Updated: Mar 27
Earthquakes are one of the most frightening and devastating natural disasters. Earthquakes trigger our primal fears because they are so unpredictable. Major earthquakes cause major damage and fatalities. In 2020, Turkey had the most severe earthquakes, resulting in 70 people losing their lives and causing much destruction.
The National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) reports an average of nearly 20,000 earthquakes around the world every year. Seismologists classify earthquakes that measure 5.0 or above on the Richter scale.
Classifications of earthquakes depend on their magnitude:
Moderate - 5 to 5.9
Strong - 6 to 6.9
Major - 7 to 7.9
Great - 8 or greater
What causes earthquakes?
Most earthquakes are caused by movements of the earth’s tectonic plates. The earth consists of 20 plates that are constantly moving. The lateral or vertical movement of these plates allows built-up stress to release. The sudden release of stored energy in the earth’s crust creates seismic waves.
Earthquakes occur when two blocks (plates) of the earth slip past one another. The surface where they slip is called a fault or fault plane. The movement of the earth radiates out from the breaking rock. Scientists follow the earth’s plates’ movements and determine if the earthquake is a foreshock, mainshock, or aftershock.
How do I prepare for an earthquake?
Be familiar with the Drop, Cover, and Hold On rule during earthquakes:
Drop to your hands and knees and hold onto something sturdy. If you are in a wheelchair, lock the wheels and remain seated until shaking stops.
Cover your head and neck with your arms. Crawl under a table or desk or crawl next to an interior wall (not by the windows). Stay on your knees to protect vital organs.
Hold On to something to steady yourself. You can bend forward if seated and cover your head.
What should I do before an earthquake hits?
If living in an earthquake prone area, purchase earthquake insurance. Standard homeowner’s insurance does not include earthquakes
Pack a 72-hour supply kit including food and water as well as flashlights, extinguisher, and a whistle.
Make an earthquake emergency plan which includes emergency communication
Determine the safest place to be in your home in case of an earthquake
Protect your home by securing heavy items like bookcases, refrigerators, televisions, and hanging things on the walls.
Register on the American Red Cross “Safe and Well” website, so that people will know you are okay.
How do I safe during an earthquake?
If an earthquake happens, quickly protect yourself by doing the following:
If you are in bed, turn face down and cover your head and neck with a pillow
If you are inside, stay and do not run outside and avoid doorways
If you are outdoors, stay there and away from any buildings
If you are in a car, pull over and stop. Set your parking brake
Stay away from windows, fireplaces, heavy furniture, and appliances. Be aware that there can be serious hazards such as damage to the building, leaking gas, water lines, or downed power lines.
What should I do after an earthquake?
Check yourself and your family members for any injuries and utilize your first aid kit.
If your building is damaged, go outside and move away from the buildings.
If you are trapped, send a text or bang on the wall or a pipe. Use a whistle if you have one.
Check with loved ones and neighbors to see if they are safe.
Prepare yourself for aftershocks that usually follow the main shock of an earthquake.
There are about two dozen major earthquakes, each measuring 7 to 7.9 on the Richter scale every year. They can happen at any time and at any place. They are most common in the “Ring of fire” or Pacific Rim. The places most affected by these quakes are California, Mexico City, Japan, and Hawaii.
How are earthquakes and tsunamis related?
Tsunamis, also known as tidal waves or harbor waves (Japan), can have deadly consequences. Tsunamis are caused by violent seafloor movement associated with earthquakes, landslides, sea mount collapse, asteroids, or lava entering the sea. At first, a tsunami is invisible. It starts as a small wave before receding and leaving the ocean floor bare several feet from shore. It then returns with huge waves traveling 20-30 miles per hour, reaching heights 10-100 feet high, and spreading out 1000 feet or more. When a tsunami reaches the shore, it dumps tons of water on the coastline threatening life and property.
In recent years, tsunamis have killed thousands of people, particularly in Indonesia, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, and Japan.
How do I prepare for a tsunami?
Educate yourself and your family about tsunamis.
Be aware of the tsunami warning signs.
Discuss evacuation routes and where to meet.
Practice running or traveling to your evacuation routes.
Have an emergency preparedness kit in a place that you can grab and go.
If living in a tsunami prone-area and a tsunami alert is given:
Evacuate from the coastal area and run or drive inland to higher ground immediately.
Pick areas 100 feet above sea level or two miles inland.
Avoid or evacuate buildings within several feet of the coastline.
If you can see the wave, you are too close to escape it!