The Earthquake Safety Guide

An Introduction to Earthquakes

Earthquakes result from the growing friction created by shifting tectonic plates, which lead to the release of seismic vibrations through the Earth’s crust. Although earthquakes can be caused by a variety of factors, such as underground nuclear testing, they most often occur naturally.

The U.S. Geological Survey states that in the United States there are around 1.3 million quakes each year that register above 2.0 on the Richter Scale, considered the “threshold” in which people can feel earthquakes.

How to Prepare for Earthquakes

Although there is no way to guarantee people’s safety during earthquakes, the best way to prevent serious injuries is by planning and preparing ahead of time.

One of the main hazards that arises from earthquakes is fire. So it is important for you to know where all gas and electric shutoff valves and switches are located in your house or apartment complex. In apartment buildings, gas meters are located outside; in houses they can either be outside or in basements. Propane systems have shutoff valves and can easily be turned off by hand. If you smell gas, do not do anything that could create a spark or flame, such as turning on a light switch or lighting a match.

Electrical shutoff is also important after major earthquakes. Locate your fuse box or breaker panel and learn how to shut it off. In case a fire does result from malfunctioning electrical wires, buy and learn how to use a fire extinguisher. Keep it in an accessible location that can be easily reached by you or others you live with.

If you live with roommates or have a family, make sure to discuss and plan safety procedures with them. This includes normal and emergency exit routes, whether this is in a house or an apartment complex. Also, multiple emergency aid kits should be kept in accessible areas, such as the kitchen or living room. Water and emergency food supplies—which should be non-perishable food such as canned meats, fruits and vegetables—should also be kept in an easily accessible area. In addition, families should plan on alternative meeting places. If by chance a major earthquake occurs during a time when family members are separated, such as when parents are at work and children are at school. For individuals and families with pets, make sure to account for any pets’ food and water, as well as medication. A leash can also be helpful. Additionally, you should attach identification tags on collars, with emergency numbers that include both local and out-of-state contacts.

Earthquake Insurance

As most homeowners’ insurance in the U.S. does not cover earthquake loss, many people decide to buy earthquake insurance in earthquake-prone regions, such as California. Earthquake insurance rates vary, depending on the type of residence you live in—for example, wood-structured homes are cheaper to cover than steel-structured buildings. Factors you may want to consider when deciding whether or not to purchase earthquake insurance are your home’s location and how much you are willing to pay for insurance. For example, if you live along the San Andreas fault, purchasing earthquake insurance is a realistic and practical option you should consider. As earthquake insurance policies offer high deductibles, they tend to be expensive. Insurance can be a reliable safety net if your home is severely damaged but not worth the cost if your residency is barely damaged.

What You Should and Should Not Do During an Earthquake

If you find yourself caught in an earthquake, you should:

  • Keep calm
  • Stay away from glass windows and brick structures
  • Get under a table or a study doorway
  • Check if anyone you live with is hurt
  • Know where the first aid is kept and attend to cuts and bruises as best as you can
  • Turn off the gas
  • Do not run down stairs, as you may injure yourself
  • Do not turn on electric switches, as natural gas may be leaking into your residency
  • Do not move anyone who is seriously injured

Additionally, if you would like to pursue further research and readings on earthquakes, there are several reliable resources to turn to.

Authoritative Sources:

  • The US Geological Survey offers a broad range of informational readings, from articles that explore the science of earthquakes to a reading list on earthquake safety procedures for students and adults.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers an excellent range of resources on earthquakes, from literature on past earthquake disasters to public assistance contacts.
  • The Seismological Society of America researches seismological occurrences and teaches individuals how to mitigate earthquake hazards.
  • The Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) is a consortium of universities sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The organization funds seismic research projects and freely distributes seismic data to the public.

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