Camping & Survival

Earthquake Preparedness

Building collapsed due to an earthquake.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, in the past 24 hours (at the time of this writing) 27 earthquakes were recorded around the world—including Oklahoma, Kansas, Hawaii, two in California and five in Alaska. In fact, the Napa area of California just experienced its worst earthquake in 25 years.

Earthquakes occur when rock plates in the Earth’s crust move along each other across a fault line. This movement causes seismic waves, that reach the surface of the earth, causing shakes and tremors. Earthquakes can cause widespread damage and destruction. They can happen anywhere and at any time. There is nothing we can do about the natural movement of the Earth’s plates, but earthquakes also happen due to manmade explosions, volcanic eruptions and many believe from fracking (the process in which fractures in rocks below the earth’s surface are opened and widened by injecting chemicals and liquids at high pressure). An earthquake often happens with no warning and many underestimate how destructive an earthquake can be. Lasting seconds to minutes, even an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the magnitude scale can produce waves more powerful than the force of gravity.

Earthquakes are unpredictable and there is no guarantee the structure you are in will sustain itself. Even if there are only minor damages to the building you seek shelter in, does not mean that there will not be chaos surrounding you. Utilities might be out, roads might be blocked, and evacuating might not be possible. If damage is slight, you may want to remain in your home. To survive the aftermath of an earthquake, you should prepare for it as you would any other disaster or emergency. Surviving an earthquake means you need to stock up on non-perishable foods, water, alternative sources of lighting and a few other items to get you through the first few days of clean up and restoration.

Picture shows a building crumbled due to an earthquake.
To survive the aftermath of an earthquake, you should prepare for it as you would any other disaster or emergency.

During an Earthquake

If you start to feel shaking, hear rattling or items start to fall off the shelf—drop, cover and hold. It is advisable for you to take cover underneath a heavy piece of furniture such as a dining room table, away from windows and large objects like a bookcase that could easily fall on you. This helps you avoid injury from falling objects. If you are in bed, it is safer to stay there while covering your head and neck.

If you are outside, find a spot clear away from trees, buildings, power lines and lights and lay down.

After an Earthquake

When the shaking stops, check yourself and everyone with you for injuries. Administer first aid if necessary. Second, check the integrity of your home. Leave the house if it appears to be unsound. Next, extinguish any fires. After attending to immediate dangers, clean up any spills of hazardous material.

If your house is undamaged or only sustained minor damages, you will probably choose to bug-in instead of trying to leave. It is highly likely that roads are damaged, closed, blocked and even impassable. Traffic due to major and minor infrastructure problems may make it impossible to leave. Avoid downed power lines and be aware if you smell natural gas. One common effect from earthquakes is damage to gas lines. You might need to shut off the natural gas to your home. Locate where the main valve is and shut it off.

Earthquakes create aftershocks—the same trembling and shaking you felt during the first one. If you feel an aftershock, return to your safety zone until it passes. Aftershocks can cause further damage to structures, so recheck your house for hazardous or dangerous spills, broken glass or further damage.

Before an Earthquake

You can become earthquake prepared right now. Pick a safe space in your home where you and your family will take cover during an earthquake. Clear the area of dangerous items that could hurt you if they fall—such as glass, mirrors and large pieces of furniture. Have an emergency supplies kit easily accessible. If you live in an earthquake-prone area, you should bolt down your largest pieces of furniture, the water heater and any gas appliance with wall studs.

Picture shows a highway that has fallen into the water along with a building due to an earthquake.
If you start to feel shaking, hear rattling or items start to fall off the shelf—drop, cover and hold.

Earthquake Survival Kit

Pack an earthquake preparedness kit much like you would any other disaster-ready kit, with a few extras such as dust masks and tools to turn off the gas to your house, patch damages and clean up spills and broken glass.

Do you live in an earthquake-prone area? What do you do to prepare? Share your tips and stories in the comment section.


Learn more about the 1959 Yellowstone earthquake. See State Highway 287 slumped into Hebgen Lake; damage from the August 1959 Hebgen Lake (Montana-Yellowstone) earthquake. The main residence of Hilgard Lodge is almost completely submerged in the lake. View to the northeast.



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Comments (9)

  1. Every Californian gets used to the little shakers but we’ve been very lucky that the big ones haven’t occurred at a time where we were out and about trying to earn our daily bread or the body count would have been a lot higher. We can’t get complacent about it because every geologist or seismologist worth their salt is predicting ‘when’ not ‘if.’ All the more reason to be prepared. The brains at Cal Tech, our best local source, say that we’re over a hundred years overdue for a really big one.

  2. Long Beach,Ca., Here–Now–1933, wasn’t born yet. Alaska Earthquake, missed it by a week or so after Hunting trip; Sylmar Quake, was working there but decided not to go to work that day. Ah–Whittier Quake, about 30 min. from where I live. Palm Springs Earthquake, was there in summer while in Jr college; sitting on bus bench with friend, talking, getting a tan and drinking chocolate milk. Don’t even wake up for them anymore. Live in single level wood frame house, best for servival if your there to monitor fires and gas leaks. If not, better carry earthquake ins. Oh, forgot, San Fran earthquake during world series was in Reno, Nev. gambling on the former one and in Henderson, Nev. gambling on the later one and with the kids.

  3. Ron: It made sense to a lot of us and the doorway used to be recommended but later thinking is to avoid it. It shifts and you end up pinned by the door. Depending on where you are it’s still best to get under something and duck, cover and hold on.

    Baby locks on cabinets can prevent a lot of china loss and bolting down things like book cases and putting Velcro under computers and printers can prevent a lot of injuries. A pair of old shoes under the bed will get you out of the house without cut feet.

  4. Lived in the Mohave desert for almost 30 years. Went through the Landers quake in ’92. Took them a while to figure out just how big that one was, believe they settled on a 7.3. And the aftershocks! The ground rolled like it was water. I tell you one thing, it sure cured me of sleeping naked! Keep that in mind if you don’t want to embarrass yourself or your children.

    1. Elderly east coast lady was in the bath in So Cal when a 4. something rattled the house. She ran nude into the kitchen yelling “WHAT SHOULD I DO?”. My father in law looked at her and said put on some cloths!

  5. I have lived through many of them .Small and big.The most common wounds are cut feet. Glass brakes, dishes EXPLODE out of cupboards,shower doors shatter,small objects can be SHOT across the room.Think tornado type projectiles. Keep a pair of old shoes next to the bed IN THE SPOT that your feet always hit the ground Also places around the house if you go bare foot like me.The EQ seams to like the night. the power will be out . With cut feet you will be no help to your kids if you cant get to them.

  6. Good info.! But also include that since earthquakes happen in usually less than a minutes time you may not have enough time to find an optimal space to take cover in, so in a doorway area might be the fastest cover. The door frame provides added support.

    And in the list of survival kit items, make sure your plates and utensils are paper or plastic you don’t want to waste precious water on cleaning up!!

    I live in Nor Cal and felt the Napa quake. I have a stock of paper plates, cups and plastic utensils. One other essential item is, we probably have all bought bulk packs of toilet-paper at Costco, eh. I bought one extra bulk pack and keep it stored and untouched to be used only in emergencies! And a pack of wet ones for hand sanitation, again to conserve water. The large size wet ones can even be used for “bathing”.

    Don’t be caught without a good supply of TP, or you will have an emergency!!

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