Living in BC, the risk of a major earthquake is always on our minds. Even a minor earthquake can cause significant damage to our property. In the past year there have been more than 1,800 earthquakes in British Columbia.
Research shows that BC is meant to experience a large earthquake every 200 years. The last magnitude 9 earthquake we had was in 1700, so, the next big one is already 100 years overdue. There is a one-in-three chance that a major earthquake will hit Vancouver within the next 20 to 50 years. The City of Vancouver recommends abiding by this motto: “Be prepared, not scared.”
Learning about what earthquakes can do and how to react during and after the shaking is often overlooked. It is crucial to have a family response plan as well as a Plan B in case emergency services aren’t available. You should be prepared to take care of yourself and your family for a minimum of 72 hours.
Do not follow the “triangle of life” theory of how to survive a major earthquake. Officials of many agencies, including the American Red Cross and the United States Geological Survey, have criticized the "Triangle of Life" theory, saying that it is a "misguided idea" and inappropriate for countries with modern building construction standards where total building collapse is unlikely.
The American Red Cross and the City of Vancouver both warn against standing in a doorway during an earthquake. “In modern homes, doorways are no stronger than the rest of the building,” according to the City of Vancouver. “They also cannot protect you from falling or flying objects.”
You might have to set up emergency sanitation if water and sewage lines are damaged. Learn how to set up temporary toilets and how to dispose of human waste to avoid getting sick.
When an earthquake occurs, your first warning may be a sudden noise or a roar. If you are in a building, you may feel a swaying sensation. Next will be the shaking, and rolling up and down and sideways and rotating. It can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. It will be scary. You could be injured by breaking glass, falling objects, and heavy things bouncing around. Be prepared for aftershocks.
There is much you can do to prepare for an earthquake:
Before the Earthquake
Make sure your home is safe. Secure shelving and furniture to prevent them from falling over and injuring you during the shaking,
- Take a free workshop on emergency preparedness,
- Have an out of area contact person where all family members can check in, in case you are separated,
- Identify safe places indoors and outside,
- Make a list of local emergency contact numbers (fire, police, ambulance, etc.),
- Use surge protectors to protect sensitive electrical equipment such as computers, sterios and TVs,
- Ensure that all smoke alarms and CO alarms are functioning properly at all times,
- Make sure your water heater has earthquake resistant strapping securing it and that the gas and water lines are flexible to allow for some motion,
- Know the locations of the shutoffs for gas, electrical and water.
Have an Emergency Kit ready to go
Emergency kits for the home are vital. Every person in your family should have their own customized evacuation kit at home and at work. Keep the kits by the front door where they will be easy to find if you need to evacuate quickly.
Check your kits twice per year to replace any expired food, batteries, and medicine. The beginning of summer and the beginning of winter are good times to check.
Basic Emergency Kit:
- Backpack or tote bag (to carry the kit items),
- Blanket or sleeping bag,
- Bottled water- at least 2 litres per person per day
- Candles and matches or a lighter,
- Clothing and shoes (one change, comfortable and all season,
- First aid kit,
- Flashlight and batteries,
- Food that requires no cooking,
- Glasses and contacts,
- Identification, insurance papers and other important documents,
- Medication. NOTE: Before storing any medications, check with your Family Doctor of Pharmacist.
- Money. Cash in smaller bills and coins.
- Playing cards and games,
- Radio and batteries (or crank powered radio),
- Toilet paper and personal hygiene supplies,
- Special items for babies and toddlers,
- Extra keys for your car and house,
- Basic tools (hammer, pliers, wrench, screwdrivers, work gloves, dusk mask, pocket knife, duct tape).
In an addition to your grab-and-go kit, a home kit will help you cope without services for at least 72 hours. Be sure to replace any expired food regularly.
- Water - at least four litres per person, per day (half for drinking),
- Canned foods and dried foods,
- Coffee and tea,
- Food preparation equipment,
- Cutlery and disposable cups and plates,
- Manual can opener and bottle opener,
- Water purifier,
- Portable generator and extension cords,
Portable Generator Safety Precautions
Home generators can be useful during a power outage but they can also be very dangerous if they are not used properly. Always follow all manufacturers' instructions and contact a qualified electrician or electrical inspector if you have questions.
Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless gas in the engine exhaust. You may not smell the exhaust but could still be exposed to CO.
- Never use a portable generator, outdoor or charcoal barbecues indoors, including inside a garage or other enclosed or partially enclosed area. Never operate portable camping stoves or lamps indoors or in enclosed areas such as garages or carports.
- Only operate portable generators outdoors and at a location where the exhaust cannot enter into your home or other buildings through doors or windows.
- If you start to feel dizzy, nausea, a headache or tired while using a generator, get to fresh air immediately and seek medical attention.
- Use a battery operated CO detector at home. This is also advisable for homes that have a natural gas fired forced air heating system.
Prevent electric shock and electrocution
Serious accidents or fire can result when a home generator is improperly connected to an existing house wiring system. Generators that are not isolated can feed back into the BC Hydro electrical grid and possibly electrocute anyone coming into contact with them. Plug appliances directly into the generator or use a properly sized CSA-approved 3-pronged extension cord in good condition. Use a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) portable extension cord if using the portable generator to power electrical tools for outdoor use. Keep the generator dry and protected from rain and snow.
Prevent Fire. Improper fuel handling, improperly installed or overheated generators are fire hazards. Do not store fuel in the home. Fuels should be stored in properly labelled and vented fuel storage containers in a well-ventilated building or storage shed away from living areas. Do not store fuel near the generator or other fuel-burning or heat-producing appliance.
Have a Disaster Plan
Designate a meeting place for your family and how to contact each other if you are separated and cell phones aren't working.
Know how to evacuate, where to meet and who to call. Make sure each member of the family is prepared for a number of scenarios.
Make a plan to get home from work if roads and bridges are closed to vehicles, and have appropriate footwear to change into at work, so you can walk.
Secure your heavy furniture
Bookcases, appliances, pianos, and dressers can all become dislodged and cause injury. These items should be fixed to the wall or floor.
Put breakable and heavy objects down low
Don't load your top shelves with items that can shatter and cause injury. Most people get hurt with flying or falling debris. The kitchen is often the most dangerous room in the house during an earthquake because of heavy appliances, breakable items, and sharp objects.
Reduce the risk from glass
Windows, mirrors and picture frames can shatter during an earthquake. Reduce your risk by securing pictures and mirrors to walls, and keeping beds and tables away from windows.
If that's not possible, consider heavy drapes in high-risk areas, or a special film for glass.
Prepare your children
Parents' instinct will be to run to children as soon as disaster strikes. However, if you are in separate rooms, it may be safer for each family member to take immediate shelter (for example, under a sturdy table).
Teach younger children a song to sing during the shaking so you know they are safe. Make sure your children are aware of safe zones and how long to stay put (at least 60 seconds after shaking has stopped).
Prepare for pets
Pets are important family members. Make a plan for food and medication for pets, as they are often over-looked in emergency planning. During an emergency, pets can become frightened and hide, sometimes becoming lost or trapped. Whether you are staying put or evacuating, having a pet emergency plan, pet emergency kit and practising for emergencies will help to ensure the health and safety of these important family members.
During an earthquake
- If you are indoors, stay indoors. Do not run outside during an earthquake. Stay away from windows as much as possible and quickly protect yourself,
- DROP down onto your hands and knees (before the earthquake knocks you down). This position protects you from falling, but allows you to still move if necessary,
- COVER your head and neck (and your entire body if possible) under a sturdy table or desk. If there is no shelter nearby, only then should you get down near an interior wall (or next to low-lying furniture that won't fall on you), and cover your head and neck with your arms and hands,
- HOLD ON to your shelter (or to your head and neck) until the shaking stops. Be prepared to move with your shelter if the shaking shifts it around.
- If you are outside, stay outside and move away from buildings, streetlights and utility wires.
- If you are in a vehicle, stop and park in a clear location.
- If you are in bed, hold on and stay there, protecting your head with a pillow or blanket. You are less likely to be injured staying where you are. Broken glass on the floor has caused injury to those who have rolled to the floor or tried to get to doorways.
- If you are in a high-rise building, immediately drop, cover and hold on. Avoid windows and other hazards. Do not use elevators. Do not be surprised if sprinkler systems or fire alarms activate.
- If you are in a store, immediately drop cover and hold on. If you must move to get away from heavy items on high shelves, drop to the ground first and crawl only the shortest distance necessary.
- If you are outside, move to a clear area if you can safely do so; avoid buildings, power lines, trees, signs, vehicles and other hazards.
- If you are near the shore or on the beach, drop, cover, and hold on until the shaking stops. If the shaking is severe and you are in a tsunami risk area, immediately evacuate to high ground. Don’t wait for officials to issue a warning. Walk quickly, rather than drive, to avoid traffic, debris and other hazards.
After the Shaking Stops
- When an earthquake is over, it is important to stay calm and move cautiously, checking for unstable objects and other hazards above and around you. If you are injured, treat yourself first and then assist others. Also, be aware of the potential for aftershocks - and continue to drop, cover and hold on if you feel them.
- Do not call 9-1-1 unless a life is at stake.
- Retrieve your emergency kit,
- Expect aftershocks,
- Administer first aid,
- Contact your loved ones through social media or an out-of-area contact,
- Check for gas leaks,
- Look for electrical system damage,
- If you suspect water or sewer line damage, do not use your toilet,
- Listen to local media for more information,
- If you are asked to evacuate, please comply with instructions.
In addition to taking all the precautions listed above, be sure your home insurance policy provides you with earthquake insurance. This will protect you against loss to your own property caused by an earthquake. As well, if you have to move out of your home while repairs are being done to the building, you will need additional living expense insurance to cover the cost of your hotel, and any other additional expenses. Make sure your home insurance includes earthquake protection.
More local information on how to prepare for an earthquake should be available from your Municipal Emergency Coordinator. Call your City Hall, Municipal Hall, or District Office.
Assistance also may be available from officials at your local school board office, hospital, police and fire stations. Others sources for additional information include Provincial Emergency Program, Emergency Preparedness Canada.