Earthquake Safety and Preparedness

by Katie Pfeifer, The Sandner Group

Earthquakes occur as the result of movement under the earth’s surface. This movement is due to slipping fault lines, which are the edges of tectonic “plates” along the earth’s surface. Every state in our country is at some risk for earthquakes. Oklahoma, located near the New Madrid Seismic Zone in the central United States, is now second in the nation for number of earthquakes. Scientists predict a 97% chance of a major earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone at any time before 2035. Although earthquakes cannot be predicted, you can take numerous steps and precautions to prepare for an earthquake.

An initial step is to study the surroundings and designate safe places to take cover. Check if your building is earthquake resistant and conforms to local building codes. Determine if there are power lines or gas lines in the immediately vicinity. Know the location of any available generators, and learn how to properly use them. Create a First Aid Kit with a three-day supply of water and medication, as well as any important documents. It is also useful to have several loud whistles in the kit, which can be used to alert rescue personnel to your location. Store the First Aid Kit near a designated safe place, and check it once a year to ensure the kit remains functional. Once a safe place is established, secure heavy items in the area that could fall and cause injury, such as bookshelves, mirrors, and light fixtures.

Next, conduct regular practice drills on how to “Drop, Cover, and Hold On:” drop to the floor, move under a sturdy piece of furniture, and hold on until the shaking stops. If dropping to the floor is not possible, then dropping down next to an interior wall away from potential debris is another safe option. These actions can help avoid serious injury and greatly increase the chances of survival.

If an earthquake occurs, you must act quickly. Serious earthquakes are usually marked by a roaring or rumbling sound that gradually grows louder, and may include a violent jolt, followed by the ground shaking. The ground shaking may make moving difficult. Although earthquakes typically last less than a minute, they can cause massive amounts of damage.

Ideally, you will be able to get to a designated safe space and drop down to your hands and knees and cover your neck and head. If the safe space is inaccessible or unsafe to reach, then drop down to the floor to avoid being knocked down. Cover your neck and head with your arms to protect yourself and stay where you are until the shaking stops. Avoid glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, including light fixtures or furniture. Do not stand in a doorway: they do not offer any more protection from falling or flying debris than other areas in the building. Doors can also swing, causing injury.

If you are outdoors whenan earthquake occurs, move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires. The exterior walls and doorways of a building pose the greatest danger from falling debris. Windows, facades, and architectural details are usually the first parts of a building that collapse. Once safely away from the building and out in the open, then “Drop, Cover, and Hold On.”

When the earthquake has stopped, locate a clear path to safety and proceed away from damaged areas. Be aware of your surroundings. Downed power lines are extremely dangerous. Always assume downed power lines are live. Do not touch the power line or anything in contact with it. Call 911 or notify the nearest emergency personnel so they can handle the situation safely.

If you become trapped in a building following an earthquake, try not to panic. Don’t kick up dirt or dust by trying to move around. If you have a working cell phone, try calling or texting for help. Tap on a pipe or use a whistle from the First Aid Kit so rescuers can find you. Once safe, pay close attention to cell phone alerts, media reports, or emergency bulletins. They may include further instructions from authorities. Be prepared to “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” in the likely occurrence of earthquake aftershocks.

Earthquakes often damage nearby gas lines, which may cause fires and explosions. Refrain from using matches, lighters, or appliances until you are sure there are no gas leaks. If you smell gas, call 911 or notify emergency authorities immediately.

Power outages are common following earthquakes. If the power is out, locate an available generator to provide electricity. Use the generator outdoors and follow all operating instructions. Never operate a generator indoors: generators create carbon monoxide, which can incapacitate and result in death. Opening doors or windows will not prevent a build-up of carbon monoxide. While operating the generator outdoors, protect it from moisture, by placing the generator on a dry surface under an open canopy, such as a tarp held up on poles. Do not use the generator while it is raining and do not touch the generator with wet hands to avoid shocks and electrocution.

Finally, be sure to contact authorities in your area and learn the emergency procedures that have been established by the state and local government. These invaluable resources can give you information crucial to your safety and the safety of those around you. Visit the websites or for tips on ensuring safety during earthquakes and other natural disasters. For additional risk management information, contact your Loss Control Specialist.