We’ve all seen images of the devastation caused by earthquakes, yet it’s rarely the earthquakes themselves that cause injury. Most of the safety hazards are man-made. Apart from building collapse, the most common causes of injury and/or death during an earthquake come from people being hit by falling objects or cut from falling broken glass.
According to FEMA, 45 out of the 50 states in the US are at risk for earthquakes, some obviously more so than others. In all, around 75 million Americans live in areas where earthquakes could cause substantial damage. In the past few years we’ve seen quakes in unusual places such as Colorado or Washington D.C. So if you live in an area that is prone to earthquakes, you’ll want to take a little bit of time to prepare and educate your family about what to do in the event of an earthquake.
How earthquakes are measured and the damage they cause
Earthquakes are measured according to the Richter Scale and the damage they cause, developed by American geologist Charles Richter in 1935. They range from 0.1 to 10.0 on the Richter scale, and anything above a 6.0 is considered a sizeable quake. It’s also important to know that this is a logarithmic scale, which means each increase in the point scale is on the order of magnitude 1-. Thus a 7.0 quake is at least 10 times larger than that of a 6.0.
Most modern 20- to 40- story buildings are designed to withstand nearby crustal earthquakes, but may not survive large subduction-zone events. Whereas crustal earthquakes sent out high-frequency waves, subduction-zone earthquakes send out low-frequency waves over longer distances.
Earthquake preparation safety tips
The good news is that if you followed our guidelines in the chapter on childproofing your home, many of these same precautions will offer protection during an earthquake:
- Anything that is tall and heavy and near you or your children’s bed should be secured to the wall. Since earthquakes can strike at any time, there is around a 34% chance it will occur while you’re sleeping. If it does, you don’t want something heavy falling over and crushing your children in their sleep.
- Heavy hanging mirrors and other similar objects will tend to come off their hooks and come crashing to the floor during an earthquake. To avoid this, use a wire and a closed-loop screw attached to a stud to keep them on the wall.
- Install child-latch safety guards on your cupboards where glass plates or cups are stored, since dishes tend to be shaken out of cupboards during an earthquake and can cause significant gashes to a child’s head. You should also do the same with glass cabinets where nick-knacks or other collectibles are stored.
- Hot-water heaters are especially dangerous, and should be secured and affixed to a wall. Otherwise it may “walk” from one side of the room to the other during an earthquake, breaking gas lines in the process and creating a fire and explosion hazard. Since hot water heaters are top heavy, this is also an often overlooked child safety hazard, so it should be done regardless.
- Assemble a 3 day disaster survival kit.
What to do after you experience an earthquake
- Immediately turn off the gas main and ventilate your house. It’s common for these pipes to rupture, even during smaller quakes. Fires may be ignited by broken gas lines.
- Avoid sparks and flames through ignition sources such as cigarette lighters, indoor candles (which can also tip over during an aftershock and start a fire), or other open flames. Smoking is also a big no-no immediately after an earthquake. Avoid using lights, since even a tiny spark from an electrical wall switch could ignite accumulated gas.
- Check over your home thoroughly for broken pipes or damage of any kind. If you smell gas, leave immediately and do not return until authorities give the all-clear.
- In the event of a significant quake with substantial damage, use perishable food from your refrigerator first, then from your freezer. Try not to waste food or throw it out because of a power outage until you’re sure that community infrastructure is up and running again.