3 Steps to Seismic Safety

What to do after an earthquake passes

pbrundle's picture

Safety Hazards: Plan for aftershocks and avoid unstable trees, objects, and structures accordingly. Earthquakes commonly damage service lines, causing significant damage, especially in combination. Broken pipes may cause flooding or sewage leaks and exposed or damaged wiring may cause fires. Water and electrical damage together can put you at high risk for electrocution while electrical damage combined with gas leaks can cause severe fires or even explosions. Suspect a gas leak if you hear hissing, see a broken connection, or smell sulfurous (offensive garlicky or rotten egg) odors. Do not re-enter a structure with a gas leak. Suspect electrical damage if you see sparks, frayed wire, or smell burning insulation. Suspect a broken water pipe if you see water coming through your walls or pooling on the floor. If you experience a major earthquake and/or suspect that any utility system has been damaged, shut off ALL of your utility services until you can inspect each system for safety. For more information on the hidden seismic hazards utilities pose in woodframe houses, click here. Servicemen will likely not be available to help you turn off your utilities after a major disaster. Locate your utility shutoffs before an earthquake occurs, know how to turn them off safely, and store the appropriate tools where you can access them without having to re-enter a dangerous structure. Want instructions? Click here for the Open Hazards Guide to Shutting Off Your Utilities.

Medical and Rescue: Check for injuries. Listen to a radio, if available, for public announcements and instructions. You may be recruited to assist rescue crews.

Communication: Cell phone towers do not distribute heavy traffic efficiently and may be down after a major earthquake. Texting, because it requires only low bandwidth, may function when calling does not. Physical telephone lines should also function. Avoid making superfluous calls to clear the lines for emergency communications. Plan now for lost communications by arranging a meeting place for your family. If you have children, ask their school(s) how and where they will be released to you post-disaster.

Food and Water: Clean water is a top priority. City water supplies can be interrupted or contaminated by earthquake damage. Store 5+ gallons of water per person in your family (including pets) for post-disaster use. Keep your emergency water fresh and free of contamination. Most bottled water from the store expires. Do not store plastic water bottles directly on a concrete surface because toxins can leech up into the water. Also store 7 days worth of non-perishable food items. Make sure you rotate your emergency supplies every 6 months to avoid expiration (use daylight savings or the winter/summer solstice to remember). After an earthquake you will likely have to use alternative sources of fuel. Do not use fireplaces or cook with an outdoor camp or BBQ stove indoors or in any enclosed space—you may accidentally poison yourself with carbon monoxide.

Click here for the PDF Open Hazards Checklist for Disaster Know-How and Supplies.

Additional resource for earthquake preparedness: Los Angeles Fire Dept. Emergency Preparedness Booklet

Risk Alert