Earthquakes are among nature’s most powerful and unpredictable phenomena. In mere moments, they can change landscapes, topple buildings, and leave communities in disarray. While we can’t prevent earthquakes, we can arm ourselves with knowledge and strategies to respond effectively in their aftermath.
In this blog, we’ll guide you through essential steps to ensure your safety and the well-being of those around you after an earthquake strikes. From immediate actions to long-term precautions, this comprehensive guide aims to equip you with the information you need to navigate the challenges that arise post-earthquake. Whether you live in an earthquake-prone region or are just seeking knowledge, this guide is a valuable resource for preparedness and response.
What To Do After Earthquake | Earthquake Safety Information
After an earthquake, it’s crucial to take certain safety measures to ensure your well-being and that of those around you. Here are some key steps to follow based on the information from authoritative sources:
From the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
1. Expect aftershocks
Aftershocks are subsequent tremors that occur after the main shock of a larger earthquake sequence. They are essentially the earth’s way of adjusting to the new structural configuration following the larger quake.
While many aftershocks are smaller in magnitude than the main shock, some can be large enough to cause additional damage, especially to structures that have already been weakened. It’s essential to be prepared for these aftershocks, as they can occur minutes, days, weeks, or even months after the initial earthquake.
2. Protect yourself during aftershocks
When an aftershock occurs, it’s crucial to drop to the ground to prevent being knocked over by the shaking. Once on the ground, take cover under a sturdy piece of furniture, like a table or desk, to shield yourself from falling debris.
Holding onto your shelter ensures that you remain protected until the shaking stops. This “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” method is a widely recognized safety procedure during earthquakes and aftershocks.
3. Attract attention if trapped
If you find yourself trapped under debris after an earthquake, it’s essential to conserve your energy. Instead of shouting, which can lead to inhaling harmful amounts of dust, use tools at your disposal to signal for help.
This could be a flashlight, a whistle, or even your phone. Tapping on hard surfaces, like pipes or walls, can also create a noise that might attract rescuers.
4. Protect your mouth, nose, and eyes from dust
Following an earthquake, the air can be filled with dust and debris. Inhaling this dust or getting it in your eyes can be harmful. To protect yourself, cover your mouth and nose with a cloth or shirt. If you have them available, use glasses or goggles to shield your eyes, preventing any particulate matter from causing irritation or injury.
5. Tsunami risk
Earthquakes that occur beneath the ocean floor can trigger massive waves known as tsunamis. If you are in a coastal area and experience an earthquake, it’s imperative to move to higher ground as quickly as possible.
Tsunamis can reach shores minutes to hours after the earthquake, bringing with them devastating floods. It’s crucial to remain on higher ground until local authorities give the all-clear signal, indicating it’s safe to return.
6. Avoid damaged buildings
After an earthquake, buildings and other structures may have sustained damage that isn’t immediately visible. These structures can be unstable and might collapse, especially during aftershocks. It’s best to avoid entering any building that appears damaged or compromised until it has been inspected and deemed safe by professionals.
7. Inspect your home for damage
After the immediate threats have passed, it’s a good idea to inspect your home for potential hazards. Look for visible signs of damage, such as cracks in the walls, ceilings, or foundation. Pay special attention to utilities.
A gas leak, for instance, can be identified by the smell of gas, and it’s crucial to shut off the main gas valve in such cases. Similarly, damaged electrical systems can pose a fire risk, so be on the lookout for sparks or exposed wires.
8. Use flashlights, not candles
If the power goes out after an earthquake, it might be instinctual to use candles for light. However, this can be dangerous, especially if there are potential gas leaks. A single spark can lead to a devastating explosion. Instead, use flashlights or battery-operated lanterns to navigate in the dark.
9. Treat wounds
Injuries are common after earthquakes due to falling debris, broken glass, and other hazards. It’s essential to treat any wounds promptly to prevent infections. Clean and disinfect open wounds and seek medical attention for more severe injuries. Remember that in the aftermath of a significant earthquake, medical facilities might be overwhelmed, so prioritize seeking care for life-threatening injuries.
10. Help others if you can
Once you’ve ensured your safety, it’s a noble act to assist others in need. This might include neighbors, especially vulnerable populations like the elderly, children, or those with disabilities. Offering first aid, shelter, or even emotional support can make a significant difference in the aftermath of a disaster.
11. Avoid power lines
Fallen power lines are a severe hazard after earthquakes. They can carry a live electric current, making them deadly to touch. It’s essential to stay at least 10 feet away from downed power lines and to report any you come across to the local authorities.
12. Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can be lethal when inhaled. After an earthquake, people might be tempted to use gasoline or coal-burning equipment indoors, especially if the power is out. However, these devices can produce carbon monoxide. Always use such equipment outside, away from windows and vents, to ensure the gas doesn’t build up inside your home.
13. Stay away from wild or stray animals
Earthquakes can disorient animals, making them more aggressive or unpredictable. It’s best to approach all animals with caution after an earthquake, whether they are wild or domesticated. If you come across any dead animals, report them to local officials for proper disposal.
14. Ensure safe food and water consumption
The infrastructure that delivers clean water can be compromised during an earthquake, leading to contamination. It’s essential to drink only water that you’re sure is safe, whether it’s bottled, boiled, or treated. Similarly, food that has been exposed to contaminants or hasn’t been stored properly due to power outages should be discarded to prevent illness.
From the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
1. Wear sturdy shoes to avoid injury from broken glass and debris
After an earthquake, the ground and surrounding areas can be littered with broken glass, sharp debris, and other hazardous materials. Wearing sturdy shoes, preferably with a thick sole, can protect your feet from cuts, punctures, and other injuries.
It’s especially important if you need to move around to inspect damage, help others, or evacuate to a safer location. Soft-soled shoes or going barefoot increases the risk of injury, which can hinder your mobility and ability to respond to the situation.
2. Check for injuries and provide first aid as necessary
The immediate aftermath of an earthquake can be chaotic, and injuries are common. It’s crucial to check yourself and those around you for any injuries. Simple cuts or bruises can be treated with basic first aid, but more severe injuries, like fractures or deep wounds, may require professional medical attention.
If someone is seriously injured, try to keep them calm and still while waiting for medical help. Having a well-stocked first aid kit on hand and basic knowledge of first aid procedures can be invaluable in such situations.
3. Check for hazards
Earthquakes can cause a variety of hazards in and around homes and buildings. Fire hazards may arise due to broken gas lines or damaged electrical circuits. If you smell gas, it’s essential to shut off the main gas valve to prevent potential explosions. Damaged electrical wiring can pose a risk of electrocution or fire, so turning off the power at the main breaker can be a wise precaution. Downed utility lines should be avoided at all costs, as they can be live and dangerous.
Spills, especially of harmful chemicals or substances, should be cleaned up promptly to prevent exposure or further contamination. Damaged chimneys can be unstable and might collapse, so it’s advisable to avoid using them until they’ve been inspected and repaired. Lastly, be cautious when opening closets or cupboards, as items may have shifted during the quake and could fall, posing a risk of injury.
4. Check food and water supplies
The safety of food and water can be compromised after an earthquake. Broken glass or contaminants can make their way into open containers, making the contents unsafe for consumption. It’s best to avoid eating or drinking from any container that is open and near shattered glass or other potential contaminants.
Power outages are common after earthquakes, which can affect the refrigeration of perishable foods. If the power is off and is expected to remain off for an extended period, prioritize consuming foods that will spoil quickly, like dairy products or meats. Always ensure that the food looks and smells fresh before consuming. If in doubt, it’s safer to discard questionable food items to prevent foodborne illnesses.
From Michigan Technological University
1. Check yourself and others for injuries
In the immediate aftermath of an earthquake, personal safety is paramount. Before assisting others, ensure you’re not injured. Once you’ve ascertained your safety, check on those around you, especially vulnerable individuals like children, the elderly, or those with disabilities.
Immediate attention to injuries, even if they seem minor, can prevent complications and further harm. It’s always beneficial to have a basic understanding of first aid to address injuries effectively until professional medical help is available.
2. Check utilities for damage
Earthquakes can cause significant damage to a building’s utilities, which can pose immediate and long-term risks. Water lines might break, leading to flooding or water contamination. Gas lines can rupture, creating the risk of explosions or fires.
Similarly, damaged electrical lines can result in power outages, electrical fires, or electrocution hazards. It’s essential to inspect these utilities promptly and shut off any that appear damaged or compromised. If you’re unfamiliar with how to safely turn off utilities, seek guidance from local authorities or utility companies.
3. Stay out of damaged buildings
Buildings that have sustained damage during an earthquake can be structurally compromised. Even if the damage appears minor, there could be unseen issues that make the building unstable, especially during potential aftershocks. It’s crucial to avoid entering or staying in any building that shows signs of damage until it has been inspected and deemed safe by professionals.
4. Be cautious around debris and broken glass
The ground and surrounding areas can be littered with debris, including broken glass, fallen bricks, and other hazardous materials after an earthquake. These pose a risk of injury, especially to the feet and hands.
When navigating affected areas, be vigilant, wear sturdy shoes, and use gloves if available. Clearing pathways and common areas can help reduce the risk of injury for everyone.
5. Stay away from beaches due to the risk of tsunamis
Earthquakes, especially those that originate under the ocean floor, can trigger tsunamis. These massive waves can inundate coastal areas, causing significant damage and loss of life. Suppose an earthquake occurs, and you’re near the coast. In that case, it’s imperative to move to higher ground immediately and stay away from beaches and coastal areas until local authorities declare them safe.
6. Avoid damaged areas
Areas that have sustained significant damage can be dangerous due to unstable structures, ongoing fires, gas leaks, or other hazards. Roads might be blocked, bridges could be unsafe, and essential services might be unavailable. It’s best to avoid these areas unless you have a specific reason to be there or if you’re involved in rescue or repair efforts.
7. Follow emergency plans if you’re at school or work
Many institutions, including schools and workplaces, have emergency plans in place for various scenarios, including earthquakes. These plans often include designated safe areas, evacuation procedures, and communication protocols.
If you’re at school or work during an earthquake, it’s essential to be familiar with and follow these plans. They are designed to protect everyone and ensure a coordinated response to the situation.
In the face of nature’s unpredictability, preparedness and knowledge remain our most potent tools. Earthquakes, while sudden and often devastating, don’t have to leave us feeling powerless. By understanding the essential steps to take in their aftermath, we can significantly mitigate risks, protect ourselves and our loved ones, and begin the journey towards recovery with confidence.
This guide has aimed to provide you with actionable insights and safety measures to navigate the post-earthquake landscape. Remember, while the ground beneath us might shake, our resolve to stay safe and help our communities can remain unyielding. Equip yourself with knowledge, stay vigilant, and always prioritize safety in the face of adversity.