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It’s helpful to think of an earthquake as several disasters in sequence. Each phase of the disaster requires its own response at the time, and its own preparation in advance. The recovery period after the disaster poses its own set of challenges. This table summarizes the conditions we may face in the disaster, and the actions we can take now.

1. Ground Shaking
(1-3 minutes)
2. Emergency Conditions
(1-3 hours)
3. Urban Wilderness
(1-3 weeks)
4. Financial Need
Hazard: What happens Objects fall, fly, or slide. Houses may be damaged or shake off foundation. Fire. People injured. People trapped in damaged buildings. No professional responders. No utilities, services, or supplies. Broken roads make travel difficult. Phone and Internet do not work. Damage or destruction of home, possessions, and livelihood.
Prepare: In advance Secure appliances, furniture, and objects in your home to reduce danger. Consider seismic retrofit of house. Learn and practice after-quake procedure (see below). Get first aid training. Get to know your neighbors. Build a home kit for 2 weeks, plus “Go Kits” for 3 days. Choose family meeting places and an out-of-area contact. Have cash (small bills). Document your property and finances. Inventory your home and possessions. Copy and safely store vital records.
Respond: At the time Protect yourself from injury: Drop, Cover, and Hold On. Prevent further injuries and damage. Fight fire, check for leaking natural gas, check for trapped or injured people. Preserve safety and health while waiting for relief. Use disaster supply kits. Locate and reunite with family. Cooperate with neighbors. Restore buildings and possessions to original condition. Seek reimbursement from insurance and government.

Procedure after an earthquake, in the home

  1. Check yourself for injuries, and get first aid if necessary. Then assist others in need.
  2. Dress for safety: sturdy shoes, leather gloves, long pants and shirt, hard hat or helmet.
  3. Use only a flashlight. Matches or candles may cause leaking natural gas to explode, or risk accidental fire.
  4. Find and extinguish small fires. Leave yourself an escape route. Evacuate if necessary.
  5. Check the natural gas supply. If you smell gas, hear hissing, or see meter dials spinning, shut off gas at the meter using a large wrench. (Keep a wrench by your gas meter so you don’t have to look for it.)
  6. Shut off the water supply at the main inside house valve, to prevent contamination from broken pipes outside.
  7. Shut off electric supply at the circuit-breaker board. (Do not flip any electrical switches until you are sure natural gas is not leaking.)
  8. Check for trapped or injured people. Assess the area for danger before entering. Do not move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger.
  9. Place “Help” or “OK” sign on your front door or window to alert your neighbors.
  10. Call 9-1-1, if possible, to report life-threatening emergencies. Call your out-of-area contact to report your condition. Then stay off the phone for at least 4 hours. Texting may work when voice calling fails.
  11. Clean up or cover spills of household chemicals, medications, or other dangerous substances. Beware toxic fumes.
  12. Listen to a portable radio for official information.
  13. Beware of aftershocks, which may damage already weakened structures.

Preparedness Checklists for each phase of an Earthquake Disaster & Recovery

Phase 1: Ground Shaking

Look for hazards in each room of your home. Secure items that might fall, fly, or slide:

  • Cabinet doors can fly open allowing contents to crash to the floor; secure them with latches.
  • Objects like framed photos, lamps, and other items that you keep on shelves and tables can become flying hazards. Secure them with hooks, adhesives, or earthquake putty to keep them in place.
  • Move heavy or breakable items to lower shelves.
  • Mirrors, pictures frames, and other hanging items should be secured to the wall with closed hooks or earthquake putty.
  • Do not hang heavy objects over beds, sofas, or any place you may be seated or sleep.
  • Electronics such as computers, televisions, and microwave ovens are heavy and expensive to replace. Secure them with flexible nylon straps.
  • Bookcases, filing cabinets, china cabinets, and other tall furniture should be anchored to wall studs, (not drywall), or masonry. Use flexible straps that allow them to sway without falling to the floor.
  • Secure your water heater, refrigerator, and other major appliances with the appropriate straps screwed into the wall studs or masonry, to help keep them from falling over and rupturing connections. Gas appliances should have flexible connectors to absorb the shaking while reducing the risk of fire.

Strengthen the building (seismic retrofit): Get professional help to assess the building’s structure, then take steps to reinforce weaknesses.

  • Bolt the frame to the foundation.
  • Brace the short wall surrounding the crawl space, which is vulnerable to shaking.
  • Reinforce brick chimneys, which can collapse into the house, causing damage and injury.

Phase 2: Emergency Conditions

Prepare for quick action in the minutes after the shaking stops.

  • Under-the-Bed Kit: Put sturdy shoes, leather gloves, a hat or helmet, and a flashlight in a plastic bag under your bed, attached to the bed. You will know where your equipment is, day or night.
  • Fire Extinguisher: Have an A-B-C fire extinguisher on every floor of your home.
  • Gas Meter & Wrench: Know where your gas meter is. Keep a large wrench near the meter, so you don’t have to search for it in an emergency. Test the valve in advance by turning it slightly (but don’t shut off the gas).
  • House Main Water Valve: Know where your main water valve is, inside your house. Test in advance that you can shut it off.

Phase 3: Urban Wilderness

Store supplies for 2 weeks in or near your home in a waterproof container. Keep 3 days of supplies in your car, and at work or school.

  • Water: 1 gallon per person per day, ½ gal. to drink, ½ gal to cook & wash
  • Food: packaged non-perishable food, manual can opener, eating utensils
  • Medical: medicines, prescriptions, extra eyeglasses, etc, First Aid kit & manual
  • Sanitation: moist wipes, heavy-duty garbage bags, paper towels, liquid soap
  • Clothing: sturdy shoes, leather gloves, hat; full change of clothes; poncho
  • Tools: fire extinguisher, flashlight & batteries; knife, pliers, hammer & nails
  • Shelter: bedding, towel, tarps or tent, rope, lantern/light-sticks, duct tape
  • Communication: AM/FM radio & batteries; phone chargers, pen & paper
  • Information: local & out-of-area contacts, vital family documents, maps
  • Misc: cash in small bills & change, extra car & house keys, books/games/cards
  • Pet supplies: leash/carrier, food, extra water, medications, ID, photo, vet info

Phase 4: Financial Need

Copy records and store in a fireprooof, waterproof, portable container. Scan records and store on a digital USB flash drive. Keep in “Go Kit.”

  • Personal ID: passport, driver’s license, Social Security card, green card, military service ID.
  • Family records: wills, birth, marriage, divorce, adoption, custody, & death certificates.
  • Medical: health insurance cards, prescriptions, immunization records, allergies.
  • Property: Deeds, titles, leases (home & vehicle). Inventory & photo record of home and possessions. Insurance policies: homeowner, renters, auto, life.
  • Financial: Account numbers (bank, credit, debit) and recent statements. Recent tax returns. Bills, obligations (credit cards, etc.), and automatic payments. Sources of income: pay stubs, benefits, alimony, child support.
  • Pet ownership papers, ID tags, vet info, vaccination record, photo of you with your pet.
  • Cash in small denominations ($1 and $5) and/or traveller’s checks.

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