Reading This Could Save Your Life: 42 Earthquake Safety Tips and Steps

Dec 19 2017, 2:13 pm

You have probably read and heard quite a bit about the impending “Big One” that will strike the B.C. coast. However, how often do you read about what you should do when the world around you starts shaking?

Irregular “megathrust earthquakes” happen along the West Coast of North America every few hundred years, just like the 1700 Cascadia earthquake which had an epicentre that moved along a 1,000-km length from Vancouver Island to Northern California, causing a tsunamis that was powerful enough to create significant damage and fatalities in Japanese villages many hours later.

Geologists believe the “Big One” will be a repeat of this 1700 event.


While we are constantly reminded about our region’s seismic history, we are seldom informed on what to do during an earthquake. When the inevitable happens, your life will depend on whether you know proper earthquake safety procedures.

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Drop, Cover, Hold On

The ground STARTS shaking…

    • 1) STAY INSIDE. Panicking when the earth shakes by running outside could put you at further risk for injury, you could be hit by flying exterior debris. The area near the exterior walls of a building is the most dangerous place to be. Windows, facades, and architectural details are often the first parts of the building to collapse. Sidewalks next to buildings are most dangerous. Furthermore, during an earthquake, moving around or even crawling is extremely difficult.
    • 2) DROP down onto your hands and knees (before the earthquake knocks you off your feet). This position protects you from not only falling but allows you to still move if necessary. Shaking can be so strong that you will not be able to move far, and objects may fall or be thrown at you that you do not expect. Injuries can be avoided if you drop to the ground before the earthquake drops you.
    • 3) COVER your head and neck (and your entire body if possible) under a sturdy table or desk, and face away from windows. If there is no shelter nearby, only then should you get down near an interior wall (or next to low-lying furniture that won’t fall on you), and cover your head and neck with your arms and hands.
      • DO NOT find shelter under a doorway. Recent studies show that doorways are no stronger than any other part of the house, and do not protect you from flying debris. In addition, a swinging door during shaking is dangerous (for instance, it could pinch your fingers) and you also may not be able to brace yourself under a doorway during shaking.
      • DO NOT get into the “triangle of life.” This methodology of earthquake safety is highly dangerous in developed nations where there are strict building codes and standards. Unlike the developing world, building collapses and “pancaking” is exceptionally rare where there are high construction standards. Flying debris is the most common reason for injury when earthquakes shake developed nations, finding cover under tables and desks will protect you from such injuries.
      • The greatest danger is from falling and flying objects. Studies of injuries and deaths caused by earthquakes over the last several decades show that you are much more likely to be injured by falling or flying objects (TVs, lamps, glass, bookcases, ceiling plaster, etc.) than to die in a collapsed building. “DROP, COVER, and HOLD ON” will protect you from most of these injuries while inside buildings in British Columbia.
      • If there is no table or desk nearby, you can still reduce the chance of injury from falling objects by getting down next to an interior wall and covering your head and neck with your arms (exterior walls are more likely to collapse and have windows that may break).
      • If you are in bed, the best thing to do is to stay there and cover your head with a pillow. Studies of injuries in earthquakes show that people who moved from their beds would not have been injured if they had remained in bed. Moving out of bed not only puts them at risk of injury from falling but also puts them closer to flying debris.
      • If you are in the kitchen, GET OUT immediately. The kitchen is one of the most dangerous places to be during an earthquake, with plates, glass, and cooking equipment flying out of overhead cabinets. If a gas stove is on, attempt to turn it off before evacuating the kitchen. A safer place besides the kitchen is inside a hall, in corners and in archways. If possible, take cover under a table or desk and apply “Drop, Cover, and Hold On.”
      • AVOID ELEVATORS. If you are in an elevator when an earthquake happens, hit all floor buttons and get out as soon as the elevator doors open to the closest floor. High-rise residents will hear fire alarms go off, and may not hear the elevator alarm if you are trapped as electricity may fail.
      • If you are in a crowded indoor place, do not rush for the doors. Move away from heavy objects and display shelves containing objects that may fall. “Drop, Cover, and Hold” still applies in this case, but watch that you do not get trampled (try to avoid the crowd). Keep away from store windows and skylights.
    • 4) HOLD ON to your shelter, and use the other hand to PROTECT YOUR HEAD, FACE, AND NECK until the shaking stops. If your desk or table has legs, hold on to it (several inches above the ground to avoid pinching). Be prepared to move with your shelter, it will likely move around significantly as the earth shakes.
    • 5) When the shaking stops, remain in place where you are and begin COUNTING ALOUD TO 60. This is an important step in order to account for any immediate aftershocks. It will not only calm you, but it will also allow for loose debris to finish falling.
    • 1) IMMEDIATELY get into an open area, away from trees, buildings, walls, and power lines. BE ALERT for flying debris. The area near the exterior walls of a building is the most dangerous place to be. Windows, facades, and architectural details are often the first parts of the building to collapse. Sidewalks next to buildings are most dangerous.
      • If driving, pull your car to the side of the road, stop, and engage brakes. Avoid overpasses, bridges, tunnels, power lines, light posts, trees, or large overhanging signs. Remain inside the car until the shaking stops. Only stop and pull your car if it is safe to do so.
    • 2) When the shaking stops, remain in place where you are and begin COUNTING ALOUD TO 60. This is an important step in order to account for any immediate aftershocks. It will not only calm you, but it will also allow for debris to finish falling.

The ground STOPS shaking…

    • 1) After counting aloud to 60, STAY CALM and CHECK FOR INJURIES. Apply first aid if qualified. Ensure everyone is safe and uninjured.
    • 2) REMAIN ALERT for any falling debris.
    • 3) DO NOT move any seriously injured individual unless they are in immediate danger.
    • 4) CHECK for fires, gas and water leaks and damaged electrical wiring or sewer lines. If you smell gas, do not light matches, use candles, operate electrical switches, etc. – sparks can ignite leaking gas. Evacuate the building immediately if you smell gas or suspect a broken gas line.
    • 5) CHECK building for cracks and damage, including roof, ceiling, chimneys, and foundation. If you suspect there is serious damage, turn off all utilities and evacuate the building immediately.
    • 6) CHECK food and water supplies. Emergency water may be obtained from water heaters, melted ice cubes, toilet tanks and canned vegetables.
      • Seek sources of uncontaminated water. In an emergency, purify water by straining through a paper towel or several layers of clean cloth and by boiling vigorously for at least six minutes.
      • Do not use BBQ’s, camp stoves or unvented heaters indoors.
      • Do not flush toilet if sewer line is damged.
      • Expect to be on your own for as long as 72 hours during a major earthquake.
    • 7) DO NOT use the telephone unless there is a severe injury, fire or gas leak to report.
    • 8 ) TURN ON your portable radio for instructions and news reports, and cooperate fully with public safety officials.
    • 9) KEEP CLEAR of “Disaster Response Routes” for emergency vehicles.
    • 10) STAY at least 10-metres away from downed power lines.
    • 11) CHECK YOUR NEIGHBOURS after ensuring the safety of your own family. Your first help after an earthquake will not be from first responders, but rather family, neighbours, and friends.
    • 12) CONFINE frightened pets.
    • 13) PROTECT your home and property from intruders and looters.
    • 14) AVOID THE WATERFRONT and low-lying areas near the coast because of the threat of tsunami.
    • 15) BE PREPARED for aftershocks, they may occur minutes or hours after an earthquake. They could also happen days or weeks later, and could be higher in magnitude than the first earthquake you experienced (otherwise known as a “foreshock”).

Tsunami Evacuation

  • IF YOU LIVE IN LOW-LYING AREAS ALONG THE COASTLINE: In addition to post-earthquake fallout procedures that are outlined above, be extra vigilant for a potential earthquake-induced tsunami.
    • 1) KNOW and FOLLOW your community’s tsunami evacuation procedures, especially if your community is at high-risk for a tsunamis (e.g. Port Alberni).
      • If your community is a high-risk location, assume a tsunami is imminent. It will take 20 to 30 minutes for a tsunami to reach the British Columbia coastline, so there is little time to waste – go to high ground immediately after the earth stops shaking.
      • Inland coastal communities are also at high risk, such as Squamish, parts of Vancouver, and sea-level areas such as Richmond, Delta, and Tsawwassen. Coastal inlets, fjords, creeks, rivers, and valleys are dangerous when large volumes of tsunami water squeeze and funnel in through a tight geographical area. Low-lying areas, particularly those at or near sea level, are considered high risk areas. For instance, the tsunami waves of the 2011 Japanese earthquake traveled 20 kms inland over low-lying ground.
      • Tsunami waves are MULTIPLE WAVES. There is a mistaken belief that tsunami waves are single waves, they are not. Instead, tsunami waves are “wave trains” consisting of multiple incoming waves stretching over a period as long as several hours. Tsunami waves will also recede back into the ocean, bringing a mass of debris (homes, animals, trees, bodies, animals, cars, boats, etc.) back into the ocean. Two days after the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, a man was found alive 15 kms offshore on what had been the roof of his home.
      • Early signs of a tsunamis after an earthquake are an abnormally low tide caused by a rapidly receding tide. An incoming tsunami wave could initially resemble a rapidly rising tide that will continue to breach inland after reaching shore (2004 Indian Ocean Boxing Day tsunami) or it could arrive as a large wave as high as 150 feet (2011 Japanese tsunami).
    • 2) TURN ON on your portable radio for tsunami alerting and evacuation advisories.
      • In an near-field earthquake, there may not be enough time to issue a tsunami warning. Furthermore, earthquake damage may have damaged the infrastructure needed to initiate such tsunamis warning. Instead, public education is crucial to safety.
    • 3) CONSIDER high-elevation evacuation safe havens as well as the route to reach that safe haven.


Featured Image: Ryan Yu

DH Vancouver StaffDH Vancouver Staff

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