Earthquake Swarms on the Rise – Preparedness

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The large increase of earthquakes – specifically in Oklahoma of late – has led the United States Geological Survey to issue an earthquake warning throughout the state.

A record number of 109 earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0 or greater were reported in Oklahoma. By the end of April, 145 had already been reported this year.

“All that has been used in the way of making an earthquake warning is the observation that there’s been some dramatic increase in observed seismicity over some period of time,” said Gregory Dumond, assistant professor of geology at the University of Arkansas. “The emphasis is just saying that there’s some chance of a magnitude 5 or greater earthquake hitting central Oklahoma.”

The key to surviving an earthquake and lowering your risk of injury is in planning, preparing and practicing what you and your family will do if it happens.

Firestorm founders Harry Rhulen, Suzy Loughlin and Jim Satterfield wrote Disaster Ready People for a DisasterDisaster Ready People Book Ready America specifically to address the need for disaster preparedness at home, and the book has become a cornerstone of many personal and corporate preparedness programs. “Remember:  you are your own first responder,” the book reminds readers as it guides them through a comprehensive program of readiness.

Practice Earthquake Drills

By planning and practicing what to do if an earthquake strikes, you and your family can learn to react correctly and automatically when the shaking begins. During an earthquake, most deaths and injuries are caused by collapsing building materials and heavy falling objects, such as bookcases, cabinets and heating units. Learn the safe spots in each room of your home. If you have children, have the entire family practice going to these locations. Participating in an earthquake drill will help children understand what to do in case you are not with them during an earthquake.

During your earthquake drill:

  • Get under a sturdy table or desk and hold on to it.
  • If you’re not near a table or desk, cover your face and head with your arms and stand or crouch in a strongly supported doorway.
  • Brace yourself in an inside corner of the house or building.
  • Stay clear of windows or glass that could shatter or objects that could fall on you.
  • If inside, stay inside. Many people are injured at entrances of buildings by falling debris.

Make sure you and your children also understand your school’s emergency procedures for disasters. This will help you know where, when and how to reunite with your child after an earthquake. See our book for more information on developing a family plan


Develop an Evacuation Plan

After an earthquake occurs, you may need to evacuate the damaged area. By planning and practicing for evacuation, you will be better prepared to respond to signs of danger or to directions by authorities.

  • Take a few minutes with your family to discuss a home evacuation plan. Sketch a floor plan of your home, walk through each room and discuss evacuation details.
  • Plan a second way to exit from each room or area. If you need special equipment such as a rope ladder, mark where it is located.
  • Mark where your emergency food, water, first aid kits and fire extinguishers are located.
  • Mark where the utility switches or valves are located so that they can be turned off.
  • Indicate the location of your family’s emergency outdoor meeting place.
  • Take time before an earthquake strikes to write an emergency checklist including medicines and documents you will need to take with you during an evacuation and things to do if time permits, such as locking doors and windows and turning off the utilities.

Write Down Important Information

Make a list of important information and put it in a secure location. Include on your list:

  • Important telephone numbers (police, fire, paramedics and medical centers).
  • Names, addresses and telephone numbers of your insurance agents, including policy types and numbers.
  • Telephone numbers of electric, gas and water companies.
  • Names and telephone numbers of neighbors.
  • Name and telephone number of your landlord or property manager.
  • Important medical information, such as allergies, regular medications, etc.
  • Vehicle identification number, year, model and license number of your automobile, boat, RV, etc.
  • Bank or credit union’s telephone numbers, account types and numbers.
  • Radio and television broadcast stations to tune to for emergency broadcast information.

Gather and Store Important Documents in a Fire-Proof Safe

  • Birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates.
  • Ownership certificates.
  • Social Security cards.
  • Insurance policies.
  • Wills.
  • Household inventory, including: List of contents, photographs of contents in every room, and photographs of items of high value, such as jewelry, paintings and collectors’ items.

During an Earthquake

Indoor Safety

There are things you can do, even while an earthquake is happening, that will lower your chances of being hurt. Lights may be out, and hallways, stairs and room exits may be blocked by fallen furniture, ceiling tiles and other debris. Planning for these situations will help you to take action quickly.

  • If an earthquake strikes, you may be able to take cover under a heavy desk or table. It can provide you with air space if the building collapses. If you get under a table and it moves, try to move with it.
  • Inner walls or door frames are the least likely to collapse and might also shield against falling objects. If other cover is not available, go to an inner corner or doorway, away from windows or glass panels.
  • Stay away from glass and hanging objects, bookcases, china cabinets or other large furniture that could fall. Watch for falling objects, such as bricks from fireplaces and chimneys, light fixtures, wall hanging, high shelves and cabinets with doors that could swing open.
  • Use a blanket or pillow to shield your head and face from falling debris and broken glass.
  • If the lights go out, use a battery-operated flashlight. Don’t use candles, matches or lighters during or after an earthquake. If there is a gas leak, these could cause an explosion.
  • If you are in the kitchen, quickly turn off the stove and take cover at the first sign of shaking.

High-Rise Buildings

Get under a desk and stay away from windows and outside walls. Stay in the building. The electricity may go out and the sprinkler system may come on. DO NOT use the elevators.

Crowded Indoor Public Places

If you are in a crowded public place, do not rush for doorways. Others will have the same idea. Move away from display shelves containing objects that may fall. If you can, take cover and use a jacket or other material to shield your head and face from falling debris and glass.


Outdoor Safety

If outdoors, move away from buildings and utility wires. The greatest danger from falling debris is just outside doorways and close to outer walls. Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops.


If you are in a moving automobile, stop as quickly and safely as possible and move over to the shoulder or curb, away from utility poles, overhead wires, and under or overpasses. Stay in the vehicle, set the parking brake and turn on the radio for emergency broadcast information. A car may jiggle violently on its springs, but it is a good place to stay until the shaking stops. If you are in a life-threatening situation, you may be able to reach someone with either a cellular or an emergency roadside assistance phone.

After an Earthquake

Be prepared for additional earth movements called “aftershocks.” Although most of these are smaller than the main earthquake, some may be large enough to cause damage or bring down weakened structures.

Because other effects can include fires, chemical spills, landslides, dam breaks and tidal waves, be sure to monitor your battery-operated radio or TV for additional emergency information.


Check for injuries. Do not attempt to move injured or unconscious people unless they are in immediate danger from live electrical wires, flooding or other hazards. Internal injuries may not be evident, but may be serious or life-threatening. If someone has stopped breathing, call for medical or first aid assistance immediately and begin CPR if you are trained to do so. Stop a bleeding injury by applying direct pressure to the wound. If you are trapped, try to attract attention to your location.

Checking Utilities

An earthquake may break gas, electrical and water lines.

  • If you smell gas: open windows, shut off the main gas valve, do not turn any electrical appliances or lights on or off, go outside, report the leak to authorities and do not re-enter the building until a utility official says it is safe.
  • If wiring is shorting out, shut off the electric current at the main box.
  • If water pipes are damaged, shut off the supply at the main valve.

Other Precautions

  • Have chimneys inspected for cracks and damage. Do not use the fireplace if the chimney has any damage.
  • Check to see if sewage lines are intact before using bathrooms or plumbing.
  • Do not touch downed power lines or objects in contact with downed lines. Report electrical hazards to the authorities.
  • Immediately clean up spilled medicines, drugs, flammable liquids and other potentially dangerous materials.
  • Stay off all telephones except to report an emergency. Replace telephone receivers that may have been knocked off by the earthquake.
  • Stay away from damaged areas. Your presence could get in the way of relief efforts, and you could put yourself in danger.
  • Cooperate fully with public safety officials. Respond to requests for volunteer assistance from police, fire fighters, emergency management officials and relief organizations, but do not go into damaged areas unless assistance has been requested.

Evacuating Your Home

If you must evacuate your home:

  • Do not post your address, or images with your address on social media.
  • Post a message in a location known only to family members, letting them know where you have gone.
  • Confine pets to the safest location possible and make sure they have plenty of food and water. Pets may not be allowed in designated public shelters.
  • Take vital documents (wills, insurance policies, etc.), emergency supplies and extra medications with you.

People with Special Needs

Before an Earthquake

  • Write down any specific needs, limitations and capabilities that you have, and any medications you take. Make a copy of the list and put it in your purse or wallet.
  • Keep your cell phone or other communication device charged and on your person.
  • Find someone (a spouse, roommate, friend, neighbor, relative or co-worker) to help you in case of an emergency. Give them the list. You may wish to provide a spare key to your home, or let them know where they can find one in an emergency.

During an Earthquake

  • If you are confined to a wheelchair, try to get under a doorway or into an inside corner, lock the wheels and cover your head with your arms. Remove any items that are not securely attached to the wheelchair.
  • If you are able, seek shelter under a sturdy table or desk. Stay away from outer walls, windows, fireplaces and hanging objects.
  • If you are unable to move from a bed or chair, protect yourself from falling objects by covering up with blankets and pillows.
  • If you are outside, go to an open area away from trees, telephone poles and buildings and stay there.

After an Earthquake

  • If you are trapped, try to attract attention to your location.
  • Turn on your battery-operated TV or radio to receive emergency information and instructions.
  • If you can, help others in need.

Children’s Special Needs

Fear is a normal reaction to danger. A child may be afraid of the event happening again, injury or death after an earthquake. They may fear being separated from their family or being left alone. Children may even interpret disasters as punishment for real or imagined bad behavior. Children will be less likely to experience long periods of fear or anxiety if they know what to expect before, during and after an earthquake. Talking to children openly will also help them overcome fears.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Explain that an earthquake is a natural event and not anyone’s fault.
  • Talk about your own experiences with natural disasters or read aloud books about earthquakes.
  • Encourage your child to express feelings of fear. Listen carefully and show understanding.
  • Your child may need both verbal and physical reassurance that everything will be okay. Tell your child that the situation is not permanent.
  • Include your child in clean-up activities. It will be comforting to the child to watch the household begin to return to normal and to have a job to do.

NOTE: Symptoms of anxiety may not appear for weeks or even months after an earthquake, and can affect people of any age. If anxiety disrupts daily activities for any member of your family, seek professional help through a school counselor, community religious organization, your physician or a licensed professional listed under “mental health services” in the yellow pages of your telephone book.

Specifically For Persons with Special Needs

Think about What May Happen During and after an Earthquake or other Disaster:

Consider your daily activities; think about how a disaster will impact your life. Take into consideration what you do independently and where you may need assistance. Keep in mind that your regular sources of assistance may not be available after a disaster. Plan now for how you will meet your needs.

  • What if power, gas, and phone lines are not working?
  • What if roads and sidewalks are impassible or your means of transportation is unavailable?
  • How will you maintain supplies of water, food, medications, and other critical needs?
  • Right now:  Make a list of equipment and medication you may need if you had to leave your home. Store extras, labeled with your name and contact information, in your disaster supplies kit. 

This guide follows the Seven Steps to Earthquake Safety, featured in the Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country series of publications at  The content has been specially adapted for people with disabilities and other access and functional needs.

STEP 1 – Secure Your Space, by identifying hazards and securing moveable items:

When you enter a room, look for safe places to “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” (see Step 5).
•    Safe spaces are places where heavy or falling objects and breaking glass won’t injure you, such as under tables or desks, along inside walls, etc.  
•    The more limitations you have, the more important it is to create safe spaces for yourself – especially if you cannot Drop, Cover, and Hold On under a desk, table, etc.
•    Create safe spaces by bolting heavy furniture to wall studs, moving heavy items to low shelves, securing hanging art to walls with closed hooks, or taking other measures found at
•    Secure essential equipment such as oxygen tanks or other life support devices,  so they won’t fall and be damaged or cause injury.
•    When you are in public places, be aware of your surroundings and identify your safe spaces.

STEP 2 – Plan to be Safe, by creating a disaster plan and identifying communication needs

Create a Family Disaster Plan – include your family and personal support team when creating, reviewing and practicing your plans.

•    Develop your Personal Support Team (PST) at home, work, and every place where you spend a lot of time.  
•    A PST is made up of at least 3 people who are within walking distance and can assist you immediately, such as neighbors and co-workers.
•    Team members will need to know how to enter your home to check on you in case you are injured or cannot answer the door.
•    You will need to familiarize your team with your schedule, how best to assist you, how to operate any necessary equipment, etc. Also, inform your Personal Support Team if you go out of town.
•    Label all your adaptive equipment with your current contact information.
•     Identify an Out of Area Contact. An Out of Area contact should live out of state or at least 100 miles away who is your main point of contact   and should be the one person family and friends call to report their status.  Make sure your PST has your contact’s information.
•    Have an Evacuation Plan – identify a meeting place just outside your home where you can make sure everyone has gotten out safely.  Identify a second meeting place just outside your neighborhood in case you cannot return home.
•    If you are near a beach, large lake or in a tsunami evacuation zone, learn what to do:
•    Make sure every family member and your PST know the location of both meeting places.
•    If you have pets make a care plan for their care, as they will not be allowed in shelters.  Only service animals are allowed in shelters.

STEP 3 – Organize Disaster Supplies in convenient locations

Create a kit specific to your needs and think about things you may want or need to include, such as:
•    Food
•    Water
•    Extra medications (including over the counter and medications taken as needed), and medical supplies
•    Medical information and medication list
•    Emergency contact information
•    Communication supplies
•    Flashlight with extra batteries
•    Extra supplies for your specific needs: Hearing aid batteries, walking stick, oxygen or nebulizer supplies, blood glucose tester, special equipment or hygiene and catheter supplies, feeding equipment, VNS magnet, etc.
•    A radio with extra batteries (consider also getting a NOAA weather radio)
•    Extra cash
•    An extra pair of clothes
•    A pair of heavy gloves
•    Hygiene Supplies
•    First Aid Kit
•    Face mask to protect from dust & debris
•    A copy of a recent color photo or I.D. card and utility bill – For identification & proof of address (which may be needed if you must go to a shelter or to re-enter an evacuation area)
•    Include supplies for service animals and family pets
•    Attach a “GO BAG” to your bedpost or bed frame with flashlight, batteries, sturdy close-toed shoes, heavy gloves, a whistle or noise maker, and your emergency information list  
•    Add medications, eye glasses, communication and hearing aids including batteries where appropriate

STEP 4 – Safeguard Your Finances, by strengthening your property and considering insurance

STEP 5 – Drop, Cover, and Hold On when the ground shakes

Practice what to do in a Drill:

•    Participate in a The Great ShakeOut earthquake drill in your region ( and encourage others to participate with you!
•    Put your plan into action during your drills. Include family members, personal support team members, caregivers, etc.  
•    If during your drill you identify any challenges, revise your plan to better accommodate your needs.

What to do During an Earthquake:

Protect yourself in the safest place possible without having to move far – no matter your limitations, you need to protect yourself as best as possible. The more limitations you have the more important it is to create safe spaces for yourself.

Do NOT try to get out of the building during an earthquake! Most people are injured by other people or falling debris as they try to exit buildings during the shaking.

Drop under a piece of furniture or against an inside wall. Take Cover under a desk or table if possible, and protect your head and neck with one arm/hand. Hold on to a desk or furniture leg to keep it from shifting or uncovering you until the shaking completely stops. Learn more at

Suggestions for If it is difficult to Drop, Cover, and Hold On:

  • If you are in a wheelchair, recliner or bed, do not try to transfer to or from your chair during the shaking. Wait until the shaking stops to transfer.  
  • Stay put. Cover your head and neck with your arms or a pillow until the shaking stops.  
  • Wheelchair user:  lock your wheels; cover your head and neck, after the shaking stops. The force of the earthquake may knock you off your feet or throw you to the ground. If you have mobility or balance issues, the shaking may make it even harder for you to move around.
  • If you have difficulty getting back up after dropping under a desk or table, consider other ways to protect yourself.  Be sure you to have someone check on you in case you need assistance.
  • If it helps – count out loud until the shaking stops.  It may help keep you calm. Hearing your voice can reassure others you are okay..  If you have practiced counting out loud during your drills, it can serve as a reminder for others to keep calm and remember what to do.

STEP 6 – Improve Safety, by helping the injured, preventing further damage, and evacuating from tsunami zones

Once the shaking stops –

Check yourself for injury and pay extra attention to any areas where you may have reduced sensations.   
•    If you are near the coast and feel strong shaking for more than 20 seconds, a tsunami may be possible. Move inland, to a nearby hill, or to a higher floor of a large building. Do not wait for an official warning.
•    Be prepared for aftershocks. Stay close to and aware of the safe spaces in your environment.
•    Look around for hazards (broken glass, objects in your way, etc.)
•    Furniture may have shifted and sound cues may not be available.
•    Evacuate only if necessary, otherwise stay where you are and shelter in place.
•    If the authorities advise an evacuation for your area, follow their directions immediately.  Do not expect that they will be able to return to assist you.

STEP 7 – Restore Daily Life, by reconnecting with others, repairing damage, and rebuilding community

•    Follow your disaster plan.
•    Contact your out-of-area contact, tell them your status, then stay off the phone. Text messaging may be more reliable than phone.
•    Expect aftershocks, remain aware of your surroundings as the aftershocks may change conditions or create new hazards.. Always be ready to protect yourself (see step 5).
•    Repair or replace damaged items as needed.
After any disaster, review and revise your disaster plan. Apply any lessons learned.

What if you have refrigerated medications?

•    Keep your medications in the refrigerator until it begins to get warm, and then move it to the freezer until it is warm.  Next transfer medication to as small an insulated container as possible. Use chemical cold packs to keep your medications cool.
•    Ask your doctor or pharmacist if your medications can be unrefrigerated, and if so, for how long.
•    If you evacuate to a shelter, tell shelter staff that you have refrigerated medications.

Disability-Specific Tips:

For Developmental/Cognitive/Intellectual Disabilities:
•    Use simple, short and clear language for instructions.
•    Have a written or visual reminder checklist with short, easy steps.
•    Include communication tools in your kit that each person knows how to use. If you are nonverbal, include pictures, written phrases, or Kwik Points.  
•     If you use a portable communication device; store extra batteries.
•    Practice Drop, Cover, and Hold On and all steps in your plan – regular practice will help you remember what to do and remain calmer when a disaster occurs.

For Deaf or Hearing Impaired:
•    Have more than one method to receive warnings and evacuation information.
•    If you use any hearing or communication devices, store extra batteries and supplies in your disaster kits.
•    Keep pen and paper in your kits for receiving and communicating information.
•    Ask a Personal Support Team member to keep you up to date on any emergency information.
•    Advocate for yourself and develop your personal support team so you do not become information isolated or left behind.

For Blind or Visually Impaired:
•    Earthquakes can cause items to fall and furniture to shift making navigating the room more difficult.
•    Sound clues may not be available.
•    If you need to evacuate, move slowly and check for obstacles in the way. Consider shuffling your feet if there is a lot of debris on the ground.
•    Store extra canes, batteries and supplies for your communication devices.
•    Label Emergency Supplies using large print, fluorescent tape, Braille, or other methods that work for you.

For Service Animals:  
•    Keep license and ID tags on service animals at all times.  
•    Keep copies of any Service Animal certification or documentation – immunization records, medications, and veterinarian’s contact information in your disaster kit.
•    Store extra animal food, water and feeding bowls.
•    Keep an extra harness and/or leash with your disaster supplies.
•    Your service animal may be frightened or injured and may not be able to work after the earthquake. Their paws might be injured by broken glass or debris on the ground.  
•    Be prepared to use alternate equipment if your animal cannot provide its normal services. As an example, if you are visually impaired, store extra canes.
•    Arrange for your personal support team to check on you and your animal.
•    Service animals are allowed in shelters, pets are not. Be prepared to explain what services your animal performs for you. 


•    Create safe spaces for yourself.

•    Develop your Personal Support Team and include them in all phases of your planning.

•    Help members of your Personal Support Team develop their individual and family plans.

•    Make disaster supply kits for your home, car and office.

•    Practice Drop, Cover, and Hold On and your disaster plan!

•    Advocate for yourself!  Make sure you are included in practice drills at home, work and in your community.

•    Volunteer with your local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) or other community-based emergency response organization.

•    Update your plan, contacts, and supplies at least annually so they are always current when you will need them most.

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