How often do earthquakes happen?
The National Earthquake Information Center reports 35 earthquakes take place around the world on any given day.
Each year, California generally gets two or three earthquakes large enough to cause moderate damage to structures (magnitude 5.5 and higher). Even though Southern California has about 10,000 earthquakes each year, most of them are so small they can’t be felt. Only about 15 - 20 Southern California earthquakes will actually lead to shaking buildings per year (magnitude 4.0 or higher).
There’s no way to stop an earthquake.
Thanks to constantly updating building codes, buildings and structures are safer than ever. But none is entirely earthquake-proof.
Consider this: A magnitude 6.0 quake releases approximately as much energy as 6,270 tons of TNT; a magnitude 9.0 as much energy as 99 million tons.
Earthquakes: Not Just a California Risk
While California has seen the most serious earthquakes in the continental U.S., tremors occur all over the country.
Alaska is actually the most earthquake-prone state, experiencing a 7.0 magnitude earthquake almost every year.
There is a significant risk of a major quake in the central U.S. along the New Madrid Fault within the next few decades, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. And scientists have been predicting a magnitude 9.0 Northwest “megaquake” along the Cascadia fault that runs for more than 600 miles off the coast of Washington, Oregon, Northern California and Vancouver Island, Canada.
Forty-five U.S. states and territories are at moderate to very high risk of earthquakes.
How to Prepare for an Earthquake
Earthquakes are difficult to predict and can’t be stopped. Which is why earthquake preparedness is crucial.
Follow these recommendations from the Red Cross to prepare for an earthquake:
- Practice DROP, COVER and HOLD ON with all members of your household.
- Doorways are no stronger than any other part of a structure so don’t rely on them for protection! During an earthquake, get under a sturdy piece of furniture and hold on.
Protect Your Family
- Talk about earthquakes with your family so that everyone knows what to do in case of an earthquake. Discussing ahead of time helps reduce fear, particularly for younger children. Practice DROP, COVER and HOLD ON in each safe place.
- Check at your workplace and your children's schools and day care centers to learn about their earthquake emergency plans.
- Pick safe places in each room of your home, workplace and/or school. A safe place could be under a piece of secured furniture or against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases or tall furniture that could fall on you.
- Keep a flashlight and any low-heeled shoes by each person’s bed.
- Prepare a pet emergency kit for your companion animals.
- Make sure you have access to NOAA radio broadcasts:
- Find an online NOAA radio station. Search for an NOAA radio app for your smartphone. Purchase a battery-powered or hand-crank NOAA radio.
Protect Your Home
- Be sure your home is protected by adequate earthquake insurance.
- Bolt and brace water heaters and gas appliances to wall studs. Have a professional install flexible fittings to avoid gas or water leaks.
- Do not hang heavy items, such as pictures and mirrors, near beds, couches and anywhere people sleep or sit.
- Install strong latches or bolts on cabinets. Large or heavy items should be closest to the floor.
- Learn how to shut off the gas valves in your home and keep a wrench handy for that purpose.
- Place large and heavy objects and breakable items (bottled foods, glass or china) on lower shelves.
- Anchor overhead lighting fixtures to joists.
- Anchor top-heavy, tall and freestanding furniture such as bookcases, china cabinets to wall studs to keep these from toppling over.
- Ask about home repair and strengthening tips for exterior features, such as porches, decks, sliding glass doors, canopies, carports and garage doors.
- Learn about your area’s seismic building standards and land use codes before you begin new construction.
- Have a professional make sure your home is securely anchored to its foundation, and ask about strengthening tips for exterior features, such as porches, decks, sliding glass doors, canopies, carports and garage doors.
During an Earthquake: Stay Safer Indoors
- DROP, COVER and HOLD ON!
- Move as little as possible - most injuries during earthquakes occur because of people moving around, falling and suffering sprains, fractures and head injuries. Try to protect your head and torso.
- If you are in bed, stay there, curl up and hold on, and cover your head.
- Stay indoors until the shaking stops and you are sure it is safe to exit.
- If you must leave a building after the shaking stops, use stairs rather than an elevator in case of aftershocks, power outages or other damage.
- Be aware that smoke alarms and sprinkler systems frequently go off in buildings during an earthquake, even if there is no fire.
- If you smell gas, get out of the house and move as far away as possible.
- Before you leave any building check to make sure that there is no debris from the building that could fall on you.
During an Earthquake: Stay Safe Outdoors
- Find a clear spot and drop to the ground. Stay there until the shaking stops.
- Try to get as far away from buildings, power lines, trees, and streetlights as possible.
- If you're in a vehicle, pull over to a clear location and stop. Avoid bridges, overpasses and power lines if possible.
- Stay inside with your seatbelt fastened until the shaking stops.
- After the shaking has stopped, drive on carefully, avoiding bridges and ramps that may have been damaged.
- If a power line falls on your vehicle, do not get out. Wait for assistance.
- If you are in a mountainous area or near unstable slopes or cliffs, be alert for falling rocks and other debris as well as landslides.
Earthquakes are difficult to predict and can’t be stopped, but having the right preparation and insurance in place can help you protect your family.