Earthquake Facts

Earthquakes are caused by shifting plates below the earth's surface. They can cause a great deal of damage to homes and cities. Earthquakes typically occur on the West Coast of the United States and along known fault lines; however, earthquake risk is at moderate or high levels in 45 states in America.

What causes earthquakes?

Earthquakes occur when the tectonic plates of the earth slip over or under each other. This is a normal process, but when the forces hold some the plates back for too long, they spring forward like a taut rubber band. The edges of these plates are called faults, and earthquakes usually occur on fault lines. The location of the earthquake is called the epicenter. After the first earthquake, many smaller quakes occur at the same epicenter. These later earthquakes are called aftershocks and they can continue for hours, weeks, months or years.

How to prepare for an earthquake

To be best prepared for an earthquake, complete a home emergency kit to have on hand, and place it for easy access. Establish a family communications plan. This includes a contact far from your home whom everyone is instructed to call in case of an emergency. Inside the home, fasten all shelves to the wall and store fragile items low to the ground. Heavy objects like mirrors can be positioned away from sitting and sleeping areas, like couches or beds. Pipefittings that are flexible are less likely to break during an earthquake. Secure the refrigerator and other appliances to the walls. Make sure that gas lines have a shut-off valve that is earthquake-ready. This type of valve shuts off if triggered by vibrations. Many homes that survive earthquakes are burned when gas lines break. Discuss safe spots in the home with family members and hold earthquake drills.

Staying safe during an earthquake

During an earthquake, do not use elevators. Drop to the ground and stay under tables. Avoid glass windows or light fixtures that could fall. If you are in bed during an earthquake, stay there and cover your face with the pillow. Stay in the house until the shaking stops. Prepare for aftershocks. Most injuries occur during an earthquake when people move to other areas in the house or when they exit. If you are outside during an earthquake, move away from buildings, electric or telephone poles and streetlights. Beware of debris falling from buildings, such as chimneys or glass. If you are in a car, stop and stay in the car. Do not stop under a bridge, near trees or by utility wires. If you become trapped under debris during the earthquake, do not kick or move. Cover your mouth with cloth. If you can tap on a pipe or wall, it makes it easier for rescuers to find you. Only shout if you must, as you want to avoid inhaling dust.

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