FIFTY earthquakes were recorded in 24 hours off the coast of the US this week, stressing the importance of being prepared before one strikes.
The mysterious series of quakes in the northwestern US is part of the roughly 20,000 earthquakes tallied around the globe each year, including about 55 per day.
More than 1,200 people were killed when a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti in August, one of the most recent examples of their destructive and deadly consequences.
While experts can't predict where or when the next major earthquake will strike, seven key steps can help keep you safe.
HAZARDS IN YOUR HOME
The National Earthquake Information Center predicts up to 16 major earthquakes will strike on any given year, with 15 in the magnitude 7 range and one 8.0 or greater.
When a big quake strikes, many injuries can result from items that fall or shift in your home or office.
That's why the first step the California Academy of Sciences recommends in preparing for earthquakes is securing large items in your house.
The organization's advice includes fastening shelves securely to walls, only placing large or heavy objects on lower shelves, and bracing overhead light fixtures.
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Breakable items, from bottled foods to glass and china, should be stored low, in closed cabinets with latches, along with weed killers, pesticides, and any flammable products.
Heavy items, including paintings, pictures, and mirrors, should never be hung over beds, couches or anywhere you sit.
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Make sure to repair any electrical wiring or leaky gas connections and secure water heaters by strapping them to wall studs and bolting to the floor.
Repair deep cracks in ceilings or foundations and consult an expert if there are signs of structural defects.
IDENTIFY SAFE PLACES INDOORS AND OUT
With 23 major earthquakes recorded in 2010, the year with the largest total, it's crucial to know where to take shelter when one strikes.
Good places to take cover include under sturdy furniture, like a heavy desk or table, or against an inside wall.
Experts say to stay away from windows, mirrors, and other items with glass that could shatter, and avoid heavy bookcases and furniture that could fall over.
If you find yourself outside in the open, move away from buildings, trees, telephone and electrical lines, overpasses and elevated expressways.
EDUCATE YOURSELF AND FAMILY
Earthquakes are an emergency situation that affects all age groups, meaning even the youngest family members need to know how to be safe.
Teach children how and when to call 9-1-1 and which radio station to listen to in emergency situations.
Everyone in your house should also know how and when to turn off gas, electricity, and water.
STOCK UP ON DISASTER SUPPLIES
When an earthquake strikes, you might not have access to water, food, electricity, or other necessities for up to a week.
An emergency supply kit can make all the difference in getting through the aftermath and should include water, food, and other basic items to meet your needs for at least 72 hours.
Other disaster supplies include:
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Portable, battery-operated radio and extra batteries
- First aid kit and manual
- Emergency food and water
- Nonelectric can opener
- Essential medicines
- Cash and credit cards
- Sturdy shoes
Drivers can also make sure their cars are packed with essentials in case an earthquake strikes while you're on the road.
EMERGENCY COMMUNICATION PLAN
Earthquakes strike at any hour, meaning kids could be at school and adults at work.
They can wipe out utility poles and phone lines, so you shouldn't rely on cellphones or other devices that require electricity.
Experts say it's often easier to get in touch with someone outside the immediate area in the case of a destructive earthquake, so have an out-of-town family member or relative serve as a "family contact."
Make sure everyone knows their name, address and phone number, so they can serve as a point person if families are separated and unreachable after a quake.
GET YOUR COMMUNITY READY
The California Academy of Sciences recommends several ways you can help fellow community members get ready ahead of an earthquake.
Printed materials or a special section in a local newspaper can communicate key information, including phone numbers for emergency responders, hospitals, and the American Red Cross.
Other pointers include helping others identify hazards and conduct earthquake drills in their homes, and talking with utility companies about steps you can take to avoid issues with gas, electric, or water.
Safety advocates recommend doing what you can to help people with mobility limitations get ready, including working with local first responders to prepare special instructions for what to do if a quake hits.
DURING A QUAKE
Earthquake researchers warn that some earthquakes are actually foreshocks, meaning a larger earthquake may follow.
If you feel what you believe is an earthquake, minimize your movements, taking the least amount of steps possible to get somewhere safe.
When indoors, drop to the ground, find cover under a table or sturdy piece of furniture and hold on until the shaking stops.
If there isn’t a table nearby, move to a corner or inside area of the building, away from glass, and stay on the floor with arms covering your head.
Stay inside until the shaking has stopped and you are sure exiting is safe. Once outside, move away from buildings to an open space.
Safety advocates say taking the seven steps outlined above can help you and your family survive a major earthquake and minimize its impact.
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