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Preparing for an Earthquake: Your Comprehensive Guide

Earthquakes are one of those natural events that can strike without a moment’s notice, turning our lives upside down in seconds. Whether you live in an earthquake-prone area or just want to be prepared, this guide will walk you through everything you need to know about earthquake preparedness to make sure you and your loved ones stay safe.

Cynthia Jordan

5/31/20245 min read

Earthquake Aftermath
Earthquake Aftermath

Earthquakes are one of those natural events that can strike without a moment’s notice, turning our lives upside down in seconds. Whether you live in an earthquake-prone area or just want to be prepared, this guide will walk you through everything you need to know about earthquake preparedness to make sure you and your loved ones stay safe. Let's dive into everything you need to know about getting ready for an earthquake, from emergency plans and supplies to actions to take before, during, and after the ground starts shaking. Ready? Let's get started!

What is an Earthquake?

An earthquake is the shaking of the surface of the Earth resulting from a sudden release of energy in the Earth's lithosphere. This release of energy creates seismic waves, which cause the ground to shake.

How do earthquakes develop?

Earthquakes occur when there is a sudden slip along a fault line. Think of the Earth’s crust as a giant jigsaw puzzle made up of tectonic plates. These plates are constantly moving, albeit very slowly. When they get stuck at their edges due to friction, stress builds up. Eventually, this stress is released in the form of an earthquake.

Fault Lines: The Culprits Behind Earthquakes

A fault line is a fracture in the Earth's crust where blocks of land have moved past each other. They are typically found at the edges of tectonic plates. When these plates grind against each other or collide, they can create an earthquake. Fault lines are crucial in understanding where earthquakes are likely to occur.

Top 10 States in the U.S. Prone to Earthquakes

  1. California - Home to the infamous San Andreas Fault, California is no stranger to earthquakes.

  2. Alaska - This state experiences the most earthquakes in the U.S., mainly due to the Alaska-Aleutian Megathrust Fault.

  3. Nevada - Numerous fault lines run through Nevada, making it highly susceptible.

  4. Washington - The Cascadia Subduction Zone off the coast poses a significant threat.

  5. Oregon - Like Washington, Oregon is affected by the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

  6. Hawaii - Volcanic activity contributes to frequent seismic activity.

  7. Utah - The Wasatch Fault runs through the heart of this state.

  8. Idaho - Known for the 1983 Borah Peak earthquake.

  9. Montana - The Intermountain Seismic Belt runs through this state.

  10. Wyoming - The Yellowstone Caldera is a significant source of seismic activity.

Before the Earthquake: Preparation is Key

1. Create an Emergency Plan

First things first, you need a solid emergency plan. Sit down with your family or housemates and discuss what to do if an earthquake hits.

  • Designate Safe Spots: Identify safe places in each room where you can take cover, like under sturdy furniture or against interior walls away from windows and heavy objects that could fall.

  • Meet-Up Points: Choose two meeting places—one just outside your home and another outside your neighborhood in case you can’t return home.

  • Communication Plan: Have a plan for contacting each other if you’re separated. Remember, text messages are often more reliable than calls during disasters.

2. Assemble an Emergency Kit

You might need to survive on your own for several days after an earthquake, so an emergency kit is essential.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Water: One gallon per person per day for at least three days.

  • Food: Non-perishable items like canned goods, granola bars, and dried fruit for three days.

  • First Aid Kit: Bandages, antiseptics, medications, and any specific medical supplies you require.

  • Tools and Supplies: Flashlight, extra batteries, whistle (to signal for help), manual can opener, basic tools, and a battery-powered or hand-crank radio.

  • Personal Items: Copies of personal documents (ID, insurance policies), cash, emergency blankets, and sturdy shoes.

  • Sanitation Items: Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation.

3. Secure Your Space

Minimize hazards in your home by securing heavy furniture, appliances, and other items that could fall.

  • Anchor Furniture: Use straps or brackets to anchor bookshelves, cabinets, and other tall furniture to walls.

  • Secure Electronics and Appliances: Secure TVs, computers, and other electronics with straps. Latch cabinets to prevent contents from spilling.

  • Hazard Hunt: Identify potential hazards like hanging mirrors, picture frames, and overhead lighting. Move heavy objects to lower shelves.

During the Earthquake: Drop, Cover, and Hold On!

When the ground starts shaking, it’s crucial to act quickly and stay as safe as possible.

  • Indoors:

    • Drop to your hands and knees. This position prevents you from being knocked over.

    • Cover your head and neck with your arms and seek shelter under a sturdy table or desk if available. If not, get down next to an interior wall, away from windows and heavy objects.

    • Hold On to your shelter (or your position if you have no shelter) until the shaking stops.

  • Outdoors:

    • Move to a clear area away from buildings, trees, streetlights, and utility wires.

    • Drop to the ground and protect your head and neck.

  • In a Vehicle:

    • Pull over to a clear location. Avoid stopping under overpasses, bridges, and power lines.

    • Stay inside the vehicle with your seatbelt fastened until the shaking stops.

After the Earthquake: Stay Safe and Assess

Once the shaking stops, your priority is to ensure your safety and that of those around you.

1. Check for Injuries and Hazards

  • Check Yourself and Others: Look for injuries and provide first aid if needed. Don’t move seriously injured people unless they’re in immediate danger.

  • Be Aware of Hazards: Be cautious of broken glass, downed power lines, and gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear a hissing sound, turn off the gas at the meter and leave the building.

2. Communication and Updates

  • Use Your Radio: Listen to a battery-powered or hand-crank radio for emergency updates and instructions.

  • Limit Phone Use: Keep phone lines open for emergencies. Text instead of calling to check in with family and friends.

3. Assess Your Home and Evacuate if Necessary

  • Inspect Your Home: Look for structural damage, water leaks, and other hazards. Don’t enter damaged buildings.

  • Turn Off Utilities: If you suspect damage, turn off water, gas, and electricity to prevent further hazards.

  • Prepare for Aftershocks: Aftershocks can follow the main quake, so stay alert and be ready to drop, cover, and hold on again.

4. Help Others and Stay Informed

  • Help Neighbors: Check on neighbors, especially those who are elderly or disabled. Offer assistance if you can.

  • Stay Informed: Continue to listen to the radio for information on shelters, aid, and safety advisories.

Bonus Tips for Special Situations

Pets and Animals

  • Pet Supplies: Have extra pet food, water, and a carrier or leash.

  • Emergency Plan for Pets: Include pets in your emergency plans. Know which hotels and shelters accept pets.


  • Comfort and Reassure: Earthquakes can be terrifying for kids. Keep them close, reassure them, and explain what's happening in simple terms.

  • Family Drills: Practice your emergency plan regularly with children so they know what to do.

Individuals with Special Needs

  • Personalized Kit: Include any specific medical supplies or equipment you need in your emergency kit.

  • Community Resources: Know about local resources and services that can assist in an emergency.

Wrapping It Up

Preparing for an earthquake might seem daunting, but taking these steps can make a world of difference when the ground starts shaking. Remember, it’s all about staying safe and being ready for anything. So, gather your family, make your plan, build your kit, and secure your home. The peace of mind you’ll get from being prepared is priceless. Stay safe, stay prepared, and let’s hope we never have to put these plans into action!

Feel free to share this guide with friends and family—it’s always better to be prepared together. Stay safe, everyone!