With the recent devastating earthquakes in Mexico (three in September 2017–a 8.1, 7.1, and 6.1 ), China (6.5 in August 2017), Italy (5.7 in January 2017, and 6.2 in August 2016), Indonesia (6.5 in December 2016), Ecuador (7.8 in April 2016), and Taiwan (6.4 in February 2016), many of us are feeling an urgency to prepare for an earthquake. I know I am! I live near a major fault line–the Wasatch fault. Geological records show the Wasatch fault has a major earthquake every 350 to 400 years, and the last one was about 350 years ago.
You can check to see if you need to prepare for an earthquake by searching online for “Seismic Hazard Maps” and then the name of your country (For example, if you live in Australia, search for “Seismic Hazard Maps of Australia” and something should come up!) HERE is one for the United States.
I’ve put together a list of things I want to do in order to prepare my family and home for an earthquake. Many of these I have not yet done. Many I have already done, but I wanted to show a complete list so that you could check things off just like I am planning to. You will find a checklist that you can print at the bottom of this post.
There are seven main things we need to do in order to prepare for an earthquake. Within each of those seven areas are various tasks that you may want to consider.
Step #1 to Prepare for an Earthquake–Secure Things That May Fall or Break
Most injuries and deaths in an earthquake are caused by furniture, pictures, glass or other debris. As such, step #1 as you prepare for an earthquake is to secure as many of those items as possible.
Wondering what to secure? There are two things to consider:
- If it is heavy enough to injure anyone in your family, secure it.
- If it is expensive enough that you’d struggle to replace it, secure it.
Walk around every room in your home with those two ideas in mind, and write down all the things you need/want to secure. In addition, below are some specific ideas and suggestions of items most everyone should secure to prepare their home for an earthquake.
Secure Your Water Heater
A water heater weighs hundreds of pounds and can be a great source of clean water following an earthquake–but not if it falls and breaks! In addition, if it falls, it can break gas and electric connectors, which can put you at risk for a fire.
The building code for many newer homes requires that your water heater be secured, so it may have already been done by your builder. Check yours. There should be two strong metal straps wrapped around the water heater and then secured to the studs in the wall.
If yours is not properly secured, you can do this yourself! Go to your local home improvement store, and they will help you get the correct supplies. But the basic idea is to wrap 1/2-inch (or larger) metal straps around about 1/3 from the top and 1/3 from the bottom and attach them to wall studs with 3 inch screws. You can find detailed instructions HERE.
Note – The links in this post are affiliate links meaning if you purchase after clicking on them, I will be given a small commission (at no additional cost to you). Learn more here about how I am (and am not) compensated, and thank you for your support of me and my family!
Secure Large Appliances
To properly prepare for an earthquake, your fridge, freezer, washer, dryer, and any other large appliances should be secured to the studs with flexible cable, braided wire, metal strapping, or earthquake appliance straps (affiliate). Once again, your local home improvement store can help you find the proper supplies if you don’t want to invest in the fancy appliance straps I linked to.
Secure Shelves and Furniture
Secure bookshelves, TV stands, desk hutches, dish hutches, etc., by attaching them to wall studs. You can use steel brackets (L or corner) (affiliate) attached to wall studs or eye-bolts (affiliate) for those a short distance from the wall. Or, depending on exactly what you are securing, use flexible nylon straps (affiliate) to allow the furniture to sway without falling which can reduce strain on the studs. Again, you can visit your local home improvement store, and they can help you find what’s best for your situation if you are unsure.
Secure Items on Shelves
Many of us have pictures, vases, statues, etc., on shelves around our homes. To prepare these items for an earthquake, use non-slip mats, earthquake putty (affiliate), clear quake gel (affiliate), or Velcro® to secure these items to the shelf so they don’t fly off and break or injure anyone. You might also consider using fishing line as an “invisible” way of securing items on shelves.
Make sure that heavier items are always kept on the lower shelves (to help steady the shelf and so they have less distance to fall if they do fall).
Move or Secure Pictures and Other Art
Pictures and art hung above beds or couches can be a big hazard during an earthquake. If possible, do not hang these items in such places. As you prepare for an earthquake, consider moving them elsewhere and hanging “soft art” there instead.
For any art that you choose to leave in such places, make it as secure as possible. Use wire through eye-screws (affiliate) bolted into wall studs to hang these pieces. Use earthquake putty (affiliate) to secure the corners to the wall. Consider removing the glass. You can also find special kits for hanging pictures to prepare for an earthquake. HERE is one for smaller pictures and HERE is one for larger pictures (affiliate). You can find others by searching Amazon for something like “earthquake picture hangers.”
Secure Items in Cupboards
Latch your cabinet doors closed so that plates and glasses, etc. don’t break and/or injure anyone. You can use child latches or something made for earthquakes like THIS (affiliate) that won’t interfere with daily use.
Secure Your Windows
Windows can break and throw shattered glass all around during and earthquake. Consider adding shatter-safe window film (affiliate) to your windows and large mirrors (like in the bathroom).
Step #2 to Prepare for an Earthquake–Take Care of Hazardous Materials
While storing flammable items like propane and gasoline is smart for many reasons, these items can quickly become hazardous following an earthquake when gas and electrical lines may be broken. Move these items away from your home to a well ventilated area.
In addition, many of us store other poisonous or dangerous supplies and cleaners. Store these on the bottom shelves of a latched cabinet.
Anything stored in glass (cleaners, medicines, etc.) can quickly become dangerous if it breaks. Consider storing these items in plastic instead.
Step #3 to Prepare for an Earthquake–Create a Plan
Family Meeting Spot
If you are like most families, you spend 6-10 hours of most days apart. Kids may be at various schools. Parents may be at work. If your home is unsafe following an earthquake, you need to have another spot where everyone in your family knows to go. This spot should be central to the various places your family is most likely to be and if possible, should be away from large buildings.
For adults and teenagers with a phone, download maps of your area HERE to your phone so that you can use those to find alternate routes home or to your meeting spot if necessary. You might also consider adding a printed version to all vehicles.
Out of Town Contact
Oftentimes following a disaster, you will find that you cannot make local calls with your phone. Texting is sometimes more reliable. But if you can’t do either of those two things you will often be able to make a long distance phone call.
For this reason, choose an out of town contact person that everyone in your family will call to check in with. You can communicate with each other through this person. This also allows you to just make one phone call to this central person instead of multiple phone calls to check on each person in your family.
Identify Safe Spots
Walk through each room in your home, workplace, school, or other places you frequent. Identify the safest spots. You are looking for spots that are away from windows and are hopefully under some sort of furniture (a desk or table). If there is no furniture available, the safest spot will be next to an interior wall.
While you may have heard that a door frame is a safe spot, this is not true. The number one way people are injured in an earthquake is from flying debris. Standing in a doorway makes you a HUGE target. Even if you crouch down, you are still exposed on both sides. An interior wall is safer and you will be protected from debris on at least one side.
Consider Earthquake Insurance
Most home owners insurance does not protect against earthquakes. If you live in an area at high risk for earthquake and/or your home is older and at a higher risk for significant damage, you may want to consider earthquake insurance as one way to prepare for an earthquake and part of your “plan.”
One downside to earthquake insurance is very, very high deductibles meaning you’d still have to front quite a bit of money before the insurance would step in to help. So, get multiple estimates and make sure you do your research.
Step #4 to Prepare for an Earthquake–Get Some Skills
Learn How to Shut off Utilities
Ruptured gas lines (especially when combined with live electrical wires) are a huge risk following an earthquake. Ruptured water lines can also cause significant damage to your home. Make sure every adult and teenager in your family knows what gas smells like and how to shut off all utilities. Consider keeping a wrench or gas shut off tool (affiliate) tied (use a zip tie) to your gas meter outside.
Make Sure Everyone Can Call 911
Teach all children who can talk how to call 911. Make sure they understand they can do this from your phone or a neighbor’s phone or a school phone, etc.
Learn Important First Aid Skills
Step #5 to Prepare for an Earthquake–Practice!
Any type of disaster can bring panic and rash decisions. You–and your children–will be better prepared to handle this if you have actually practiced what to do.
If you are indoors when an earthquake starts, you should immediately drop to the ground and cover your neck and head with your hands. Then, if possible move to one of the safe spots you’ve identified.
If you are outdoors when an earthquake starts, you should get away from any buildings or tall trees or other items that may fall. Then, drop to the ground and cover your neck and head with your hands.
It is also smart to practice getting home from various places you may be. Take a different way home from work occasionally. Have your children take a different way home from school.
Step #6 to Prepare for an Earthquake–Store Supplies
While the above items will help prepare you to survive an earthquake with minimal personal and structural damage, you will also need to prepare for the days following an earthquake. Below are some suggestions of supplies you should have.
I suggest keeping these items on the top floor of your home. That way, they will be less likely to be buried in rubble following and earthquake. Here are a few suggestions:
Shoes, Eyeglasses (if Needed), and a Flashlight
These items should be kept under -or near – the bed of every member of your family. This way, if you are in bed when an earthquake happens, you can react more quickly and safely.
A First Aid Kit
Creating a first aid kit may be as simple as gathering random supplies you already have around the house. But if you’d like something more robust, you can find a checklist HERE. Don’t forget to include a first aid manual (affiliate) and add a free first aid app to your phone!
Extra Food and Water
You should have at least three gallons of water stored for each member of your family. This will be enough for drinking and essential sanitation for three days. I highly suggest you store more if possible. If you have a nearby water source, consider storing a water filter as well.
Store at least a three day supply of food as well. If you can, a week is even better. Again, these are minimum amounts. If you can store more, do it – especially if you are preparing for other things as well (job loss could be one where a very robust food supply would be essential).
I keep a week’s supply of food and water upstairs so we can (hopefully) access it more quickly following an earthquake. But I have far more food and water in the basement (which we would be able to access later on).
Try to store at least a week’s supply of any medicine that is essential to your family. Once way you can do this is by refilling your prescription a few days early every month. This will help you build up a small supply that you regularly rotate through.
Store important documents in a fire-proof safe (affiliate). I will not list out all the documents you should have now, but you can find a free 18 page printable HERE. Having quick access to these documents will allow you to make claims, get medical help, and contact loved ones in a timely manner.
Other Essential Supplies
While there are a gazillion different supplies you could purchase, these are those I feel are most essential for an earthquake:
- A NOAA radio (affiliate) that you can wind up or charge with the sun if you run out of batteries. This will help you stay up on the most recent local news. You could also add a free NOAA radio app to your phone.
- A way to charge your phone (affiliate). In this day and age SO MUCH of our lives are on our phones (I’ve suggested many apps in this article), and many of us almost always have our phones on us/with us. Having a way to charge your phone is smart.
- ABC fire extinguishers (affiliate). Fires are quite common following an earthquake. Consider having multiple extinguishers in various places around your home.
- Light sources. It is very likely you will not have electricity for some time. Consider solar lights (can be brought in at night), flashlights (with extra batteries), candles etc. This (affiliate) is my favorite flashlight. It is affordable, high quality, and small enough to fit anywhere. We have one near everyone’s bed in our home as well as multiple in our cars.
- A way to cook without power. My favorite is a butane stove (affiliate). It is inexpensive, and unlike a propane stove, you can use it indoors (with a cracked window). Plus butane is more stable than propane.
- Extra gasoline. It is quite likely that even if roads are passable that you will not be able to get gasoline. Store a little extra (ask your city what the limits are), and be sure to rotate it (gasoline has a short shelf life).
- A quality tent and good sleeping bags (especially if it gets cold where you are). If your home is unsafe, you may still want to stay near it.
Step #7 to Prepare for an Earthquake–Home Upgrades/Retrofitting
I’ve left this step last for two reasons – #1: It could get quite expensive, and #2 – Most newer homes built of conventional wood construction (especially one story homes) are usually relatively resistant.
Still, it can’t hurt to be sure–especially if you live in an older home.
First, check with your local zoning board (call the city) to find out if your house was built to current earthquake protection code. You may also want to hire someone to come out to your home and help you assess things. Here are some things you should check:
- Is your house/garage securely fastened to the foundation? (Homes older than 1950 are usually not.) Consider hiring someone to fix that.
- Are their cracks in your foundation?
- Do you have flexible fittings in place on your gas and water pipes? You should. If not, call a plumber to change those out, or do so yourself if you have the skills.
- Do you have a chimney or fireplace? Secure it with galvanized metal angles and bands–or hire someone to do it.
- Are your overhead lighting fixtures attached to the joists? If not, make it happen!
Some states–like California–will help pay for these things with grants. If you need to retrofit your home, call your city and state to find out if any such programs exist.
Your Printable Checklist
Whew! That was a lot. I actually went through the article myself after writing it and added a bunch of items to my cart on Amazon. We will purchase them as budget allows, but I’m glad I dove deep and really researched this!
Do you have anything to add?
And as promised, I have a printable checklist for you! Simply click HERE or on the image below to access it!
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