What To Do After An Earthquake

Earthquakes can be terrifying, but with a proper guideline for emergencies, it is easy to follow the steps to begin cleanup and recovery.

Unexpected and shocking, an earthquake is a terrifying experience. Even minor tremors may cause damage or injuries, and it is vital to have a comprehensive course of action to guide recovery efforts immediately after a quake. From emergency aid to preparing for aftershocks, the first steps after an earthquake calm anxiety and keep everyone focused on necessary precautions.

1. Take a headcount to be certain everyone is accounted for, check for trapped or injured individuals, and apply basic first aid. Take note of anyone killed in the quake, but do not remove their bodies - tend to the injured first. Establish a first aid or triage area as far from structures as possible to avoid further injuries from falling debris or aftershocks.

2. Close the home's gas valve (if applicable) to safeguard against potential leaks. Electricity is often disrupted in strong earthquakes, and if there is a gas leak, sparks from returning electricity may ignite an explosion. Always store a crescent wrench or other necessary tools near the valve, and turn it until it is perpendicular to the gas line. Do not use charcoal grills, lighters, matches, or similar equipment until you are certain there is no leak.

3. Inspect the structural integrity of the building. Deep surface cracks, stucco damage, or broken studs indicate severe damage and the building should be considered uninhabitable until it is inspected by qualified contractors or engineers and deemed safe. Do not enter an unstable building for any reason or you risk disrupting a delicate balance and causing more damage.

4. Take photographs for insurance purposes. Before beginning any cleanup or significantly moving debris, record the damage with multiple pictures from different distances and angles. This makes filing an insurance claim much easier and it is more likely to be accepted with photographic evidence.

5. Clean up debris carefully, watching for broken glass, live electrical wires, or unstable surfaces that could cause more injuries. Wear thick-soled shoes and long pants while moving debris to provide protection against sharp objects. Be cautious opening cupboards and closets, because items may have shifted and could fall when the doors are opened. Clean up potentially hazardous spills, such as paint, medication, bleach, or other chemicals first to limit contamination.

6. Locate your earthquake preparedness kit (if applicable) and prepare to sleep outside or make arrangements to leave the area if necessary. The kit should contain extra food, water, medications, flashlights, a portable radio or television, batteries, blankets, and other emergency equipment.

7. Listen to a portable radio or television for news updates about affected areas, emergency crew notices, and available shelters.

8. Call and reassure friends and family members about your safety, but do not make lengthy phone calls. Emergency crews need as much phone service as possible to coordinate rescue efforts, and concerned individuals will be trying to reach you.

9. Avoid driving as much as possible. Until engineering crews have thoroughly inspected the area, there is no way to learn if roads, bridges, and tunnels are safe, and emergency crews need the roads clear for efficient rescue and cleanup efforts. Furthermore, gasoline and other fuels may become scarce immediately after an earthquake, so it is wise to conserve supplies.

10. Be aware that aftershocks will follow the main quake and prepare for them as much as possible with your emergency kit. The greatest chance for a strong aftershock is in the first twenty-four hours after the primary jolt, and the magnitude and frequency of aftershocks diminishes as time goes on.

Earthquakes are most common along major fault lines, such as the San Andreas Fault in California and the Denali Fault in Alaska, but damaging quakes can occur nearly anywhere. A comprehensive, step-by-step guide is a necessary tool for directing recovery and cleanup efforts immediately after an earthquake. Knowing what to do helps reduce panic and anxiety and begins rebuilding homes and lives, no matter what the quake's severity.

© High Speed Ventures 2011