The American Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency recommend the following actions to decrease the risk and amount of damage caused by earthquakes. Great care should be taken in moving things or re-entering buildings following a quake.
Before a quake
Conform to local building safety codes and avoid building on unstable land.
Practice "duck, cover and hold" drills at home and work.
Practice counting to 60 seconds. Because most quakes do not last that long, you will have a good barometer of when the shaking is likely to be over. Counting also will help you keep calm in an actual emergency by occupying your mind.
Fasten hot water heaters, bookcases and heavy furniture to walls.
Or as Peter Haeussler, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, recommends: "Attach tall, tippy things to the wall."
Install bolts or latches on cupboard doors.
Hang heavy items, such as pictures and mirrors, away from beds, couches and other seating areas.
Brace overhead light fixtures.
Repair defective wiring and leaky gas pipes.
Store breakable things like bottled and jarred foods, glass and china in low cabinets with latches.
Repair ceiling and foundation cracks; call in a professional if they show signs of structural defects.
Store flammable products, weed killers and pesticides on bottom shelves in securely closed cabinets.
Identify the safest place in each room. These would be away from glass that could shatter and heavy furniture that might fall over.
After a quake
Be prepared for aftershocks. These smaller tremors are especially dangerous to weakened structures such as buildings, bridges and overpasses.
Haeussler of the USGS also warns that an earthquake can be followed by a larger one.
"A magnitude 7 earthquake could be a precursor of a magnitude 9," he said.
Help injured and trapped people. Do not move the seriously injured, unless they are in danger of further injury or immediate harm.
Offer assistance to others, especially elderly, children and those with special needs.
Listen for updated emergency information from authorities.
Do not return home until authorities verify it is safe to do so.
Stay out of damaged buildings.
Use the telephone only for emergency calls.
Clean up spilled medicine, bleach, gasoline and other flammable materials immediately.
Leave the area if you smell gas or other chemical fumes.
Open all closet and cupboard doors with caution.
Inspect chimneys for damage very carefully. Unnoticed damage may lead to a fire.
Check for gas leaks. If you detect one, open a window and leave the building immediately. Turn off the gas at the main and call the gas company from a neighboring phone.
Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks, broken or frayed wires or smell heated insulation, turn off electricity at the fuse box or circuit breaker. If you must step through water to do so, call an electrician for advice first.
Check for sewage and water line damage. If you suspect sewage line damage, call a plumber and avoid using toilets. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and do not use the taps.
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