explosion and flooding are real concerns. Falling trees and light poles are significant issues.

Your Family’s Risk During an Earthquake

There will be no time to gather everyone during an earthquake. Communication lines can get jammed making it difficult to contact family members. Everyone in the family must know what to do during and after the earthquake. Sit down, make a plan and get everyone to participate in family drills.

Make A Plan

Making a plan involves knowing what to do when you are at home, at work, the kids are at school or with a sitter. You also need to know what to do if you are in your car or outside in the city, a park or open space. Start to plan on participating in the Great American Shakeout each year. This has become a national event where schools, businesses and communities do one great big earthquake drill at the same time.

What to Do During an Earthquake

The general rule during an earthquake is to Drop, Cover and Hold.

When Inside Your Home

If you are inside your home during an earthquake:

  • Stay inside
  • Drop to the ground and crawl under a table or desk if possible
  • Hold on to anything stable if possible (desk legs, bed post, table legs)
  • If in bed, stay there and put a pillow over your head and neck for protection
  • Avoid doorways

If you are at work or school during an earthquake:

  • Stay inside
  • Drop to the floor and crawl under desk and hold on
  • Avoid elevators

If you are outside during an earthquake:

  • Stay outside and away from tall objects like trees and light poles
  • Pull over in a clear area and stop if driving but stay in car (avoid bridges and tunnels if possible)
  • Drop to the ground and cover your head with your hands

What to Do Immediately After an Earthquake

Immediately after an earthquake is critical. When the shaking stops, get up and evaluate the damage. Grab your go-bag and tools to have with you in the event of an aftershock or need to evacuate. Check yourself and anyone with you for injuries. Gather pets and secure them in crates if necessary. Leave the building if there is damage visible inside.

Look for hazards or potential hazards such as broken gas lines, downed electrical poles or structural damage with falling debris. Put on an emergency mask or cover your nose and mouth with your shirt to prevent breathing in the dust. If you see any damage on your home, shut off gas, electricity and water.

Place your emergency placard in your window showing Green to designate that you are “OK”  and Red if you need assistance or “Help.”

Use your phone to check in with family and proceed to any pre-designated meeting point such as the kids’ school if you are unable to remain home. Monitor the news for updates. If you and your family are confirmed safe and secure, take the time to check on elderly neighbors or anyone who may need assistance.

Put on shoes, preferable steel toed shoes, to protect your feet if there is debris, broken glass or other hazards to walk over. Use caution when cleaning up after an earthquake.

Build an Earthquake Kit

Most people will shelter in place after a major earthquake. Unless your home has significant damage, it will be easier to remain at home. Keep your bugout bag readily available but start to pull out emergency food and water supplies to make them accessible. If your home is not habitable, you may need to camp on your property on nearby.

Rescue personnel will focus on those who are in medical need or trapped. Expect to be self-sufficient for two weeks or longer while roads are cleared and clean up makes leaving the area easier.

Build an emergency kit for home and a portable bugout bag in case you need to leave the area.

Key Supplies for an Emergency Kit

Think about your emergency kit in two components. It should have food and water and emergency gear.

The key food items for your emergency kit are:

  • Water: 1 gallon per person per day
  • Rice
  • Cereal
  • Pasta
  • Canned Goods
  • Crackers
  • Peanut Butter
  • Nuts
  • Seasoning
  • Granola and energy bars
  • Freeze-dried food

The key emergency gear for your kit include:

  • First Aid Kit
  • Dust Masks
  • Tent
  • Flashlight
  • Solar/Hand Crank Radio
  • Rain Gear
  • Tool Kit
  • Cash (small denominations)
  • Paper Towels
  • Baby Wipes
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Plastic Utensils and Paper Plates
  • Garbage Bags
  • Plastic Tarp
  • Aluminum Foil and Sealable Plastic Bags
  • Barbeque Gear
  • Manual Can Opener

Other items to include in the kit is food and water for pets, extra leashes, harnesses, food bowls and pet carriers for evacuation.

Include personal necessities such as extra medications, eye glasses, canes, diapers or anything else you may need. Keep a USB flash drive with pictures of all pertinent personal details, insurance policies and bank information.

Having a fully charged cell phone is wise. Get an extra battery charger and be sure to get it fully charged.  Some emergency radios now come with USB ports to charge cell phones.  

Check Your Earthquake Insurance Policy

Earthquake insurance is optional. This specialty insurance policy is considered a companion policy to homeowner’s policies. It covers the damage during the shaking but your homeowner’s insurance kicks in if a fire erupts after the actual shaking. Your homeowner’s policy won’t cover damages happening from the earthquake.

Stay Tuned into News and Government Officials

Use your phone as little as possible to preserve your battery. Texts and social media tend to remain reliable more so that cell phone reception. Mark yourself safe and reach out to out of town contacts to coordinate the family check-in.

Rely on your portable emergency radio to stay in touch with news updates. If you have a hand-held radio, this is how most hospitals, emergency crews and law enforcement will communicate: via short-wave radio rely. You will get a lot of information tuning in to these channels but don’t interfere with rescue.

Final Thoughts on Earthquake Prep and Emergency Preparedness

The United States is more prepared for a major earthquake compared to most other countries in the world. But that doesn’t mean every person living in or around earthquake country shouldn’t prepare themselves for the next Big One. While they don’t happen often, the chaos, destruction and loss are severe.

It doesn’t take much to plan for an earthquake. Visit our store to customize a kit for you and your family. We’ve vetted out the solutions we offer so you can prepare knowing that your kit will work effectively if you need it. 

For more information on emergency preparedness, check out our guide.

Be safe smart!