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US At Risk: Earthquake Preparation Crucial For All 50 States

American Red Cross urges nationwide earthquake drill to ensure readiness and safety.

Violent shaking from an earthquake can strike suddenly, without warning, and at any time of the year, day or night – and residents of California are hardly the only people in danger.

Fourth graders Rachel Nelson, right, and Elliot Kelley-Petersen begin to unfurl themselves from under their desks after practicing their drop, cover and hold-on skills during an annual earthquake drill, the Great ShakeOut, at Genesee Hill Elementary School Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Seattle. The school children were among residents across the state practicing their readiness for an earthquake in the drill, which also included tsunami alerts in coastal areas and testing of emergency radio broadcasts. (ELAINE THOMPSON/AP PHOTO)

Forty-five states and territories of the United States are at moderate to very high risk of earthquakes, and every region of the country is at risk, according to the American Red Cross. Thus, preparation is one of the most important steps people can take to be ready for an unpredictable force of nature like an earthquake.

“Because so much of the country is at risk for earthquakes, the American Red Cross recommends that everyone take part in the Great ShakeOut earthquake drill,” Steven J. Jensen, Ph.D., a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council, told AccuWeather. “Make sure all household members know how to Drop, Cover and Hold on,” Jensen added, invoking Step 5 of the Earthquake Country Alliance’s 7 Steps for earthquake preparedness.

The Great ShakeOut is an annual opportunity to practice how to be safer during big earthquakes: “Drop, Cover and Hold On.” The ShakeOut was first held in 2008 in California, according to the USGS. In the years since launching, the ShakeOut has been practiced in many other states and around the world and is meant to encourage individuals, communities, schools and other organizations to review and update emergency preparedness plans and supplies and to secure your space in order to prevent damage and injuries.

International ShakeOut Day has historically fallen on the third Thursday of October, which this year happens to be Oct. 19, but practicing a ShakeOut drill can be done at any time of the year. In fact, experts say it’s actually a good idea to practice earthquake safety in different situations each year.

Jensen said what people tend to miss in preparedness is “scale.”

A damaged Toyota car is seen after an earthquake in Zenda Jan district in Herat province, of western Afghanistan, Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023. Powerful earthquakes killed at least 2,000 people in western Afghanistan, a Taliban government spokesman said Sunday. It’s one of the deadliest earthquakes to strike the country in two decades. (BENYAMIN BAREZ/AP PHOTO)

“People need to appreciate the scale of what they need to prepare for … and get ready now. As we have seen in disasters so far this year, resources are stretched to the limit. We can take the pressure off the response systems by taking care of ourselves and those who might be in need around us. As our guidance recommends, have supplies ready for at least two weeks,” said Jensen.

Knowing what to do and what to avoid if an earthquake strikes can save your life. Here are a few more tips.

By planning, people will be ready to live with the risk of fire, the potential lack of utilities and basic services and the certainty of aftershocks once an earthquake is over.

The most important step toward earthquake safety is building awareness of the risks that temblors pose, coupled with taking action before one happens, said Jensen.

“While we cannot stop the earth from shaking, we can make reasonable choices about where we live, how our buildings are constructed, how furnishings like bookshelves might be secured and the types of supplies we keep on hand,” said Jensen.

According to the Red Cross, an emergency preparedness kit should contain numerous items including extra cash, copies of important personal documents such as a medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, a deed or lease to a home, passports, birth certificates, and insurance policies.

Water, non-perishable food, a flashlight, and a battery-powered or hand-crank radio are also crucial.

Unless a phone call is necessary, it is better to send a text message by cellphone than to tie up the landlines needed for emergency response.

However, experts recommend having an emergency communications plan in place before an emergency strikes, Mark Benthien of the Southern California Earthquake Center said.

A communications plan should include the names, numbers and email addresses of everyone in the household and a central contact for an out-of-town family member, he said.

The plan should also have details on where the family will meet in case of an emergency, whether it is at home or outside of their neighborhood.

“People can practice how to protect themselves during earthquakes, along with millions of others each year, by participating in Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills,” Benthien said.

The Red Cross has an emergency app with a “Family Safe” feature to allow people to check on loved ones who are in an area affected by an emergency.

Facebook also offers “Safety Check,” a way to let a person’s friends and family know they are safe.


A fourth grader looks over emergency information before an annual earthquake drill, the Great ShakeOut, at Genesee Hill Elementary School Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Seattle. The school children were among residents across the state practicing their readiness for an earthquake in the drill, which also included tsunami alerts in coastal areas and testing of emergency radio broadcasts. (ELAINE THOMPSON/AP PHOTOS)

 Earthquake shaking can move almost anything, even large or heavy items, Benthien said.

“Most injuries and damages are caused by falling or flying objects, not collapsing buildings,” said Benthien.

Moving furniture such as bookcases away from beds, sofas or other places where people sit, sleep or spend a lot of time can prevent problems during an earthquake, he said. Secure heavy objects such as computers, TVs, hanging mirrors, and picture frames. People can also take an extra step by installing latches on kitchen cabinets.

Research has shown that running outside during an earthquake is the wrong thing to do, according to the Earthquake Country Alliance. Windows, facades and architectural details are often the first parts of the building to collapse. To stay away from this danger zone, stay inside if you are inside and outside if you are outside.

Stay, drop and cover until the shaking stops. Dropping to the floor prevents the earthquake from knocking you down.

“The idea here is to stop moving and drop down, which will keep your center of gravity low and prevent falls,” said Jensen. “Falling is a major cause of injuries and is particularly bad because it limits what you can do next.”

Once down low, seek cover under a table or a sturdy object, which can offer protection from falling objects.

“If no cover is available, protect yourself by crouching down with your face toward the ground and your hands behind your head and neck. And hold on,” said Jensen, who is also an adviser, emergency manager and lecturer at California State University at Long Beach, said.

Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors, walls, and anything that could fall such as light fixtures or furniture.

Shut off the main gas valve only if a leak is suspected because of broken pipes, the odor or sound of leaking natural gas or if the meter is spinning quickly, according to the Alliance.

Don’t use matches, lighters, camp stoves or barbecues, electrical equipment, and appliances until you are sure there are no gas leaks, the Alliance said. They may create a spark that could ignite leaking gas and cause an explosion and fire.

Only the gas company can turn the gas back on after they check for leaks.

In a time of challenges and uncertainties, the ShakeOut provides ease of mind, knowing you are prepared if the inevitable disaster of an earthquake strikes. More than 1 million Americans were expected to participate in this year’s edition of the ShakeOut.


Produced in association with AccuWeather

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