An earthquake is commonly understood as a shaking of the Earth’s surface and is also known as a tremor or a quake. It is the sudden release of energy from within the Earth that creates seismic waves and all those tremors. While some earthquakes can be minor and hardly felt or observed, some can be destructive and violent enough due to strong seismic activity.
So, why do these earthquakes happen in the first place, and should you worry about them? Well, the earthquake occurs when there is a movement along the fault plane. The fault zone is a series of fractures between two blocks of rocks that move relative to each other. While most fault surfaces do not have any irregularities along the fault surface and allow the movement of the sides of a fault smoothly, there are some that carry certain irregularities. In such cases, the continued motion between the plates develops stress, and the strain. When the stress volume builds sufficiently, the stored energy gets released in the form of those seismic waves, thus resulting in an earthquake.
If you are one of those who think that earthquakes are a problem of other countries or other people far away, it is time to think again. The recent statistics on earthquakes report a steady rise in the number of earthquakes in recent years all across the world.
The National Earthquake Information Center
According to the National Earthquake Information Center, about 20,000 earthquakes occur each year, and that comes to about 55 quakes per day. The increasing number in recent years is also attributed to the much more improved seismic instruments and better communication systems that can accurately record and measure earthquakes. There is a greater interest in natural disasters and higher awareness among the public regarding earthquakes now than before.
Based on past records, one can expect about 16 major earthquakes to occur in any given year, and these earthquakes fall in the magnitude 7 or 8 range or even greater. Clearly, the risk of earthquakes is a real one and not some distant problem. While there are some countries and geographical regions that are more prone to earthquakes such as Japan, China, Turkey, Iran, and Indonesia, you never know when you might be in an active seismic area.
Earthquakes as events and disasters
Earthquakes occur every day across the world, and one can find real-time updates on the website of the U.S. Geological Survey. The more severe ones can cause notable damage and can even generate a tsunami. Available data shows the maximum number of deaths that are taking place across the world are either due to earthquakes or extreme weather across the globe. While there is a lower number of people dying from other natural disasters, earthquakes can still claim a large number of lives. Some major reasons behind the deaths from earthquakes are poorly designed buildings on earthquake regions and higher population density.
Why should you worry?
Most people who live in the United States do not care much about earthquakes and tend to think that it is not their problem. However, as a responsible citizen, it never hurts to be a little more aware and prepare well ahead in case of an earthquake. Eastern North America is much more vulnerable towards earthquakes as it has older rocks dating back to hundreds of millions of years ago. These rocks have been exposed to extreme pressures and temperatures over the years. Any fault lines developing in these harder and denser rocks will lead to much powerful seismic waves and energy, that can explode as a severe earthquake.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, about 150 million Americans reside in earthquake-prone areas, and thus earthquakes are a matter of concern for the U.S. citizens. You might find it hard to believe, but earthquakes can affect any of these states at any given time and can take many lives. Along with the western coast and eastern side, there are other areas with tectonically feuded faults and plates such as Memphis, Charleston, Oklahoma, Nevada, Wyoming, St. Louis, and Anchorage and some more.
Earthquakes happen suddenly and without warning, and before you know, the world around you comes tumbling down, leaving no room for any escape. Let us go on to the most important section on this page that focuses on how you can prepare ahead for an earthquake.
How to be Earthquake Ready
Anytime is a good time for earthquake prepping as those tremors can strike any time of the year and just about anywhere. The first step is to have a good look at your house and see if it can withstand an earthquake as best as possible.
- Start with your home and family
Educating your family on the need for earthquake preparedness and make sure everybody has a plan in their mind and knows exactly what to do in case of an earthquake. There is no need to create fears in the mind of the children, and rather one should instill confidence in them as now they are much better prepared than before for the earthquakes. Check your home and make every room safe and identify any potential hazards ahead of time. There is no harm in reinforcing building foundations and securing the massive pieces of furniture to walls and secure other objects. Contact your local seismic building standards and learn about the modifications too can make to your house. As the garage area is the most vulnerable in case of an earthquake, consider seismic retrofitting for the room that is above the garage.
- Prepare an earthquake survival kit
Your home and surrounding areas could face a range of possible emergencies due to not just earthquakes but even hurricanes and floods. It makes sense to have a survival kit ready as you might be locked or marooned in your home for days or even weeks and with no help from outside. You could run out of food and medical supplies or may have to evacuate your home within seconds. Hence, always have an earthquake survival kit in place and prioritize items like food, water, first aid kit, medicine, and other essentials for proper sanitation. Do keep your pets in mind when you prepare the earthquake survival kit with your family.
- Practice a household evacuation plan
Develop a household evacuation plan, and it should include your pets too. You can practice “drop, cover, and hold on” with all the family members and locate the safest spots in each room for ducking under. There should be a solar flashlight and shoes near each bed. It is a good idea to get a fire extinguisher installed at key points and get your family trained for its use. Each family member should know how to turn off the gas, electricity, and water, as well as how to use emergency whistles. Keep all the essential documents, financial records, insurance policies, identification documents in a safe and waterproof container. These should be carried out along with the earthquake survival kit in case of an emergency.
- Buy An Earthquake insurance
As homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover earthquake damage usually, it becomes essential to buy coverage for the calamity. It is alarming to see that only about 20% of homeowners carry coverage for earthquake insurance. It is best to check out the state policies before buying any Earthquake insurance and look for the best fit for your family and home. Read between the lines as the policy covers would be different, and not all earthquake insurance is going to be the same.
Plan of Action
When the earthquake strikes you could be sleeping, working at the office, or driving on the road. So, what should be your first step and line of action? As the first essential rule, no matter where you are and what you are doing, just duck under a sturdy and safe cover and stay there.
- While driving: You might swerve a bit and feel as if the tire is punctured. However, it is the earthquake, and what you need to do is just pull over to the side of the road and stay inside the car. Analyze the situation, and you may drive to the nearest bridges or buildings but stay away from the power lines.
- While sleeping: Stay in your bed if you feel the tremors and protect your head with a pillow. Move the bed away from the window or a heavy light fixture to keep it in a safer position. Do not light a match in case you get trapped inside.
- While at work: Just stay clear of any potential falling objects like cabinets and bookshelves. Analyze your situation and stay put before moving about. Beware of any broken glass and debris falling over you, and if you are outside, stay away from traffic lights, power lines, and sinkholes.
- While at home: Get on your hands and knees immediately and crawl underneath a sturdy desk and cover your head. Keep away from shelves and windows and avoid elevators.
After the earthquake
If you are lucky, you may just feel slight tremors or get away with an earthquake of a lower magnitude. However, for those who are hit by a severe earthquake, there can be fires, injuries, and emergencies of all kinds. The first and foremost step is to contact the local Emergency Response Team in case you need help and try to get in touch with your friends and neighbors. Don’t use elevators and locate a safe place outside where your family and pets can stay after the disaster. Be well prepared as there might be aftershocks.
Follow the instructions of local authorities and have a sound communication plan in place. Wear protective clothing and sturdy shoes in case there are debris and broken glass lying around. Check your home for any structural damage and do not enter if you suspect any potential hazards like leaking gas. Do not flush toilets as the sewer lines are broken. Make sure every family member is aware of the emergency communication plan and knows the essential name and contact numbers in case of an emergency. Place a HELP sign on your window if you need help.
Some more useful tips
Earthquakes occur without warning, and if one is well prepared, they can take the right action at the right time to minimize the impact. Here are a couple of more tips that can help you face an earthquake as best as possible.
- Do an inventory of your house, your workplace, and, if possible, the school of your children. Hire licensed professionals to do the needful changes to make the space earthquake safe and to limit the risk of exposure to earthquakes.
- Have regular workshops and drills on earthquake safety and show videos to children on earthquakes and the kind of damage that can follow. Ask them to observe the right steps to follow and discuss the videos and their content on earthquakes.
- Share your earthquake preparedness plan with your neighbors, babysitters, coworkers, and learn about their disaster plans for more ideas. The whole community would feel more connected and well prepared in case of an emergency.
- Strengthen local health emergency management systems with a well-trained staff of volunteers who can work with medical response teams and field hospitals. Work with local emergency services and together in your community to mitigate the impacts of the earthquake.
Earthquake Prepping – Final words
Investing in one’s family’s and community preparedness can reduce the factors of vulnerability towards earthquakes. With adequate building practices and regulations in place and a sound earthquake preparedness plan, one can raise public awareness on earthquake risks.
Seismologists and emergency leaders are getting increasingly worried as earthquakes can be tough to handle. And despite speedy advancements seen in seismology and much better sensors and alert systems, it is still not possible to predict earthquakes. It is time to get out of that complacent and denial mode and be a smart and savvy earthquake prepper. Take advantage of the information put together on this page and follow the concise guide to earthquake preparedness and become well prepared for any worst-case scenario. Keep yourself and your loved ones safe!