Earthquake First Aid

According to the United States Geological Survey, there are an estimated 500,000 earthquakes in the world a year. One hundred thousand of those are felt and 100 of them will cause damage—sometimes extensive. Earthquakes account for 37% of deaths from disasters in the world. However, the earthquake itself is hardly ever the cause of human injury or fatality. More than half of earthquake injuries are from falling objects, flying glass, collapsing walls or from people moving around during shaking. Research on earthquake injuries and fatalities have found that the most common injuries from earthquakes are lacerations, bruises, fractures, burns, head trauma, asphyxia and crush syndrome. It is extremely difficult to get solid statistics on injuries sustained during earthquakes because it all depends on the severity and location of the earthquake and the additional hazards that come after such as fire or tsunami.

Where do Earthquakes Occur in the U.S.?

Map of seismic activity in the United States

This map shows the different seismic activity around the U.S.

Though certain areas of the world and in the United States are more prone to earthquakes than others, they can occur anywhere at any time. For example, between 1811 and 1812, three major earthquakes measuring between 7.2 to 8.3 caused extensive damage in New Madrid, Missouri. (For reference, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded was in 1960 in Chile and measured 9.4 to 9.6 on the Richter Scale.) This wasn’t because there is a major fault line running through New Madrid. Eugene Schweig from the United States Geological Survey says, “New Madrid is about as far from a plate boundary as you can get.”

Waiting for the Big One

Despite common belief about California’s ‘big one,’ the Cascadia Subduction Zone located off the coast of Oregon and Washington is capable of producing earthquakes 30 times more powerful than the San Andreas fault.

The amount of seismic activity in the United States has recently been declining; however, from 2008 to 2015, it rose significantly. Still, that’s not an indication of a trend. Even today, (May 14, 2018) a 4.1 earthquake was recorded about 50 miles north of Oklahoma City. Experts say damage is probable at 4.0. Though no injuries or damage were reported, it is a smart idea to be knowledgeable and prepared for any natural disaster no matter where you live. Especially since we have no earthquake early warning system in the United States.

Can we Prepare for Earthquakes?

Of course! Extensive studies and research have been done on earthquakes, including the safest way to ride one out, how to prepare for an earthquake and what to do during and after the shaking.

What is the Safest Place to be During an Earthquake?

First, it is very important to note that first responders and experts say that the “triangle of life” and standing in a doorway is not safe during an earthquake. If you feel shaking, you need to




FEMA writes, “Practice Drop, Cover, and Hold On with family and coworkers. Drop to your hands and knees. Cover your head and neck with your arms. Crawl only as far as needed to reach cover from falling materials. Hold on to any sturdy furniture until the shaking stops.”

Drop, cover and hold on illustration

When you feel shaking, drop, cover and hold on.

Drop down to your hands and knees to prevent falling, cover your head and neck and take cover under a heavy piece of furniture like a table or desk.

If you cannot cover, quickly go to an interior wall away from windows and glass, get down on your knees and cover your head and neck with your arms. If you are in bed, stay there. Cover your head with a pillow and hold on.

Earthquake damage to an outdoor shopping area in California

California earthquake damage. Photo by C.E. Meyer, United States Geological Survey

We never know when disaster will strike. You must have an emergency plan that coincides with your daily life and routine—kids, care-taking, pets, work, errands, etc. If you are outside when shaking begins, if possible, move quickly away from structures. Like inside, drop, cover and hold on if you can. While driving, pull your car over in a clearing and steer clear of structures, bridges and do not park under an overpass. Stay inside your vehicle. The drop, cover and hold on precaution applies to office buildings, and high-rises, as well.

Once the shaking stops, check for damages and dangers. It might be safer to remain inside; however, if the building is structurally unsound, you will want to evacuate to a safe area outside away from downed power lines and other hazards. Once secure, check yourself and others for injuries. Treat your injuries before helping others.

Depending on the severity of the earthquake, there is a chance you could be trapped. Cover your nose, mouth and eyes from dust. Blow your emergency whistle to alert rescuers of your location.

The most likely non-life-threatening injuries sustained during an earthquake will be cuts and bruises. For bleeding wounds, apply direct pressure with a sterile bandage. Clean the wound and apply a band-aid. Do not move someone you suspect has serious injuries. Call 9-1-1. Cover injured people with blankets to avoid shock.

To learn more about the basics of first aid, click here.

What do You Need for an Earthquake?

Earthquake First Aid Kit Checklist:

  • Ax
  • Shovel
  • Broom
  • Basic tool: Screwdriver, pliers, hammer, wrench
  • 3 days worth of non-perishable food
  • Water
  • Sturdy, closed-toes shoes,
  • Flashlight
  • Extra batteries
  • Copies of important documents
  • Prescription medication
  • Dust mask
  • Emergency whistle
  • Cash
  • Portable crank weather-alert radio
  • Work gloves
  • Disposable gloves
  • Heavy-duty plastic bags
  • Personal hygiene items
  • Emergency blankets
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Ponchos
  • Various sizes of wound dressing
  • Gauze
  • Disposable gloves
  • Bandages in different sizes
  • Sterile dressing,
  • Gauze
  • Triangular bandages
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Tape
  • Antibacterial ointment
  • Cold pack
  • Splints
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Safety pins
  • Face mask

Each person’s situation is unique. Include individual items and medications for those who need special accommodations. Discuss preparation plans with your doctor—they should be understanding of your concern and needs.

No matter the emergency or disaster, 12 Survivors want you prepped and ready. Armed with the correct skills, quality gear and with the right mindset, we feel confident you’ll have what it takes to survive an earthquake or any other natural disaster. Please subscribe to the 12 Survivors blog to get more informative and entertaining articles like this emailed directly to your inbox.

Do you live in an earthquake-prone area? How do you prepare? Share it in the comment section to help others be earthquake ready.

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