What to do after an earthquake

Written by:
May 4, 2018

What to do after an earthquake

Once the shaking stops, you might think an earthquake is over. Unfortunately, that could only be the beginning. Aftershocks can strike at any moment; buildings that look fine from the outside could also collapse without warning. Clearly, you still need to keep your wits about you to stay out of danger.

Stacker compiled advice from experts like the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assemble this list of what to do immediately after an earthquake. Whether or not your home sustained visible damage in the earthquake, you'll want to follow these steps to ensure your safety and that of those around you. Since an earthquake can happen at any moment, often with little warning, they're one of the most frightening natural disasters. Not only will learning what to do after an earthquake keep you safe in the event of an emergency, but knowing that you're mentally prepared for anything might also give you a little peace of mind.

1. As soon as the shaking stops, leave the building

If you’re indoors when an earthquake hits, evacuate the building as soon as possible. If aftershocks strike, you don’t want to be inside a structure that’s already potentially damaged.  

2. Do not use the phone

After a natural disaster, phone lines are often overloaded with people calling for help. Stay off the phone unless you have a life-threatening emergency and need to call 911. Instead, use texting and social media to get in touch with friends and family. 

3. Use battery-powered equipment to monitor the news

No matter what kind of natural disaster you’re facing, you want to stay tuned to the latest announcements from local authorities. Listen to or watch the news on a battery-powered radio or television. You don’t want to use any electrical equipment, as errant sparks from damaged wiring can ignite fires. 

4. Be aware of the possibilty of a tsunami, if you're near the coast

Earthquakes along the coast can trigger tsunamis, creating another life-threatening situation. Monitor NOAA Weather Radio for emergency alerts about potential tsunamis and be prepared to evacuate if necessary. 

5. Be prepared to drop, cover, and hold at any moment

Aftershocks can strike without warning after an earthquake, so you should be ready to drop to the ground, cover your head and hold onto something sturdy at any time. 

6. Stay away from downed power lines

Earthquakes can knock down power lines, creating an extremely dangerous situation for motorists and pedestrians. PG&E recommends avoiding all downed power lines, as you never know whether electricity is still coursing through them. Never touch a downed power line or even come into contact with another object that is touching it. As soon as you spot one, call 911 immediately to report it. 

7. Find out how you can help

If you make it through an earthquake unscathed, see how you can help others. You might need to help emergency crews rescue people who are trapped in buildings, or perform first aid on anyone who was injured in the quake. 

8. Later, check for obvious damage

Once local authorities let you know that it is safe to return home, check your home for any obvious damage. Look for broken windows, fallen furniture, off-kilter doors and any other major problems. 

9. Inspect the chimney for cracks

If you have a chimney, check it for any cracks—even minuscule ones. Even the smallest cracks could create a fire hazard the next time you use your fireplace or stove. 

10. Check for water, gas, electric and sewer line breaks

Even if your home looks intact, there could still be issues lurking beneath the surface. Broken water, gas, electric and sewer lines could not only lead to extremely expensive damage, but also potentially cause fires. Gas leaks are the most dangerous. If you smell gas or hear a hissing noise, leave the area immediately and call 911

11. Get your home inspected for structural integrity

Your home’s structural integrity is also of the utmost importance. Hire a professional engineer or local official to inspect your home to ensure that it’s safe to inhabit. 

12. Stay out of damaged buildings

If you decide that your home or office isn’t safe, leave the premises immediately. Aftershocks can cause damaged buildings to collapse, so you should stay away until you can make the necessary repairs.  

13. Start cleaning up--safely

When you’re ready to start cleaning up broken furniture and other debris, dress safely to protect yourself. Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts, heavy shoes and work gloves to avoid injuries from glass, splinters and other broken objects. 

14. Consider purchasing earthquake insurance

Most homeowners insurance doesn’t cover damage sustained in an earthquake. If you live in an earthquake-prone area, you might want to consider buying earthquake insurance. This insurance often covers structural damage, personal property, rebuilding, emergency repairs and living expenses if your home is damaged so much that it becomes uninhabitable, depending on the policy.  

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