by Mike Garrison
Earthquakes are one of the scariest types of natural disasters. For all of the
technology and equipment we have these days, there is still no real advance
warning system for an earthquake. They can happen at any moment with devastating
results. For this reason it's very important to have an earthquake preparedness
plan and a stock of survival supplies for your family.
I live in "earthquake
country". I live in the Seattle area and have been through a couple of
earthquakes in my 12 years of living here. The scariest was on February 28th,
2001. We were hit with a magnitude 6.8 earthquake. By the grace of God it was
about 30 miles below the surface, or else the damage would have been a whole lot
worse than it was. I was working at a commercial truck dealership at the time
and I'll never forget the semi trucks swaying from side to side so much that the
truck cabs almost touched each other.
It hit so suddenly that I really didn't
have much time to think of what I should be doing. I just went into survival
mode and held on to the nearest fixed object. After the shaking stopped it was
pandemonium... traffic jams because everyone was trying to get home, all phone
circuits were jammed (including cell phones), some buildings had damage and
people were in fear of aftershocks.
Another big fear was that the quake or
aftershocks may have set off Mt. Rainier, which could be a far worse disaster
than the 1980 eruption of Mt. Saint Helen. Everything turned out to be OK from
the 2001 quake... buildings were repaired and retro-fitted to better withstand
earthquake damage and to my knowledge I don't recall any lives being lost.
But that's not the case with a lot of earthquakes. There are fault lines in
almost every part of the world. If you pay attention to any kind of media
whether it be TV, internet, or printed media you'll remember the January 2010
earthquake in Haiti. It was a magnitude 7.0 and wreaked havoc and devastation
through this poor country. An estimated 316,000 people lost their lives, another
300,000 were injured, and over 1,000,000 people were made homeless because of
The majority of the world jumped into action providing relief
efforts and I personally donated money and personal item relief kits for
affected children in Haiti. This really drives home the point of just how
important it is to have a stock of emergency supplies stored away for your
Even with the world's best efforts, people still went hungry, thirsty
and without clothes or blankets because relief efforts take time. They have to
take care of the neediest people first, and it takes time to get to everybody
else. If this were to happen on a large scale in the USA, you would want to have
your own store of supplies on hand so you don't have to depend on anyone else to
feed your family.
I feel that in this country we take these things for granted.
Simple things like a sufficient food source, clean drinking water, basic first
aid supplies, electricity... and the list goes on and on. We have become
spoiled, and when a large scale natural disaster happens, the majority of people
will be completely blindsided and unprepared.
The goal of this article is to arm
you and your family with knowledge that can help you through an earthquake
scenario. Please take the time to read it and put some of these principles into
practice. Then make sure to browse our store and make sure you have the proper
supplies on hand to be prepared for any type of emergency situation.
What is an earthquake and what causes them?
Most of us know that the Earth is made up of independent plates that sit against
one another. The point where the blocks of earth meet are called "faults". When
the 2 blocks of earth slip and move past one another, this is what we call an
earthquake. In an earthquake there is a hypo-center, and an epicenter. The
hypo-center is the underground point where the earthquake started. The epicenter
is the point on the surface directly above the hypo-center.
determine where an earthquake started they normally refer to the epicenter. The
Earth is in constant motion and small earthquakes are happening beneath the
surface every day. We don't feel them because they are minor, and most are deep
in the Earth's Mantle. It's when a large slip occurs, especially when they are
close to the surface, that we feel the earthquakes that can be so devastating.
Earthquakes can have fore-shocks that occur before the main shock, which is the
main earthquake that we experience and it always has aftershocks (small
earthquakes in the same place where the main shock occurred) which can last for
hours, days, months and even years after the main shock!
The top 2 layers of the Earth's surface are the Crust and the Mantle. The Crust
is on the very surface and the Mantle is underneath the Crust. The Crust and the
top portion of the Mantle are broken up into "puzzle pieces" that are constantly
moving (very, very slowly). Where each plate meets is called the "plate
boundary" and each plate boundary has many faults.
Most earthquakes around the
world will occur at these fault lines. The edges of the faults are rough and get
stuck together while the blocks of earth underneath are moving against each
other. When the blocks (plates) underneath have moved enough and have stored up
enough energy the faults will break and the plates will slip and move past each
other very suddenly which causes the earthquakes as we know them. When all that
energy is released it races outward in all directions from the center of the
earthquake in a rippling effect that we call seismic waves. The seismic waves
can literally make solid earth ripple like a wave of liquid.
How do we record earthquakes? Can they be predicted?
The main instrument used in recording earthquakes is the seismograph. It has a
base that is rooted in the ground and a free hanging weight with a pen attached
to it that hangs above a rotating drum on the base. There is paper on the
rotating drum that spools off the drum and is collected by scientists for
analyzing. When there is shaking in the earth the base will move with it, but
the weight and pen are suspended in air by a spring or rope so they stay
stationary and draw a line on the paper drum that is moving with the earth. A
somewhat steady line that doesn't move up and down much indicates a weak
earthquake. A line that has long ups and downs indicates a strong earthquake.
The size of an earthquake is called it's "magnitude".
There are 2 types of ground waves associated with an earthquake. We have P
(primary) waves and S (secondary) waves. P waves typically move through the
ground horizontally and travel much faster than S waves. S waves move up and
down and cause the shaking that resembles a liquid wave. S waves travel slower
than P waves. Measuring the 2 different types of waves helps scientists figure
out where the earthquake originated. If the P and S waves come close together,
you are close to the epicenter. If the P waves come and the S waves don't show
up until a bit later, you are farther from the epicenter. The farther apart the
P and S waves are, the farther you are from the epicenter.
In addition to measuring the P and S waves, scientists use a method called
"triangulation" to locate the exact location of the epicenter. This method
requires 3 different seismographs in 3 different locations. Each location will
use the P and S waves to determine how far away they are from the earthquake.
Once they know how far away they are they will draw a radius circle on a map.
Once the data is compared with the other seismographs and they have at least 3
radius circles on the map, they can look at the point where all 3 circles
intersect and determine that this point is the epicenter of the earthquake.
Earthquakes cannot be predicted. Some people will tell you that certain weather
patterns will precede an earthquake. This has never been proven or quantified.
You may also hear that animals have some sort of "6th sense" where they sense
the earthquake before it happens. This one may have some validity as animals are
much more sensitive than we are...so maybe they can feel vibrations before we
can, or maybe they can hear subsonic or supersonic sound waves coming from the
earth that we can't hear. Again, we have no way to prove or quantify this, but I
can see this one being plausible. There are tons of theories out there about
prediction, but they are theories at best. We can't predict earthquakes and we
don't anticipate being able to at this point in time.
Earthquake preparedness. What to do before, during and after an earthquake:
There are so many variables to earthquakes that it's tough to give a complete
list of everything you should do. This is a very general list of solid
recommendations to make your family as prepared as you can be.
Before an earthquake
Have a plan! This should be priority #1 with any disaster situation. Make a
plan, go over it with your family and practice it at least twice per year. Make
sure kids know how to dial 911. Teach family members how to shut off gas and
water lines. Have a communication plan if the family is separated. Designate a
friend or relative who doesn't live in your area as a common contact person and
teach your kids how to contact this person. Often it's easier to dial long
distance in a disaster situation.
Check your home for hazards. Inside water and gas lines should be flexible.
Shelves should be securely fastened to walls. Keep breakables as low as possible
in secure cabinets with latches. Heavy items such as pictures or mirrors should
not be hung over beds or couches, or any common areas where people lay or sit.
Strap your water heater to the wall studs or bolt it to the ground. Check your
foundation and ceiling for deep cracks and call in a professional if you need
to. Fix any deep cracks immediately. Check your electrical wiring and gas lines.
If they are defective they are more likely to be fire hazards. Store any
flammable items or containers low to the ground in a secure cabinet with a
Identify safe places to be. Some good places indoors are against an inside wall,
under sturdy furniture such as a table or desk and away from glass (including
windows) or heavy furniture that may topple over. If you are outside, try to get
to an open area away from buildings, electrical or phone lines, overpasses or
Have disaster supplies stored and ready to go. A bit further in this article you
will find a more detailed list of emergency survival supplies to have stocked.
Since these types of disasters can happen anytime without warning, it's very
important to have your emergency supplies stocked at all times.
Share your knowledge with others. Talk to friends, family members or anybody in
your community who will listen. Many lives can be saved by being prepared ahead
During an earthquake:
If you are indoors
Drop, Cover and Hold On! Drop to the ground right away. If you can get under a
sturdy, heavy piece of furniture, do so and cover your head. If you can't get
under a sturdy piece of furniture, crouch down in an inside corner of the
building away from glass (including windows).
Stay away from anything that can fall or topple over. Stay clear of breakables
such as anything made of glass.
If you are in bed just stay there. Cover your head with a pillow and wait for
the shaking to stop. You may consider moving if you are underneath a heavy light
fixture, picture or mirror that may fall on you.
If you are near a doorway and want to use it for shelter, just make sure you
know it's a sturdy, load bearing door before you use it.
Stay inside and wait for the shaking to stop. Only move outside after the
shaking stops and you're sure it's safe to move. Most injuries occur when people
try to move around or get outside when it's not safe to do so.
Be aware that sprinkler systems will probably come on, fire alarms will probably
be going off and power will most likely be out.
Do not try and use elevators!
If you are outdoors:
Stay outside! If you can, get to an open area that is away from buildings,
electrical or phone wires and poles and basically anything that could come
Once you're in the open, just stay put until the shaking stops. Most injuries
and fatalities occur when people try and run out of a building, or near a
building and get hit by falling debris. Stay away from exits and exterior walls.
Watch for flying glass, flying debris or collapsing walls (most likely to be the
If you are in a vehicle
Stop as fast as you safely can. Do not leave your vehicle. Avoid stopping by
buildings, trees, electrical and phone wires or poles. Also stay away from
overpasses, bridges and expressways if possible.
Once the shaking is done, proceed with caution. Try to avoid any bridges,
overpasses, damaged roads or ramps. They may have been weakened by the
If you are pinned under debris:
Stay still. If you move around you may kick up dust.
Try to cover your mouth. You can use your clothing if you're able to.
Try to make noise without yelling. If you're near a pipe, bang on it. If you
happen to have a whistle, blow it. Yell only as a last resort because when you
yell you may inhale harmful dust.
Don't use anything that makes fire or has a spark. This includes lighters,
matches and electrical devices. There are most likely broken gas pipes or
ruptured containers containing flammable substances.
After an earthquake
Be ready for aftershocks. They are usually weaker than the mainshock, but can
still be strong enough to do more damage, especially if a building or structure
has already been weakened. Aftershocks can come in the following hours, days,
weeks, months and even years after the main earthquake!
Find a way to listen to the latest emergency information. Use a battery operated
radio or TV...or a self charging unit. Many emergency flashlights we have
available include a radio and cell phone charger and don't require batteries.
You simply squeeze them or hand crank them to charge them.
Try to limit your phone calls to emergency calls only. Everybody tries to use
the phone after this type of event and the circuits get jammed. Try not to
contribute to the problem unless it's an absolute emergency. If you have
designated an out of state friend or relative for your family to contact, you
may have better luck making an out of area long distance call. Those circuits
may be open.
Be alert when opening closet and cabinet doors. Things may have shifted and may
tumble out when you open the door. Be especially careful if the cabinet has
flammables, glass or anything heavy in it.
If anything spilled, clean it up quickly. This especially applies to flammable
liquids or chemicals such as bleach or pesticides. If you smell fumes (such as
natural gas) in the air, just leave the area as quickly as you can.
Don't go near areas that have been damaged unless specifically asked to do so by
If it's safe to do so, help anybody who is injured. This especially applies to
any of your neighbors who are elderly, have young children or anyone who may be
disabled. If you can, give first aid. If someone is seriously injured, don't
attempt to move them unless they are subject to further immediate danger. Call
for professional help.
Have your utilities and house inspected
If you smell natural gas, or hear a whistling or hissing, open a
window and get out of there! Get away from the building and call the gas company
or 911. Use a neighbor's phone if you need to. If you can, turn off the gas at
the main valve. Just remember that if you do this, it must be turned back on by
If you smell burning or hot insulation, or notice broken,
frayed or sparking wires, call an electrician immediately. If it's safe to do so
go to the main circuit breaker and shut the power off. Be aware of water on the
ground. If there is electricity near water on the floor you may get shocked when
you step in the water.
Water lines and sewage
This is why it's so important to have a store of
emergency water on hand. If you even suspect the water or sewer lines are
damaged, call the water company and a plumber to come out. Avoid using the
toilets. Don't use any tap water until the lines have been checked.
Earthquake Emergency Supplies to have on hand:
In most emergency disaster situations you can plan on being without power for
some time. Plan on being without power for days, maybe even weeks depending on
the severity of the disaster. If you have natural gas, be prepared for that to
be off as well. I recommend keeping an emergency supply of survival items stored
in your home. I also recommend keeping a survival kit or survival backpack in
your car. Below is a list of items that all homes should have stocked for
emergency disaster situations. If you have a designated safe room or storm
shelter, keep your survival supplies there. Another good strategy is to have
multiple supply stocks in different areas of your home just in case you aren't
able to make it to your designated safe area.
All in one earthquake kit or earthquake backpack: These are great for home,
office and especially to keep in your car. My favorites are the backpacks that
are usually made for either 2 or 4 people. Most survival backpacks will have
enough supplies to last each person for 2 to 3 days. They normally include
emergency food supplies, emergency water, first aid, emergency blankets and
ponchos, light sticks, fire starters and more. Since it's all conveniently
packed in a backpack you can literally take it with you anywhere you go.
Emergency food supplies
Gone are the days of super salty, nasty tasting MRE
meals. Food technology has come a long way and today we have freeze dried foods
and dehydrated foods. Our recommendation is freeze dried foods. These are
normally fully cooked meals that are flash frozen. They flash freeze the meal
and then use vacuum technology to remove any remaining oxygen. Some high end
companies such as Mountain House will also use a process called "nitrogen
flushing" where they use nitrogen to remove even more oxygen, allowing the shelf
life of the product to be considerably longer. Freeze dried meals will usually
have a 5 year shelf life, some even going up to 25 years. All you have to do is
add hot water, wait a few minutes and enjoy! It's recommended to keep at least
one week's worth of food stored for each person in your household. Be aware of
expiration dates on your emergency food supply and rotate your stock
Emergency food and water are the two most important things to
have on hand, besides first aid. But water is actually more important than food.
You can go much longer without food than water. It's important to keep a
separate store of water on hand just in case the public water pipes are damaged,
broken or if your public water supply becomes contaminated.
Another reason to
keep your own water on hand is just in case you become trapped in your safe area
and can't get to your kitchen, bathroom or other public water supply. It's
recommended to have one weeks worth of water on hand. I recommend one gallon per
person, per day. If you have a sealed water store, such as packaged water or a
sealed 55 gallon barrel, a lot of those solutions can stay drinkable up to 5
years. If you're just storing bottled water with a screw on cap, I recommend
cycling your water supply every 6 months. I also recommend having a water
purification system on hand just in case you have to use questionable drinking
water. Whether it's iodine tablets or a top notch filter (preferably both), I
recommend having some sort of water purification on hand.
Emergency first aid kit
I recommend to get a kit that already has everything
put together for you. Not only will it have a good variety of first aid
supplies, it will also be packed in one neat package which will save you storage
space. Most first aid kits also include emergency first aid instructions such as
CPR and other lifesaving techniques. You'll want to make sure your kit includes
the basics such as band aids, bandages, tape, burn gel, alcohol wipes, aspirin
or other pain reliever and a cold pack just to name a few items.
Emergency lighting and power
For your home there are really cool emergency
flashlights that will double as a nightlight. You keep them plugged into your
wall sockets and they will act as a nightlight. If the power goes out, they kick
on as a bright flashlight that you can just grab out of the wall socket. They
usually last for around 8 hours or so on the internal batteries.
recommend stocking flashlights that don't use batteries. My personal favorite is
the easy squeeze flashlight because it's a lot easier than hand cranking. The
hand crank flashlights are still a great product as well and now many of them
have a built in radio and cell phone charger.
Light sticks are an invaluable
survival tool for disaster scenarios. They are safe to use if you have a gas
leak since they don't emit heat or sparks of any kind. Most of them also last
for at least 8 hours or more. They also help to signal for help, especially the
colored light sticks such as red or blue. Those colors really stand out in the
dark and will be very easy for rescuers to see.
For emergency power, I recommend
portable solar panels. They come in different sizes and different power outputs.
The bigger units can power just about any device such as laptops and cell
phones, and some can even jump start a car. The smaller units are usually just
good for small devices like cell phones and handheld GPS units.
No matter which
one you choose, they can be a lifesaver when the power is out for an extended
period of time.
Portable camping stoves
The first thing to remember with portable camping
stoves is that they use propane so do not use them indoors or if you think there
is a gas leak nearby! The exhaust fumes can build up indoors and could possibly
be fatal. They can really be a lifesaver when power and natural gas are out. You
can cook your food, boil drinking water and use them as a fire starter or heat
source if you need to. All of the units we feature have electric ignition so you
don't need matches. They also feature side panels to block the burners from
wind. My site features units from a very portable one burner stove all the way
up to a 3 burner stove (still very portable). They are very affordable and will
last you for years to come.
Survival knives and tools
I recommend carrying a knife with you at ALL times.
This is by far the handiest survival tool you'll want to have with you. Many of
the survival knives today serve multiple purposes. They can be used to cut, saw,
hammer, smash and more. Most feature high carbon stainless steel blades so the
blade will be very strong and will stay sharp for a long time. Other survival
tools to have on hand include rope, duct tape, multi-tool, hatchet, fishing line
and hooks, fire starter, fire tinder, emergency blankets, emergency ponchos,
dust masks and the list can go on and on. There are a multitude of survival
tools out there. The items previously listed are the very basics that every kit
Mike Garrison has lived all over the United States in areas that have been
affected by severe weather and natural disasters. He has lived in Illinois,
Alabama, Florida and now in the Seattle area of Washington. He has experienced
tornadoes, hurricanes, severe thunderstorms and earthquakes.