Earthquakes are the sudden, rapid shaking of the earth, caused by the breaking and shifting of underground rock. Earthquakes occur nearly every day in Washington. Most are too small to be felt or cause damage. Large earthquakes are less common but can cause significant damage to the things we count on in everyday life, such as buildings, roads, bridges, dams, and utilities. Washington has the second highest risk in the U.S. of these large and damaging earthquakes because of its geologic setting.
Earthquakes are sudden & give no warning. Electricity, water, natural gas, and phones may not work after an earthquake. This means that the internet, your cell phone, grocery stores, and gas stations may also not work. Prepare now by:
- Securing items such televisions, computers, and other expensive or hazardous electronics. Secure large items like water heaters and refrigerators. Move tall items like book cases and filing cabinets away from beds, sofas, or other places where people sit, sleep, or spend a lot of time. Place large or heavier items on the floor or lower shelves. Move heavy objects away from escape routes. Check out FEMA's Earthquake Home Hazard Hunt for additional recommendations.
- Practice 'Drop, Cover, and Hold On'. To react quickly, you must practice often. You may only have seconds to protect yourself in an earthquake. Practicing helps you be ready to respond. Learn more about how to practice at The Great Washington Shake Out.
- Make an emergency kit that includes enough food and water for up to 2 weeks. Consider each person's specific needs, including medication. Have extra batteries and charging devices for phones and other critical equipment.
- Create a family emergency communication plan that has an out-of-area contact. Plan where to meet if you get separated from other household members.
- Know how to turn off utilities such as electricity and gas.
Be Safe DURING
If you feel the ground shake:
- Drop onto your hands and knees. This position protects you from being knocked down and reduces your chances of being hit by falling or flying objects. Cover your head and neck with your arms. If a sturdy table or desk is nearby, crawl underneath for shelter. If no shelter is nearby, crawl next to an interior wall. Stay on your knees - bend over to protect vital organs.
- If in bed, stay there and cover your head and neck with a pillow.
- If inside, stay there until the shaking stops. DO NOT run outside.
- If outside, stay away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires if you can.
- If you use a cane: drop, cover, and hold on. Keep your cane near you so it can be used when the shaking stops.
- If you use a walker or wheelchair, lock your wheels (if applicable). If using a walker, carefully get as low as possible. Bend over and cover your head/neck with your arms.
- If in a vehicle, stop in a clear area that is away from buildings, trees, overpasses, underpasses, or utility wires.
- If you are in a high-rise building, expect fire alarms and sprinklers to go off. Do not use elevators.
- If near slopes, cliffs, or mountains, be alert for falling rocks and landslides.
Be Safe AFTER
There can be serious hazards after an earthquake, such as damage to the building, leaking gas and water lines, or downed power lines.
- Expect aftershocks. After a large earthquake, it is common to have other large earthquakes for hours, days, or even weeks.
- If in a damaged building, go outside and away from the building. Do not enter damaged buildings.
- If you are trapped, send a text or bang on a pipe or wall.
- Evacuate to higher group if you are near a large body of water. Tsunamis are a common result of large earthquakes in Washington.
- Save phone calls for emergencies. Use text messages to communicate, texts are more likely to go through if phone lines are down.
- Once you are safe, pay attention to local news reports for emergency information and instructions via radio, TV, social media, or from cell phone text alerts.
- Check yourself to see if you are hurt and help others if you have training.
Until you are sure there are no gas leaks, do not re-enter your residence. Also, do not use open flames (lighters, matches, candles, or grills) or operate any electrical or mechanical device that can create a spark (light switches, generators). Never use the following indoors: camp stoves, gas lanterns or heaters, gas or charcoal grills, or gas generators. These can release deadly carbon monoxide or be a fire hazard in aftershocks.
Following aftershocks, continue to check for gas leaks, chemical spills, damaged electrical wiring, and broken water pipes. Take pictures of any damage to your property or residence. Contact your insurance agent right away to begin your claims process. Keep records of any repair or cleaning costs. Remember to update your out-of-area contact of your status. If the power is off, plan meals to use up refrigerated and frozen foods first. Save canned goods for later. If your water is off or unsafe, you can drink from water heaters, melted ice cubes, or canned vegetables.
A Homeowner's Guide to Earthquakes
Pacific Northwest Seismic Network
Shake Alert Earthquake Early Warning