Although earthquakes in Virginia are rare, they can still occur with little to no warning. Falling debris, loss of lighting, and damage to primary infrastructure can create dangerous situations in a matter of minutes. Pre-planning for these incidents and adhering to some basic safety practices can reduce reaction time and minimize your risk of harm.
FEMA recommends the following action steps to protect yourself, your family, and your property in the event of an earthquake:
- Seek professional assistance to repair defective electrical wiring, leaky gas lines, and inflexible utility connections; check to ensure your home is firmly anchored to its foundation.
- Bolt down and secure your water heater, refrigerator, furnace, and gas appliances to adjacent wall studs; have an automatic gas shut-off valve installed that is triggered by strong vibrations.
- Place large/heavy objects on lower shelves. Securely fasten shelves, mirrors, and large picture frames to walls; ensure high placed items and top-heavy objects are properly braced; anchor overhead lighting fixtures.
- Store glass jars and bottled beverages/food items, kitchen ware, and other breakables on low shelves or in cabinets that fasten shut.
- Install flexible pipe fittings to avoid gas or water leaks as they are more resistant to breakage.
- Locate safe spots in each room (under a sturdy table or against an inside wall). Indicate items you may need in case of an earthquake (cell phone, head covering, whistle, dust mask, etc.). Conduct earthquake drills with your family members practicing the “duck, cover, and hold ” steps in various rooms of the household or building (see the following illustration).
In the midst of an earthquake, minimize movement and adhere to a few simple actions as you seek a safe location:
- Stay inside until shaking stops and it’s deemed safe to go outside. Most earthquake-related injuries are caused by falling objects striking individuals entering into or exiting from buildings.
- If possible seek cover under a heavy desk or table. This can protect you from falling debris, and likewise serve to create an air pocket should a collapse occur. If the table/desk moves during the quake, adjust your movements to stay under its protective cover. Duck, cover, and hold!
- Inner walls and door frames of buildings are the least likely areas of a structure to collapse, thus they can also serve as protective shielding. If no other cover is available, seek shelter by crouching in an inner corner or door way.
- Quickly select an object to serve as a covering over your head/face or use your arms as a protective barrier. Use a doorway for shelter only if it is in close proximity to you and if you know it is a strongly supported, load-bearing structure.
- Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures and cabinets.
- Do not use elevators or seek shelter in an elevator.
- Avoid seeking shelter in kitchen areas as many sharp items and electrical/gas powered appliances are commonly located there. If in the kitchen when a quake occurs, quickly turn off appliances and exit the room to seek cover.
- Be aware that electricity may go out and sprinkler systems/fire alarms may turn on during the quake. Use battery operated flashlights if electricity is off-line. DO NOT use candles, matches or lighters during or after a quake in case of potential gas leaks which could spark explosions.
- Stay outside and relocate to a safe distance in an open area away from buildings, street lamps, or utility wires.
- A good rule of thumb in calculating an appropriate safe distance is to estimate the height of a structure (in feet) then retreat that distance, plus ½. Example: if a building is 100 ft. tall, a safe distance would be approximately 150 feet from its perimeter.
- Stop quickly and as safely possible. Although the car may vibrate violently, stay inside until the shaking stops.
- Avoid parking near or under trees, buildings, overpasses or utility wires.
- Set the parking brake and tune into local radio stations for emergency broadcast information.
- If you are in a life-threatening situation, use a cellular phone or an emergency roadside assistance phone.
- Proceed cautiously after the earthquake has ceased; be cognizant of any debris, mudslides, breaks in the roadway, downed utility poles and lines, and damage to overpasses/bridges.
- Do not rush to doorways—move quickly, yet safely to a secure location.
- Place yourself away from displays and other items that could fall.
- Take cover near inside walls; shield your head and face with an object or your arms.
- Stay calm, and cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing. Do not move about or stir up dust.
- Tap repeatedly on pipes or on a wall until rescuers can locate you. Use a whistle if one is available; shout only as a last resort as opening the mouth can cause inhalation of dangerous dust particles.
Once an earthquake has passed, be prepared for aftershocks. These secondary shockwaves are usually less violent than the main quake but can still be strong enough to cause additional damage to weakened structures. Always remember to:
- Open cabinets cautiously; beware of dislocated objects that can fall from shelves.
- Stay away from damaged areas unless your assistance has been specifically requested by law enforcement, public safety officials or relief organizations.
- Check for structural damage to your home or building; relocate to a safe destination until any damaged areas are repaired or inspected and deemed safe.
- Do not ignite a spark/flame if the smell of gas is present; from a safe location, contact local officials and your gas service provider immediately.
Other Preparedness Measures
Officials also recommend that citizens create family emergency action plans and emergency contact lists (PDF) that note phone numbers of family members, neighbors, physicians and other primary contacts; it is suggested that copies be provided to family members as well as stored with emergency kits and in vehicles.