California Earthquakes: What to Do Before, During and After the Shaking

From earthquake alerts to emergency kits and insurance, here's what to consider before, during and after the shaking

No matter where you live in California, there is a risk of considerable damage due to an earthquake. 

Almost every Californian lives within 15 minutes of an active fault line. And many can still recall some of the strongest quakes to hit the state, from the widespread damage caused by the 6.7 magnitude Northridge Earthquake to the building collapses from the Bay Area's Loma Prieta Earthquake.

So, state and federal agencies have a wealth of resources to help residents prepare for the inevitable next quake. Here is what you need to know before during and after the rumbling: 

Emergency Alerts

The State of California has created a tool that can warn residents seconds before an earthquake strikes. That amount of time can be lifesaving, according to researchers.

The early warning system are pushed through a smartphone app called MyShake. The California Earthquake Early Warning Program works with the USGS to get ShakeAlerts sent to residents the moment researchers detect a quake over magnitude 5.0.

Are you prepared for the next big one?

Before an Earthquake

The best thing you can do is to prepare for an earthquake ahead of time. 

  1. Secure Your Space
    Find items that will easily move during an earthquake. The state says to think about what would tousle if your home was turned on its side and secure those items. 
  2. Create a Disaster Plan
    Some suggestions for your disaster plan include: how you will contact each other and deciding where your family will meet in case of an emergency; and making sure every member of your family knows how to turn the gas and electricity off. More information on disaster plans can be found here
  3. Organize Disaster Supplies
    Your emergency kit should provide enough supplies to last your family three weeks -- food, water, clothing, personal care and other items. Also create a "grab-and-go" bag in case you need to quickly leave your home. Don't forget about supplies for your pets. 
  4. Ease Financial Hardship
    Renters and homeowners should consider getting earthquake insurance and look into ways to increase the stability of your home. Create copies of your IDs and insurance records. Print photocopies of items in your home that will help when you file an insurance claim. 

During an Earthquake

Of course, we all know that when the ground starts shaking to drop, cover and hold on. But what else should you do during the shaking? 

  • If you are in bed when an earthquake strikes, cover your head with a pillow and stay down. If you are outside, crawl toward an open space away from buildings, power lines and trees. 
  • If you are in need of immediate help, call 911. Contact 211 for less urgent matters. 
  • Once the shaking stops, evacuate your home. This may be the best chance to prevent further injury in case of an aftershock. Where possible, it may be better to evacuate on foot. 
  • Seek out an emergency shelter
  • An earthquake can also trigger a tsunami near the coast. If you're coastal, pay attention to the waves. If the water suddenly pulls away from the shore, a tsunami may be imminent. Search for higher ground. Find out if you are in a tsunami zone here
  • Lastly, register yourself as "safe and well" so people know you are OK. 

After an Earthquake

Finally, there are several things to consider in the sometimes confusing and stressful moments after the shaking.

  • Start to check on your home, but don't enter until you know it's safe.
  • Check for gas leaks, chemical spills, broken water pipes or damaged electrical wires. 
  • Use your refrigerated food first and store canned goods for later. It may be hard to access supplies at stores following a quake. 
  • Contact your insurance company and begin taking photos of the damage. 
  • In the weeks following the quake, contact state and federal agencies like FEMA to inquire about federal assistance. 

For more information visit these official resources

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