The devastating earthquake and tsunami which hit Japan in early March is a reminder how catastrophic the sudden shaking of the Earth can be. April is National Earthquake Preparedness Month and the American Red Cross has tips to help prepare those who may be in earthquake-prone areas.
Most Americans think California and the West Coast are the most susceptible areas in the United States for an earthquake. However, the majority of states and territories in every region of the country are at moderate to very high risk for an earthquake to occur.
In Japan, the strong earthquake led to a tsunami which swept miles inland from coastal areas, destroying everything in its path. Can a tsunami occur in the U.S.? The answer is yes, these mighty waves have already affected the U.S. Hawaii, Alaska and the West Coast are most prone to tsunamis, according to the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) Earthquake Hazards Program, while the giant waves are not as much of a threat on the Gulf Coast and East Coast.
The Red Cross offers important steps that people can take before an earthquake occurs:
- Know the fire evacuation and earthquake plans for any building you occupy regularly.
- Pick safe places in each room of your home, place of employment or school, under a piece of furniture or against an interior wall.
- Practice drop, cover and hold on. If you do not have sturdy furniture to hold on to, sit on the floor next to an interior wall and cover your head and neck with your arms.
- Keep a flashlight and sturdy shoes by each person’s bed.
- Make sure your home is securely anchored to its foundation.
- Bolt and brace water heaters, gas appliances, bookcases, china cabinets and other tall furniture to wall studs.
- Hang heavy items, such as pictures and mirrors, away from beds, couches and anywhere people sleep or sit.
- Brace overhead light fixtures.
- Install strong latches or bolts on cabinets. Large or heavy items should be closest to the floor.
Steps you can take during an earthquake include:
If you are inside when the shaking starts:
- Drop, cover and hold on. Move as little as possible.
- If you are in bed, stay there, curl up and hold on. Protect your head with a pillow.
- Stay away from windows to avoid being injured by shattered glass.
- Stay indoors until the shaking stops and you are sure it is safe to exit. Use stairs to exit the building rather than an elevator.
- Be aware that fire alarms and sprinkler systems frequently go off in buildings during an earthquake, even if there is no fire.
If you are outside when the shaking starts:
- Find a clear spot away from buildings, power lines, trees and streetlights and drop to the ground. Stay there until the shaking stops.
- If you are in a vehicle, pull over to a clear location and stop. Avoid bridges, overpasses and power lines if possible. Stay inside with your seatbelt fastened until the shaking stops. Drive carefully, avoiding bridges and ramps that may have been damaged.
- If a power line falls on your vehicle, do not get out. Wait for assistance.
- If you are in a mountainous area or near unstable slopes or cliffs, be alert for falling rocks and other debris. Landslides are often triggered by earthquakes.
Steps you can take after an earthquake include:
- Prepare for potential aftershocks, landslides or even a tsunami. Each time you feel an aftershock, drop, cover and hold on.
- Put on long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes and work gloves to protect against injury from broken objects.
- Look quickly for damage in and around your home and get everyone out if your home is unsafe.
- Listen to a portable, battery-operated or hand-crank radio for updated emergency information and instructions.
- Look for and extinguish small fires. Fire is the most common hazard after an earthquake.
- Clean up spilled medications, bleach, gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately.
- Open closet and cabinet doors carefully as contents may have shifted.
- If you were away from home, return only when authorities say it is safe to do so.
Earthquakes strike suddenly, without warning. They can occur during the day or at night, in any season of the year. For more information on what you can do to remain safe during an earthquake, visit www.redcross.org.