What to Do After an Earthquake: Safety Tips
In the aftermath of an earthquake, it’s understandable that you may feel a sense of panic. Buildings may be damaged, people could be hurt and community infrastructure and services could be affected. Or maybe power lines are down, street lights stopped working and your street is full of debris. Such circumstances can be pretty scary, but you can take certain measures to help keep you and your family safe.
Try to stay calm and keep the following tips in mind when reacting to an earthquake.
Check Your Property
Earthquakes may cause structural and utility damage to a home. If you think something looks structurally unsafe, the Central United States Earthquake Consortium (CUSEC) recommends evacuating. Once outside, you may want to survey the area for additional hazards and be mindful that aftershocks may occur that could cause trees, power lines or structures to fall and create hazards.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the most common after-effect of an earthquake is fire. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) advises to extinguish small fires (if you can do so safely) and report larger ones to emergency services right away.
If a fire hasn’t started but you notice damaged electrical wires or suspect a gas leak, FEMA says you can help prevent any additional damage or injuries by turning off the electricity and main gas line to your home. But, it must be safe to do so, and FEMA cautions to not use a match to light the way and to avoid using light switches or electrical appliances if you suspect a gas leak, as sparks may ignite the gas. Additionally, check your surrounding area for downed power lines and debris, says CUSEC.
Collect Clean Water
As you inspect the area around your home, note any damaged water lines, suggests FEMA. If water lines have been affected by the earthquake, the agency says not to drink the tap water. Listen to media reports, if possible, to learn of any water-related advisories. To keep hydrated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says you can get drinking water from the following sources in your home (but only if it is safe to go inside):
- Melted ice cubes
- Fluids from canned fruits and vegetables
- The water heater faucet
- Water from the tank of the toilet, as long as it’s not chemically treated
Consider Emergency Needs and Services
If you have access to a battery-powered radio or television, FEMA suggests tuning in for emergency information and reports. Additionally, the CUSEC recommends driving your vehicle only if it is absolutely necessary so you can keep the roads clear for emergency vehicles.
In some cases, says FEMA, you may need to leave your home if it is not safe to stay there. The Red Cross or FEMA may offer services for housing and other needs immediately following an earthquake, adds the agency.
Use Caution During Cleanup
When you can safely return to your home, be cautious as you clean up and wear sturdy shoes when walking through the debris, says the United States Geological Survey. The CUSEC advises opening closet and cupboard doors carefully, as objects inside may have moved during the earthquake and could fall on you.
Prepare for Aftershocks
In addition, FEMA says it’s important to be prepared for possible aftershocks, which can occur hours, days, weeks or even months after the initial earthquake. While these are not generally as strong as the main quake, they can cause further damage if your home was weakened by the first tremor. In the event of an aftershock, the American Red Cross advises to drop to the floor, find cover and hold on until the ground stops shaking.
If you’re outdoors when the ground starts shaking, the American Red Cross says to drop to the ground in a spot away of trees, buildings and other structures, and remain there until the shaking shops. If you are in a car, stop in a clear location and remain inside the vehicle, with your seat belt fastened, until the quake ends.
Earthquakes and aftershocks can occur without warning. If you experience one, consider the above tips to help you stay safe.