How To Prepare Before The Next Earthquake Hits

After two strong earthquakes shook Southern California last week, HuffPost gathered some expert tips on how to prepare before the next quake comes to the West Coast ― as it almost certainly will in the coming years. 

A 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit on the Fourth of July near Ridgecrest, about 150 miles northeast of Los Angeles, followed by a 7.1 magnitude quake in the same area the next day. The shakes were felt by millions, including in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and led to minor damage, including fires, injuries, building collapses and road damage. 

While scientists cannot predict the timing or location of earthquakes, the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated a less than 1% chance as of Monday that a similar or bigger quake will hit in the next week. Still, local authorities have urged residents to have a plan just in case, and before the next quake hits.

“It is a certainty that California will experience large and potentially damaging earthquakes in the coming years,” Robert Graves, a research geophysicist at the USGS, told HuffPost. He noted that there are multiple active faults in California along which quakes can occur. 

As Californians await further quakes ― particularly a notorious “big one” in the L.A. or San Francisco Bay area ― researchers have been developing an early warning system for the state called ShakeAlert. The system is not yet complete, per its website, but in L.A., the city has a related app that is able to send an alert in case of a significant quake. The app’s alert didn’t go out last week, however, as the estimated damage wasn’t high enough to meet its threshold. 

Here’s what you should do to get ready before the next earthquake hits the West Coast.  

Friday’s 7.1 magnitude quake collapsed a chimney in a home in Trona, California.

Before the earthquake hits: Prep an emergency kit 

When stocking up on supplies for an earthquake, the No. 1 thing to get is water, Graves said. Experts recommend a supply of 1 gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, according to the University of Southern California’s Earthquake Country Alliance (ECA). With that, you can hunker down and wait for emergency responders to get to you, Graves said. 

People should also make their apartment or house safer by securing large objects, like bookshelves, to walls. The ECA’s prep guide provides detailed advice for every living situation. 

When it hits: Drop, cover and hold on 

When you feel the ground begin to shake, experts recommend you drop onto your hands and knees, cover your head with your arm or crawl under a table, and hold on to a steady structure near you, or simply hold on to your head and neck with both arms if no shelter is available.  

“Don’t run. Don’t try to get out of the building ― I know that’s a human response,” Graves noted. If you walk or run, you could get thrown around or move toward falling objects or structures. 

While official advice used to be to get inside a doorway, that is no longer recommended. Moving toward any doorway could involve moving past objects that fall, Graves noted. So stay put. 

As for going outside, if you are out and away from a building, that’s great. If not, trying to get there could involve moving under the facade of a brick building, for instance, which could fall apart and injure you. Move away from any structures that could fall, Graves recommended.

After it hits: Prepare for potential aftershocks  

While aftershocks that are bigger than the original quake are less likely, they do occur ― as in Southern California last week. Smaller magnitude quakes are more likely, and these can still be damaging. 

Immediately after the shaking stops, assess your surroundings: Is the structure you’re in steady? Are there any large objects that appear precarious and could break or fall? If so, evacuate. If you’re not sure, wait outside until officials can investigate your building.

And although a tsunami after a quake is rare, and only possible if a quake occurs off-shore, if you are at the beach and feel strong shaking, move to higher ground just to be safe, Graves said. 

One positive outcome from the recent quakes is that these will provide more data to scientists. 

“We have geologists in the field mapping where the fault broke, we have seismic instruments ― data will be analyzed for weeks, years to come,” Graves said. “This is how we learn, and it allows us to be better prepared for when the next one comes.”

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