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DROP, COVER AND HOLD ON – Would you know what to do in an Earthquake?


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Did you know that the 20th of October was also International Shake Out Day? No, it’s not a new dance move or time to shake out your doona. It’s a huge earthquake drill organised by the US Geological Survey and its Fire and Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

We didn’t hear about this in Australia – most likely we were too busy dealing with floods, but more than 45 million people in 95 countries took part. No doubt people in earthquake -prone regions such as Japan, Turkey and New Zealand are well aware of the importance of this, but others like us think this is a low -risk event that won’t happen -until it does, just like yesterday’s hurricane in France or the earthquake that rocked Christchurch in 2011.

Australia is certainly not immune to earthquakes – in fact it has more than other mid -plate locations such as the inland USA, but apart from the one in Newcastle in 1989 which killed 13 people and damaged 35,000 homes, they have for the most part occurred in less habited places and have not caused the great devastation and loss of life which they have in more populous and tectonically active regions.

Worldwide there have been 10 earthquakes above magnitude 6 in the last month alone and 129 between magnitude 5 and 6. Some of the biggest on record have occurred within the last year and a half.


(To appreciate this map, click on the zoom icon top right)

As the map illustrates, you don’t have to live on the Ring of Fire to experience an earthquake. They can be triggered by all kinds of events such as the building of large dams, earth movements, undersea explosions or the emergence of a new volcano. An Australian structural engineer who is studying the impact of earthquakes on older buildings, says there are probably faults close to every city that we don't know about. You could also be holidaying in one of the places where earthquakes are more common - as I write one son and his family are holidaying in New Zealand. Whatever the case, it won't hurt to know what to do. 


What to do during an Earthquake

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA-NC

Most of this information comes from See their website for many more tips

DROP – this is so you won't be knocked to the floor by the shaking. Keep away from windows and exterior walls and crawl there if necessary. Don’t stand in a doorway or run outside, because you are more likely to be hit by fallen or flying debris outside a building.

COVER– try to get under a heavy object such as a table or desk. The aim is to protect the head and neck. Even if nothing is available, cover your head with an arm to prevent head injuries. Lock wheelchairs and lean forward into the brace position with your arm covering your head.

HOLD  ON – There may be after shocks

Here is a longer and more graphic version. There is also a bit more detail.

If you aren't at home when a quake hits, here are some tips from Earthquake

If you are in a shop or business, look around, avoid objects which could fall and look for cover. Even a shopping cart can provide some protection.

If you are in a car, find an open space where there are no trees, buildings, bridges or powerlines which could topple. Pull to the side and stay in your car until the shaking stops.

Don't try to reunite with children. They are usually safer at school or in childcare, but parents are often injured while trying to reach them. 

What to do before an earthquake 

 Since October is Disaster Preparedness Month, let’s also look at what we should be doing when things aren’t quaking and shaking. Countries which are no strangers to earthquakes will already have provisions in place to strengthen buildings or build in flexibility so that they suffer less damage. You can get a general overview here. Retrofitting existing buildings is more difficult, but creation of safe rooms and bracing or reinforcing structures may not be out of the question. For planners and the like, there is a good deal of information and research available here. Christchurch has never again rebuilt on the floodplains which turned to liquid during the earthquake. 

 Simple steps everyone can take 

Most of the following information is from and you can see the reasons for the various steps on their website or Google. To see this information in other languages click here


 1.       Secure loose objects

If you get an alert or a warning signal, secure objects which could fall such as bookshelves, pot plants or appliances. In the Northbridge earthquake of 1994, 55% of people were injured by tripping, falling or stepping on objects during an earthquake. Keep away from windows, televisions and glass such as shower screens. For some low cost ways to secure things, click here.

 2.       Make a plan

As for other emergencies, make a plan. Decide how you will communicate with family members and where you’ll meet up. Make sure workplaces and children’s schools and daycare centres also have them, as well as institutions, hospitality venues and hotels. Be sure to include information for elderly residents and people with disabilities. Know where to turn off your power, water and gas.

 3.     Organise emergency supplies

See the previous post for the basics. Mostly you will want some form of lighting - avoid naked flames such as candles, lighters and matches, and have a radio and ways to communicate. Have an emergency charger for your phone, batteries, water, a First Aid kit and food. Water and power supplies may be interrupted or your water may not be safe to drink.

4.       Organise important documents

That means ID, property and insurance documents so that relief can be organised quickly.

5.       Practice your safety drill

Make sure that you have made provision for elderly or disabled people and that children understand instructions clearly. Read more here.

There are also special preparations for those who care for young children such as how to protect them and do drills with them. 


After an Earthquake 


 6.     Safety Considerations

Earthquake reports that in at least one instance more people were injured after an earthquake than during. Be aware of the possibility of aftershocks and even tsunamis. After an earthquake, be especially alert to the possibility of broken gas mains and don’t use candles, lighters or matches. Watch out too for damaged buildings and fallen powerlines. If the place you are in appears sound, it may be safer to stay where you are.

7.       Reconnect and Recover

Wait for an all - clear signal before returning to an earthquake area. Reconnect with family and friends and make sure they are OK. Beware of falling debris and secure any damaged buildings before reentering them. Check for any injured people and call for help unless you have had first aid experience. Photograph any damage and help with the clean -up if you can.

8.       Share this information

Read through the list here and see if you or your organisation would like to take part in next year’s ShakeOut drill. They are usually held on the Third Thursday in October each year.

Download the Earthquake App if it’s available where you are. Check the Weather Bureau information and alerts if you are in Australia.

Since Earthquakes may be closely followed by Tsunamis, we’ll talk briefly about those next time along with how to survive other natural and not so natural disasters. Apologies for not getting back to writing about Elder Abuse either. This is due to another mystery update by Firefox or Windows, which closed all my open tabs, but I may manage to catch up on that later, especially if our forecast of another of week of rain happens. Oops! Looks like it's starting now. Better get the buckets out.