Once the shaking stops, you might think an earthquake is over. Unfortunately, that could only be the beginning. Aftershocks can strike at any moment; buildings that look fine from the outside could also collapse without warning. Clearly, you still need to keep your wits about you to stay out of danger.
Stacker compiled advice from experts like the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assemble this list of what to do immediately after an earthquake. Whether or not your home sustained visible damage in the earthquake, you’ll want to follow these steps to ensure your safety and that of those around you. Since an earthquake can happen at any moment, often with little warning, they’re one of the most frightening natural disasters. Not only will learning what to do after an earthquake keep you safe in the event of an emergency, but knowing that you’re mentally prepared for anything might also give you a little peace of mind.
If you’re indoors when an earthquake hits, evacuate the building as soon as possible. If aftershocks strike, you don’t want to be inside a structure that’s already potentially damaged.
After a natural disaster, phone lines are often overloaded with people calling for help. Stay off the phone unless you have a life-threatening emergency and need to call 911. Instead, use texting and social media to get in touch with friends and family.
No matter what kind of natural disaster you’re facing, you want to stay tuned to the latest announcements from local authorities. Listen to or watch the news on a battery-powered radio or television. You don’t want to use any electrical equipment, as errant sparks from damaged wiring can ignite fires.
Earthquakes along the coast can trigger tsunamis, creating another life-threatening situation. Monitor NOAA Weather Radio for emergency alerts about potential tsunamis and be prepared to evacuate if necessary.
Aftershocks can strike without warning after an earthquake, so you should be ready to drop to the ground, cover your head and hold onto something sturdy at any time.
Earthquakes can knock down power lines, creating an extremely dangerous situation for motorists and pedestrians. PG&E recommends avoiding all downed power lines, as you never know whether electricity is still coursing through them. Never touch a downed power line or even come into contact with another object that is touching it. As soon as you spot one, call 911 immediately to report it.
If you make it through an earthquake unscathed, see how you can help others. You might need to help emergency crews rescue people who are trapped in buildings, or perform first aid on anyone who was injured in the quake.
Once local authorities let you know that it is safe to return home, check your home for any obvious damage. Look for broken windows, fallen furniture, off-kilter doors and any other major problems.
If you have a chimney, check it for any cracks—even minuscule ones. Even the smallest cracks could create a fire hazard the next time you use your fireplace or stove.
Even if your home looks intact, there could still be issues lurking beneath the surface. Broken water, gas, electric and sewer lines could not only lead to extremely expensive damage, but also potentially cause fires. Gas leaks are the most dangerous. If you smell gas or hear a hissing noise, leave the area immediately and call 911.
Your home’s structural integrity is also of the utmost importance. Hire a professional engineer or local official to inspect your home to ensure that it’s safe to inhabit.
If you decide that your home or office isn’t safe, leave the premises immediately. Aftershocks can cause damaged buildings to collapse, so you should stay away until you can make the necessary repairs.
When you’re ready to start cleaning up broken furniture and other debris, dress safely to protect yourself. Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts, heavy shoes and work gloves to avoid injuries from glass, splinters and other broken objects.
Most homeowners insurance doesn’t cover damage sustained in an earthquake. If you live in an earthquake-prone area, you might want to consider buying earthquake insurance. This insurance often covers structural damage, personal property, rebuilding, emergency repairs and living expenses if your home is damaged so much that it becomes uninhabitable, depending on the policy.