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7 Essential Earthquake Safety Tips

If you live in California, it’s not a matter of if, but when earthquakes will hit in our earthquake-prone state. Earthquakes can clearly be dangerous, but you can mitigate your risk of personal injury, property damage and financial loss by following some essential earthquake safety tips. Start getting ready for the next big earthquake today by creating an earthquake preparation checklist, conducting a “hazard hunt” to help identify and fix unsecured items and heavy objects like large appliances and bookshelves, and making a plan for keeping your family safe.

Not sure where or how to start? Simply follow these Seven Steps to Earthquake Safety.

Steps to Take Before the Shaking Begins

When it comes to earthquake safety preparedness, it’s important to start preparing for an earthquake well before it strikes, since no one can predict when or where the next big one will occur. These earthquake safety actions will help you, your family, and your pets stay safe and be more prepared for the next big earthquake.

Step 1: Secure Your Space

Step 1: Secure Your Space

Step 1: Secure Your Space

Secure your space by identifying hazards and securing moveable items.

Prepare your home BEFORE an earthquake strikes. Decrease your risk of damage and injury from an earthquake by identifying possible home hazards and adhering to the tips below. For a complete list of home earthquake safety precautions, visit Red Cross Earthquake Safety.

  • Keep heavy unstable items away from doors and exits.
  • Use flexible connections where gas lines meet appliances.
  • Place beds away from windows.
  • Brace overhead light fixtures.
  • Secure top-heavy furniture to studs.
  • Brace water heaters with metal straps attached to studs.

Certain types of homes may be more susceptible to earthquake damage. Have a professional check for certain vulnerabilities and consider strengthening porches, decks, carports, chimneys and fireplaces, and garages.   

Step 2: Plan to be Safe

Step 2: Plan to be Safe

Step 2: Plan to be Safe

Plan to be safe by creating a disaster plan and deciding how you will communicate in an emergency.

Begin writing your earthquake emergency plan by focusing on family communication. Remember that family members may not be home when the earthquake strikes.

Follow these earthquake safety procedures:

  • Collect contact information about your family and organizations, such as doctors, schools, and hospitals. Include the name and phone number of the person who should be contacted in an emergency. Also include your reunion location, and the location of your emergency supplies.
  • Share a paper copy of the plan with every family member.
  • Store the plan on your refrigerator and keep copies in backpacks, briefcases, handbags, and cars.
  • Enter emergency contact information into all household members’ cell phones or devices. Text messages may get through during an earthquake when phone calls can’t.
  • Sign up for the MyShake app, which will send your mobile device an earthquake early warning.  
  • Review and practice the plan during family meetings.

Step 3: Organize Disaster Supplies

Step 3: Organize Disaster Supplies

Step 3: Organize Disaster Supplies

Organize disaster supplies in convenient locations

Have your earthquake emergency kit readily reachable. It should include at least three days’ supply of water and food for each member of your household and your pets. Also include flashlights and batteries, portable radios, a first aid kit, medications, and a whistle. For a full list of suggested earthquake safety preparedness supplies, visit Ready.gov.

Step 4: Minimize Financial Hardship

Step 4: Minimize Financial Hardship

Step 4: Minimize Financial Hardship

Minimize financial hardship by organizing important documents, strengthening your property, and considering insurance.

Protecting financial and personal documents before an earthquake hits is an important step in being prepared. You can choose to store financial documents in the Cloud, in a fireproof bag, or on a portable drive kept in your earthquake emergency kit. Gather the following items as part of your earthquake safety procedures:

  • Housing: lease or rental contract, mortgage documents or title to your home, home insurance.
  • Vehicle: loan information, Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), registration, title, auto insurance.
  • Financial: checking, savings, debit card information, retirement, life insurance.
  • Other Financial Obligations: utility bills, credit card information, student loans, alimony, child support, elder care, automatic payments, appraisal documents, photos, and a list of valuable property.
  • Tax Statements: income tax returns, property tax, and vehicle tax.
  • Estate Planning: wills, trusts and power of attorney documents.

Make financial documentation part of your earthquake safety steps. Without the proper documentation, it can take much longer to get financial assistance and begin the recovery process. For additional checklists and guidance on collecting and safeguarding important information, download FEMA’s Emergency Financial First Aid Kit.

One of the biggest financial hardships an earthquake may cause is damage to your home. So, it is important to take steps to prevent that. Certain types of houses built before 1980 are vulnerable to sliding off their foundation because they were built before modern seismic building codes were in place. And chimneys and fireplaces can also topple and fall if they were built before 1995. Find your house type to learn how to take steps to help strengthen it against earthquake damage and make a financial plan to help make it safer for you and your family.

If your home is in need of structural, seismic strengthening, always employ an experienced California licensed contractor for any retrofit work or repairs.

Consider if earthquake insurance is right for you. It can help with the cost of repairs to your home and can help pay additional living expenses if you need to move out because of earthquake damage.

Steps to Take During the Earthquake

The earthquake safety precautions you take during an actual earthquake are critical when it comes to minimizing your chances of getting hurt when the ground starts to violently shake. Once the shaking starts, you and your entire family may only have mere seconds to start carrying out your earthquake safety preparation. So, it is imperative that you and your family become very familiar with your safety precautions for earthquakes, maybe even practice them a couple times a year. That way you all know what to do once the shaking starts.

Step 5: Drop, Cover, and Hold On

Step 5: Drop, Cover, and Hold On

Step 5: Drop, Cover, and Hold On

Drop, cover, and hold on when the earth shakes.

These safety tips for earthquakes help you know what to do as soon as the ground starts to shake.

  • Drop to the ground, away from windows or furniture that could fall.
  • Cover. Get under a heavy table or desk. If there isn’t a table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.
  • Hold On. Stay inside and in place until shaking stops. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different building location or try to leave.

Step 6: Improve Safety

Step 6: Improve Safety

Step 6: Improve Safety

Improve safety after earthquakes by evacuating if necessary, helping the injured, and preventing further damage.

Improve your earthquake safety preparation with an inspection of your home’s structure. Certain home types may need seismic retrofitting to help make them stronger against earthquake damage. Check out California building codes and always employ an experienced California licensed contractor for any retrofit work or repairs. 

Steps to Take After the Earthquake

The Earthquake Country Alliance (ECA) points out that taking the right steps in the aftermath of a seismic event are just as important as doing the right things before and during the earthquake. All the planning in the world won’t matter if you and your family are not prepared to handle the unique threats and challenges you will face when the shaking stops.

Share this important, post-earthquake event information from ECA with family members and friends to ensure that everyone knows what they will need to do if someone gets injured, lost, or separated.

Step 7: Reconnect and Restore

Step 7: Reconnect and Restore

Step 7: Reconnect and Restore

Restore daily life by reconnecting with others, repairing damage, and rebuilding community.

After an earthquake continue to follow your earthquake plan. Aftershocks will continue to occur. Some may cause additional damage. Remember to drop, cover, and hold on.

Follow these earthquake safety tips:

  • Stay in communication. Turn on the radio and monitor local radio reports and government websites.
  • Text your out-of-area contact to update your status.
  • Stay off the phone. Phone lines need to be kept open for emergency responders.
  • Reach out to your neighborhood and community organizations.
  • If your home has been damaged or you have been displaced from your home, visit FEMA financial assistance. Resources also may be available from state and local government sources.
  • If you need to repair your home, always use a state licensed contractor. Try to obtain at least three bids.

how to prepare your house for an earthquake

The first step in your earthquake safety preparation is getting to know your home’s earthquake resistance. Schedule an onsite visit with a licensed contract or structural engineer to learn if the structural elements of your home need reinforcing. Common retrofits include:

  • Adding anchor bolts or steel plates between your home and its foundation.
  • Reinforcing the inside of your home's crawl space wall (cripple wall), the short wood-stud wall between the top of the foundation wall and the first floor.
  • Bracing unreinforced chimneys, masonry and concrete walls and foundations.

Understand Structural & Geologic Threats to your House

Get to know the potential structural risks to your home in case of a major earthquake. Earthquakes can cause homes, mobilehomes and apartment buildings to move off their foundations, windows to shatter leaving broken glass, and gas lines to rupture. Your home also may be vulnerable to serious structural damage if it was built before 1980.

Find out about faults in your area by visiting the California Earthquake Authority’s risk by county map. The violent shaking from earthquakes can rupture the earth, trigger landslides and turn the surface of the earth to liquid. Identify the geologic hazards near you.

Reinforce your House

Knowing your home’s structural strengths and weaknesses in the event of an earthquake is an important earthquake safety precaution.

If you own a raised foundation home built before 1980, the best way to help prevent earthquake damage is with a seismic retrofit. This is also known as a “brace and bolt retrofit,” or a “soft-story retrofit.” New building codes went into effect in California in 1980 resulting in better foundation to wood-frame connections. Homes built after 1980 are nailed down to the foundation and use large bolts throughout the foundation to create a stronger connection.

A seismic retrofit may also include making your chimney less vulnerable to damage and can help strengthen homes with other vulnerabilities

Strengthen Your House with an Earthquake Retrofit

Get ready today for the next big California earthquake by strengthening your house’s foundation.

During an earthquake, the ground moves and shifts from under the house, but gravity tries to hold the structure in place, which causes weak sections to break. Earthquake safety preparedness is vital for Californians since we never know when the next major earthquake will occur.

Nothing replaces earthquake safety preparedness when the next major earthquake hits.

Get started today and strengthen your house.

Earthquake Safety Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is Earthquake Safety?
A. Earthquake safety is being prepared before the next big shaker strikes. Earthquake safety and preparedness are defined by taking steps to help ensure the safety of yourself, your family members, your pets, and your home well before a quake occurs. The optimal time to begin your earthquake safety planning and preparation is now. An important safety element in your preparation is educating yourself on whether your home needs a seismic retrofit to help give it a better chance to withstand earthquake damage.
Q. Why is Earthquake Safety Important?
A. Earthquake safety is important because it can help prepare your home and your family for a major earthquake and how to help mitigate your risk of personal injury, property damage and financial loss.
Q. Where is the Safest Place to be in an Earthquake?
A. Ready. gov advises that if you are inside during an earthquake, you should stay inside and do not run outside or to other rooms during an earthquake. If you are outside, it is recommended that you stay outside because you are less likely to be injured if you stay where you are. If you are outside, move away from buildings and stay away from electrical wires. To reduce your chances of being hurt both inside and outside, these additional safety actions are suggested depending on your location. And always remember the important, basic earthquake safety preparedness step, Drop, Cover, and Hold On.
Q. Is a Doorway the Safest Place in an Earthquake?
A. Experts advise that you not stand or remain in a doorway during an earthquake. It is safer to crawl under a table near an interior wall. In most homes, doorways are no stronger than any other part of your house.
Q. Is a Closet Safe in an Earthquake?
A. While a closet might offer some protection from an earthquake, experts recommend the best place to be when you are inside during an earthquake is beneath a sturdy table or desk so that your head is covered and that you are able to hold on to the table or desk. If you seek shelter in a closet during an earthquake, you also risk being injured by objects falling from shelves.
Q. Is it Safer to be Inside or Outside During an Earthquake?
Since no one knows when an earthquake is going to strike, you need to be prepared to take immediate action whether you are inside or outside when the shaking begins. If outside, it’s best to drop and cover your head and neck with your arms. Protecting your head is very important under any earthquake scenario.
If inside, it’s best to drop down and crawl under a sturdy table or desk and cover your head and neck with your hands and arms. If you are outside and driving when the shaking starts, pull over to the side of the road and remain in your car until the shaking stops. If you are outside, but not driving, it’s important that you find an open area away from telephone poles, buildings, and trees, drop down and stay put until the shaking stops. Wherever you are, don’t forget to cover your head and neck with your arms and hands.
Q. Is it Safer to be Upstairs or Downstairs in an Earthquake?
A. Whether upstairs or downstairs in a house, apartment, or building, it’s best to stay where you are and don’t go to another room or another floor. Stay in place and drop to your hands and knees. If you are unable to get on the floor, try to crouch down in a seated position and cover your neck and head with your hands and arms.
Q. Is it Safe to Go Under a Table During an Earthquake?
Crawling under a strong, sturdy table is a good place to be during an earthquake. While under the table, it’s important that you cover your head and neck with your arms and hands.
Q. Earthquake Do’s and Don’ts

A. Protecting yourself and your loved ones during an earthquake is by far your most important priority. A basic list of what to do and what not to during an earthquake is laid out below.

Earthquake  Do’s

  • If you are indoors when an earthquake hits, stay indoors.
  • If you happen to be indoors and upstairs, stay upstairs.
  • If you are outdoors, stay outdoors and get away from electrical lines and move away from buildings. Wherever you are, remember to drop, cover, and hold on. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) provides a “to do” list of several things you should do during an earthquake.   

Earthquake Don’ts

If you are indoors during an earthquake, don’t go near windows, fireplaces, and appliances. If you are driving when an earthquake strikes, pull your car over to the side of the road and don’t get out of your car until the shaking stops. The USGS is also a helpful source for information on what not to do in an earthquake.  

Q. What Should You Never Do in an Earthquake?
A. Research has shown that most earthquake-related injuries occur when people inside homes or buildings try to move to a different location or to leave their home or building. So, do not run outside or to other rooms when the earthquake shaking starts. The area near the exterior walls of a home or building is the most dangerous place to be because of the proximity to windows. If you are driving during an earthquake, pull over to the side of the road and stay inside your car until the shaking stops.
Q. What is a Seismic Retrofit?

A. A seismic retrofit involves strengthening a structure to make it more resistant to earthquake shaking and damage.

There are more than one million potentially vulnerable, older homes in the Golden State that could experience major damage from violent earthquake shaking and many of those homes are good candidates for a seismic retrofit.  

Q. Is a Seismic Retrofit Worth Getting?
A. Certain home types may need seismic retrofitting to help strengthen them against earthquake damage. If you live in one of these type homes, it’s a good idea to determine whether your home needs to be retrofitted to help make it more resistant to earthquake shaking. In addition to strengthening your home, retrofitting also may help reduce the risk of injury to you and your family in an earthquake.   
Q. How Do I get a Seismic Retrofit?

A. Determining your home’s age, construction and foundation type is a good first step as you begin the retrofitting process.

The next step is a visual inspection by a licensed contractor, engineer or architect, which can determine your home’s seismic vulnerabilities. Recommendations from the licensed professional can help with your final decision on whether to retrofit and the extent of the work that needs to be done.

Q. How Much Does a Seismic Retrofit Cost?
A. The California Residential Mitigation Program (CRMP) estimates that the repair cost for a brace and bolt type retrofit ranges from $3,000 to $7,000. Homes built on hillsides and those with rooms over garages or basements will typically cost more to retrofit.  
Q. How Long Does a Seismic Retrofit Take?

A. A typical retrofitting project can last from four to 12 weeks, depending on the time it takes to secure the homeowners’ permits and plans and depending on the scope of work. However, the construction work itself often takes only one to three days with all the work usually done outside the home and not requiring entry to the inside.

Considering the peace of mind and the additional level of safety and protection that comes with a seismic retrofit in this earthquake-prone state in which we live, it’s important that you take action today to determine whether your home is in need of strengthening when the inevitable, next major earthquake pays us a visit.  

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