Earthquakes: What to do

In Australia earthquakes that cause significant damage are extremely rare in the memory of European settlement.

Even though the 5.2 magnitude earthquake centered in Moe Victoria received significant press coverage, there seemed to be no real information on safety during these events. For Australians living on a continental plate earthquakes are quite a mystery. For anyone in Victoria that experienced it, I’d like to say in the general scheme of earthquakes is rather small, and more of a wake up call than anything else. Just enough to crack some walls, drop a few things off shelves in the supermarket and create a few wet pants.

What to do in an earthquake based on where you are when it happens.

General advice:

If you are indoors stay indoors, if you are outdoors stay outdoors. Look for the nearest safe place to take shelter. Don’t try to move too far during an earthquake, as earthquakes get larger its gets quite hard to move at all. Stay away from large glass objects. Avoid large objects that may fall on you.


If you are in doors:

Stay there and look for an internal doorway to stand in, there’s usually enough space to place two adults in a door way. Doorways are extremely strong and will not break easily and provide shelter from falling material.

Find a strong desk or table and get under it. the table should be strong enough for you to drop a 5kg sack of rice on it an be certain it wont break. Remember the table my start to vibrate and move around so you may need to hold onto the legs of the desk, this especially true if the floor is smooth like lino or wood. The biggest hazards you are facing are filling material from the ceiling and breaking glass from the windows. Don’t look at the windows, face away from the windows and and other large glass objects.Stay away from free standing shelves and tall furniture items as they will often fall and/or throw out their contents.

Don’t use elevators or stairs, stay on which ever floor you are on, stairs can collapse and elevator shafts can distort trapping the elevator car between floors.

Before and after an earthquake pets can get pretty crazy. Dogs and cats are often traumatized and may run away, they usually come back after a few days.

Multi-story office  building:

Good luck, as this is one of the worst places to be.

If you are at your desk get under it. If you are walking around, stay close to the center of the building around a support pillar, the real danger is the windows which may all shatter at once. Keep you arms over your head and face, there may be falling ceiling tiles from the false ceiling.  The floors may partially collapse making a dangerous slide to a huge fall. Don’t use the elevator after the earthquake, use the stairs. There is probably an evacuation procedure, follow instruction and assist others. Get out of the general area as soon as possible.

If you are driving:

It may feel like a flat tire or strong wind gusts, that strangely continue when the car has stopped. Pull over to the side of the road. Don’t stop on or under bridges or over passes or near over head power lines or trees, if you can avoid it.

Stop, put the hand brake on, turn on the hazard lights in your car. Turn the car off. Unlock the doors. Stay in the car. Keep your seat belt on. It’s easier to get out of an upturned car than get one off you.

In a park or forest:

Try to move to a clearing (away from trees) and watch for falling branches and trees.


Move away from the shore, wet sand may liquify and become just like quicksand, but stay far from steep sand dunes as they may collapse in miniature land slides. Get ready to leave as soon as its over, earthquakes and tsunamis are related, you need to get 2km away from any water body or 200 meters above sea level. Another reason to move is if you are near an airport that has been damaged some smaller planes may be asked to seek alternative emergency landing spots. Pilots will be looking at beaches and you don’t want a Cessna on your beach towel.

River and lakes:

Rivers and lakes are often on fault lines. If you are in the water get out of the water, the bottom may literally fall out of this water body and you might get sucked to the bottom with it. Similar to taking the plug out of a bath full of water. If the lake or river is within a few kilometers of the sea, a tsunami may roar up the river later on. All kinds of crazy things happen to rivers during earthquakes.

Hot air balloon:

Basically you’re safe but you will need to land before a storm brews up. I  added this because people may be wondering where is a safe place to be during an earthquake and this is one of the few places.


During an earthquake:

Count off seconds in your head or on a watch, firstly it takes your mind off something you cant control and it may give you information about how big the earthquake is and whether its the ‘main event’ or just a ‘warm up’.  An earthquake longer than 60 seconds is going to be very destructive. Try to determine whether the motion you are experiencing is up and down, round and round, side to side, or a series of sudden jolts. this can also give you information about the type of earthquake you are in.

Once the earth quake is over:

Disruption of telephone, electricity, water and sewerage is common in earthquakes. In larger earthquake roads and railway tracks can be damaged.

Find out from radio, internet, TV what the damage was, how big the earthquake was centered and how deep it was. Specifically note if there is damage in your area to telephone, electricity, water and sewerage roads and rail way tracks.

Traditionally radio has been one of the better sources of information on disaster information.

A battery powered radio is very useful for this.

Your home: check for damage to the walls and roof, even if it looks OK it might be unsafe to live in because of structural damage. your roof may be broken and need a tarp to remain waterproof. Damage assessors and engineers will probably start visiting houses to see what is safe and what needs repairs. You may need to call a number to get an appointment or an estimate of when they will arrive to check your house.

If you are at home turn off all non essential electricity, the electricity grid may be damaged and by all of us doing this we are putting less strain on the grid as a whole, reducing further damage.

Keeping just one light bulb on helps you know there is still electricity.

Don’t make unnecessary phone calls the phone grids, wired and wireless may be overloaded. Certainly ring people you care about to tell them you’re OK, and see if they are OK, but keep it brief.

See if your neighbors are OK.

Don’t flush the toilet until you know sewerage systems are operational, not so important if you are not on this grid.

Don’t use tap water until you know the water hasn’t been contaminated, and that this system works.

You may be instructed to boil or add bleach to water for drinking.

Earthquakes can be unpredictable in the way damage is distributed. A great deal of factors (other that the type and magnitude of the earthquake) will come into play, soil type, water table, slope, soil erosion and instability, temperature and the weather. It is quite common for rain and thunder storms to come just after an earthquake, just what you need when your roof is damaged.

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