Thursday 9 April, 2020

Earthquake safety: Things to do before, during and after a quake hits

In the event an earthquake strikes, here's what yo do...(Photo: iStock)

In the event an earthquake strikes, here's what yo do...(Photo: iStock)

The 7.7 magnitude earthquake that hit the Caribbean came straight outta nowhere, and a lot of people are still shaken.

Emergency protocols were undertaken in the Cayman Islands  - which have been impacted the hardest by the quake.

An excerpt from the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) website describes an earthquake as “…a natural phenomenon like rain.”

Earthquakes happen as frequently or infrequently as it rains too, “…earthquakes have occurred for billions of years. Descriptions as old as recorded history show the significant effects they have had on people’s lives.”

Records of earthquakes in Jamaica date back to the 16th century where Europeans were the first to keep records of such events.

There's also an estimated 200 felt earthquakes in any one year that we experience in Jamaica.

You must be thinking “how have I not felt anything?”

From 1667 to 1888, at least 55 earthquakes of intensity IV (four) on the Modified Mercalli Scale have occurred in Jamaica, and since 1776 we have had nine earthquakes of intensity VII (seven), enough to cause damage to stone buildings.

In a series of earthquakes that have been rocking the world since January 22, the 7.7 magnitude earthquake that hit the Caribbean – parts of the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Haiti, Honduras, and Cuba) on Tuesday – may be the tip of the iceberg.

With that said, here’s a concise list of survival tips/things you want to do in the event of a quake.

You can read more from the ODPEM here, or check out some tips from the JIS here.

General tips:

1 Dropdown: take cover under a desk or table and hold on.

2 Stay indoors until the shaking stops and you’re sure it’s safe to exit.

3 Stay away from bookcases or furniture that can fall on you.

4 Stay away from windows. In a high-rise building, expect the fire alarms and sprinklers to go off during a quake.

5 If you are in bed, hold on and stay there, protecting your head with a pillow.

6 If you are outdoors, find a clear spot away from buildings, trees, and power lines. Drop to the ground.

Before an earthquake:

1. Learn how to survive during the ground motion. This is described in the “During the Earthquake” section below. The earthquake safety tips there will prepare you for the fast action needed – most earthquakes are over in seconds so knowing what to do instinctively is very important.

2. Teach all members of your family about earthquake safety. This includes the actions you should take when an earthquake occurs, the safe places in a room such as under a strong desk, along interior walls, and the places to avoid such as near windows, large mirrors, hanging objects, heavy furniture and fireplaces.

3. Stock up on emergency supplies. These include battery-operated radio (and extra batteries), flashlights (and extra batteries), first aid kit, bottled water, two weeks food and medical supplies, blankets, cooking fuel, tools needed to turn off your gas, water and electric utilities.

4. Arrange your home for safety: Store heavy objects on lower shelves and store breakable objects in cabinets with latched doors. Don’t hang heavy mirrors or pictures above where people frequently sit or sleep.

5. Anchor heavy appliances and furniture such as water heaters, refrigerators and bookcases.

6. Store flammable liquids away from potential ignition sources such as water heaters, stoves and furnaces.

7. Get Educated. Learn what to do during an earthquake (see below). Then you will be ready for the fast action needed. Make sure that all members of your family have this important education.

8. Learn where the main turn-offs are for your water, gas and electricity. Know how to turn them off and the location of any needed tools.

During an Earthquake:

1. If you are indoors, stay there.

Quickly move to a safe location in the room such as under a strong desk, a strong table, or along an interior wall.

The goal is to protect yourself from falling objects and be located near the structural strong points of the room.

Avoid taking cover near windows, large mirrors, hanging objects, heavy furniture, heavy appliances or fireplaces.

2. If you are cooking, turn off the stove and take cover.

3. If you are outdoors, move to an open area where falling objects are unlikely to strike you. Move away from buildings, power lines and trees.

4. If you are driving, slow down smoothly and stop on the side of the road. Avoid stopping on or under bridges and overpasses, or under power lines, trees and large signs. Stay in your car.

After an Earthquake:

1. Check for and attend to injuries if needed. Help ensure the safety of people around you as well.

2. Check for damage. If your building is badly damaged you should leave it until it has been inspected by a safety professional.

3. If you smell or hear a gas leak, get everyone outside and open windows and doors. If you can do it safely, turn off the gas at the meter. Report the leak to the gas company and fire department. Do not use any electrical appliances because a tiny spark could ignite the gas, then BOOM!

4. If the power is out, unplug major appliances to prevent possible damage when the power is turned back on. If you see sparks, frayed wires, or smell hot insulation turn off electricity at the main fuse box or breaker. If you will have to step in water to turn off the electricity, don’t! Instead, call a professional to turn it off for you.

Minimise Further Problems

Stay off the streets. Keep them clear for the passage of emergency vehicles and equipment.

Do not use the telephone unless there is an emergency.

Do not flush toilets until water and sewage lines have been checked for damage and blockages.

Stay away from beaches and waterfront areas, as tsunamis are likely to occur after an earthquake.

Stay away from earthquake-damaged buildings, as they may fall during an aftershock.

Stay away from steep or landslide-prone areas.

Food and Water

If electrical power is off, use the foods in your refrigerator or freezer before they are spoiled.

Do not consume foods that are stored in open containers, as shattered glass and other debris may have fallen into them.

If glass and other debris get into stored drinking water, strain the liquid through a clean cloth, such as a handkerchief, before drinking.

Use coal stoves or barbeques for emergency cooking.

Use water heaters, canned fruits and vegetables, and melted ice cubes as emergency sources of drinking water.

Be in Communication

Listen to your radio for safety advisories and other relevant information.

Co-operate with all public safety and relief organisations.

Send information about the earthquake and aftershocks to the Earthquake Unit of the University of the West Indies and the Mines and Geology Division to help earth scientists understand earthquakes better.

For more information, contact:

Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM)

2-4 Haining Road

Kingston 5, Jamaica, W I

Tel: (876) 906-9674-5 or (876) 754-9077-8

Toll-Free: 1-888-225-5637


Get the latest local and international news straight to your mobile phone for free: