The big killers in earthquakes are falling debris and fires. Earthquakes are hard to prepare for since they are unpredictable. You canít know when one will strike, but if you live in an earthquake area you have to plan for having one sooner or later. There are books and pamphlets about how to earthquake-proof your house. Get one and do the important things.

Inside your home, look for things that will fall or fly during a quake. Screw pictures to the wall instead of hanging them from hooks. Have latches on the kitchen and bathroom cabinets so they donít fly open at the slightest shake. Put rails on the edges of open shelves. Store heavy items - like canned goods, iron skillets and potted plants - near the floor. Secure all tall furniture like armoires and china cabinets to the wall so they can't tip over. If you are a book lover, get proper bookcases and secure them to the wall. Don't hang plants or other decorations from the ceiling. Hanging lights should be on closed hooks that are strongly attached to a joist. These precautions will protect the people from flying debris and make it more likely that your belongings will survive the earthquake too.

Outside the house look for things that are likely to fall. Chimneys are particularly bad in a quake. Make a chimney short and one piece if you can. If it is brick or stone, brace the chimney and reinforce the roof around it to keep the rock from falling through the roof in a quake.

Set up all bedrooms so nothing will fall on the bed in a quake. Keep the beds away from things like bookcases, mirrors and chandeliers. Don't place beds under windows, but if you put the bed near a window this may provide an escape route. Be very careful in the kitchen too. Attach the fire extinguisher to the wall. Put chocks under the wheels on the refrigerator so it can't roll into you during a quake. Keep knives in a drawer with a latch, not hanging from a magnet at eye level. You spend most of your time in the house in the kitchen and the bedroom so make them as safe as possible.

After an earthquake, the early fires usually happen because of flammable liquids and gas leaks. Never store a flammable liquid in anything but an approved and tightly closed container. Keep them on low shelves or on the floor, preferably in a childproof cabinet. All gas connectors should be the flexible type so that movement of the stove or water heater will not break the connector and start a gas leak. Secure the water heater to something sturdy so that it won't walk during a quake. Some water heaters have all three major utilities running to them. They can start a gas leak, flood the house and short out the electricity if they shift.

In every building where you live or work or spend a lot of time, know the best places to go if an earthquake starts. You want someplace that is likely to survive the quake and to protect you from falling and flying debris - under a strong table or bed, in a doorway, in a shower stall or bathtub or closet - wherever you can get within a few seconds. Things come down fast in a quake. If you are in bed, stay there. If you are outside, move away from buildings and trees.

Donít assume that a tremor is going to be minor. If you begin to feel it, take precautions. If the quake is small and there is no damage, you can go on about your business. If the quake continues to build, you want to be in a safe spot before the serious danger starts.

If there is an earthquake large enough to cause structural damage to the building you are in, get out as soon after the tremor stops as you can. If you are in a safe spot, stay there till the shaking stops. If you aren't near a safe spot, work your way to one by staying close to a wall and away from heavy objects that might shift into you. Do not go outside while the earth is still shaking. Many injuries and deaths from earthquakes occur as people rush out of a building and part of the building falls on them. Stay inside the door until the shaking stops and nothing is falling around you, and then run for it.

Once you are outside, get as far away from the buildings as you can. There are generally aftershocks after a damaging quake. Just because that roof stayed up through the last tremor doesnít mean it can still withstand the next one. Wooden buildings may collapse in on themselves or they may sway and fall to one side. Masonry and glass clad buildings are particularly dangerous. If a brick storefront or masonry wall falls on you, you are likely to be badly hurt.

Donít run outside
during the earthquake

Damaged Buildings

Donít go into a damaged building after an earthquake or storm until it is determined to be safe. The only exception to this rule is to save a human life.

If there is someone trapped, the best thing you can do is wait for emergency personnel who are trained in getting people out safely. It is easy to bring debris down on yourself and the victims if you donít know what you are doing. Stay in a safe spot and reassure the person who is trapped that there will be help. Try to keep them calm and alert. Work on attracting a rescue team to the location of the victim. If you can, turn off the utilities to the building. This will lessen the chance of fire or explosion and make the rescue operation safer for everyone.

Be patient, even if it takes hours. The goal of rescue teams is to find and extricate as many people as possible in the first 24 hours. Avoid the temptation to start pulling debris off and dig the person out.† You may cause a collapse, you may start a fire, or you may worsen the victimís injuries.

If there are not going to be professionals available, at least get help before you attempt a rescue. You need to work in teams. Unless it is a small child, it is going to take at least two rescuers to get someone out and there should be a third person outside to coordinate things. Think carefully about how you are going to reach the person who is trapped, what you might need to free them, and what their injuries might be. You donít want to waste trips inside the damaged building and you donít want to bring the building down while attempting to free someone. Cooperation saves lives in these emergencies.

If you are trapped, stay calm and try to attract the attention of someone who can help you. Donít waste your air and energy screaming. Breathe through your nose or pursed lips to keep dust out of your lungs. Call for help every 5 to 10 seconds until you get a response. If you can hear people outside and they don't hear you, try whistling or singing.† Whistling takes less air and singing may be easier to hear.

If you can tap on a pipe or wall loudly enough for the sound to carry, do that. When tapping, strike objects together in a rhythm that can be identified as coming from a person. Tap SOS by alternating three long and three short sounds, or tap ďshave and a haircut.Ē Then rescue workers can recognize that this tapping is a call for help.

Most importantly, donít wear yourself out. It sometimes takes hours or even days to find everyone after a big storm or earthquake. Do what you can to stay alive and conscious until help can get to you.