Earthquake Safety: 8 Tips To Keep You and Your Home Safe
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Earthquake safety is one of your best defenses when such a natural disaster unexpectedly happens. From securing your home to mastering essential first-aid skills, the steps you take now can significantly impact your safety and resilience during and after an earthquake. You should also consider buying earthquake insurance as standard homeowners policies do not cover losses caused by earthquakes.
Learn what to do before and after an earthquake as well as how to get proper coverage for your property.
Earthquake Safety Tips To Prepare Before an Earthquake
Being ready for the worst requires careful planning so make sure you and your family are ready should an earthquake occur.
1. Learn How To Turn off the Gas, Electricity and Your Water Lines
Familiarize yourself with the locations of the gas shut-off valve, electrical main switch and main water valve for your home. Remember, if you smell gas or suspect a leak, shut off the gas immediately and avoid using electrical switches or appliances, as they could trigger an explosion.
For electricity, turn off the main switch at your breaker box to prevent potential electrical fires, especially if you notice frayed wires or smell burning. Similarly, shutting off the main water valve can prevent contaminated water from entering your home and help maintain water pressure in the community's system. You can shut off the water at the street or at your home if you’ve had an emergency shutoff installed closer to your home.
2. Have Your Earthquake Emergency Kit and Emergency Supplies Available
Your earthquake preparation plan should include an earthquake emergency kit. Make sure it has basic supplies like water, extra batteries, a radio, medicine, a bed kit, blankets, non-perishable food, a first-aid kit, flashlights and important documents (birth certificates, insurance information, etc.). You can get a detailed list of items to include in your kit by going to the FEMA website.
Regularly check and replenish your kit to ensure everything is up-to-date and functional. Also, be sure to have a fire extinguisher in key areas such as the kitchen, garage, main living spaces and on every floor of your home.
3. Make an Exit Plan and Meet Up With Your Family
Develop a clear exit plan from your home once the earthquake has finished and designate a safe meeting place for your family. Ideally, this should be in an open area away from any structures. Choose somewhere that is easily accessible for you and your family. Having a predetermined rendezvous point is vital if communication networks are down following an earthquake.
Ensure that all family members are aware of the plan and practice it regularly. And as silly as it may sound, have rope ladders ready if your home has multiple stories should the earthquake prevent you from using the stairs.
4. Learn First-Aid and CPR
First-aid and CPR skills can be life-saving in the aftermath of an earthquake. You can find local certifications through the American Red Cross by clicking here. Keep in mind that you are not a replacement for emergency services but you can provide a quick means of rendering basic medical care while you wait for help after an earthquake occurs.
5. Make Sure Heavy Furniture Is Securely Anchored
Use furniture straps or anchors, which can be easily found at hardware stores, to attach tall and heavy items like bookcases, dressers, large picture frames and entertainment centers to interior wall studs. Otherwise, these objects could become falling hazards.
It's important to use the right type of anchor for your wall type – whether it's drywall, plaster or masonry. Additionally, for items like televisions, consider using anti-tip straps that prevent them from falling forward. When anchoring furniture, ensure that the anchors are installed correctly and check them periodically for any signs of wear or looseness.
6. Ensure Heavy Objects Aren’t Left on High Shelves
Opt for lower shelves for items like heavy books, glassware and ceramic objects. Use non-slip mats to secure objects on shelves, which can help prevent them from sliding off during shaking. For items that must remain on higher shelves, consider installing lipped edges or railings on the shelves to provide an extra layer of security. Additionally, closed cabinets with latches can prevent objects from falling out.
Also, don’t forgo the convenience of storing items in the garage or basement of your home where there could be extra cabinets.
7. Get Your Home Evaluated for Structural Improvements
A structural engineer can assess the earthquake resilience of your home and recommend specific improvements. This may include reinforcing the foundation, especially if your home is older or on unstable soil. They might also suggest securing the house to its foundation with bolts or braces, a process known as seismic retrofitting, which is particularly important for homes built before updated building codes.
Upgrading or repairing the roof and walls to make them more flexible and resilient to seismic forces can also be crucial. Additionally, consider improvements like installing automatic gas shut-off valves and strengthening chimneys, which are often vulnerable during earthquakes, as well as installing safety film to windows to prevent cracking.
Improvements to the home can also include cutting back or down trees that can become falling hazards should an earthquake occur. Look for trees that are dead or dying and have a professional remove them.
8. Get Earthquake Insurance for Your Home
Traditional homeowners insurance and renters insurance do not cover earthquake damage, making it essential to consider a separate earthquake policy. When shopping for earthquake insurance, assess the coverage limits, deductibles and exclusions carefully. The coverage should ideally include not only the cost of rebuilding your home but also replacing personal property and providing for living expenses if your home becomes uninhabitable.
Be aware that deductibles for earthquake insurance are usually a percentage of the policy limit, ranging from 2% to 20% of the property value, rather than a fixed dollar amount. This percentage can vary significantly, so it’s important to choose a policy that balances affordability with adequate coverage.
Additionally, consider the seismic risk in your area; homes in high-risk zones might face higher premiums but foregoing insurance in these areas could be financially devastating in the event of a major earthquake.
What To Do During an Earthquake
Knowing where to hunker down and how to keep your cool are things you can do to help keep yourself safe during an earthquake.
Practice Drop, Cover and Hold On
The “Drop, Cover and Hold On” method is a safety tactic to use during earthquakes advocated by the Earthquake Country Alliance. Stop moving, drop to the ground, take cover under sturdy furniture, such as a desk or table, and hold on until the shaking stops. To minimize injury risk:
- Quickly move away from glass, hanging objects and large furniture if shaking begins.
- Use nearby objects to shield your head and face from falling debris and broken glass.
- In the kitchen, turn off the stove immediately and take cover.
- If in bed, stay put and protect your head with a pillow. Avoid walking on potentially glass-covered floors.
- Avoid standing in doorways; they offer no special protection and are no stronger than other parts of a modern house. Under a desk or a table is safer.
- Be alert of flying and falling objects.
Staying calm during an earthquake is critical, not just for rational decision-making but also for physiological reasons. When we are faced with a stressful situation like an earthquake, our bodies release stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones trigger the "fight or flight"response, increasing heart rate, blood pressure and energy levels to prepare the body for rapid action.
While this heightened state can prompt us to take action, it can also impair clear thinking and lead to panic. To counter this, undergo some deep breathing exercises, which help to slow down the heart rate and reduce the intensity of the stress response.
What Should I Do After an Earthquake?
Once the ground has decided to stop moving, there are some things you can do once it’s safe.
- Check yourselves and others for injuries: If you’re qualified to, administer first-aid where necessary and seek medical attention for serious injuries. Be sure to call 911 in case there are any injuries.
- Turn off potentially hazardous lines: This will include gas, electricity and water lines to prevent post-earthquake hazards like fires or flooding. Also, do not use open flames, as gas leaks from damaged pipes could cause fires or explosions. Use flashlights or battery-powered lamps for light.
- Stay away from damaged areas and buildings: Wait until damaged areas have been declared safe by authorities. Aftershocks can cause further damage or collapse.
- Document the damage: This includes taking pictures or videos. You'll need these when you file a claim if you have earthquake coverage.
- Contact your earthquake insurance provider: You'll want to have your policy information handy along with the pictures you took.
- Find a place to stay: Contact any friends or family that could help as your home could be uninhabitable. Check to see if your earthquake insurance policy will pay for a hotel or other accommodations until your home is safe to live in.
- Meet with your claims adjuster: Your insurance provider will dispatch a claims adjuster to assess the damage to your property. It's important to meet with them to provide insights and clarify the extent of the damage.