While most earthquakes are so small they are rarely felt, modern technology records between 12,000 to 14,000 earthquakes in the US each year, the larger ones can claim thousands of lives in a matter of seconds. We can't prevent them, but with a little forward thinking, we can do everything possible to survive them.
The first sign: Earthquakes often begin with a short, quick pre-shock that rattles windows and feels like someone just bumped into your chair. Normal reaction is to stop, look around and see what's happening, but what you do or don't do in those few seconds could save your life.
Do -- train yourself to be sensitive to movement under your feet. If the floor moves, it's a pre-shock. Plan the safest place to be during the quake, (preferably an area with close walls like the bathroom or a stairwell) and your escape route out of the building. Always keep hallways and doorways clear of boxes, suitcases, toys, etc. As soon as you are outside, immediately turn the gas off to prevent fires.
Don't -- get in an elevator! Earthquakes cut power as well as change the door alignment and you may not be able to get out.
Don't -- go back inside damaged buildings after the quake. It's not over! Aftershocks begin in as little as thirty seconds and can be as strong or stronger than the initial quake.
The size of the quake –
A 5.0 earthquake will frighten you, knock a few things off shelves and perhaps topple a bell in the church tower, but for the most part injuries will be slight.
A 6.0 (100 times stronger than a 5.0) will cause some buildings to fall, interrupt power, water, phones and gas, crack foundations, break windows, and topple weaker chimneys and some freeway on and off ramps. A few people will die and several will be injured.
A 7.0 and above are the real killers. Many buildings will fall trapping hundreds. If you live near the water, you need to think about tsunamis. A tsunami depends on the amount and location of land sliding into the water. Don't wait to see what will happen, head for higher ground immediately.
Supplies -- Prepare for AT LEAST a three-day disruption in basic services and store your supplies just inside a front or back door, or in the trunk of your car (unless you park in a garage). Keep extra bedding in your car.
Water -- Enough for drinking, cooking, washing wounds, dishes and hands.
Food -- Anything you can eat cold, crackers, cereal, canned beans, etc. Don't forget a can opener.
Clothing -- A change of clothing for each member of the family, blankets, diapers, washcloths. Don't forget toilet paper.
Medical – Sun tan lotion in summer, burn medicine, butterfly bandages (to temporarily close cuts), miscellaneous bandages, scissors, tweezers (for removing glass), cotton balls, antiseptic (peroxide is cheap and excellent for cleaning wounds and purifying water -- 2 drops per liter).
Misc. -- Candles, matches, flashlights with extra batteries, charcoal for cooking/keeping warm, lighter fluid, a transistor radio with plenty of spare batteries (a 9 volt lasts about 20 hours) and extra prescription drugs.
If you take regular medications, ask your doctor for extra or maybe samples you can keep on hand.
I was in an earthquake that killed 50 people, and one of the things that compounded my fear was the lack of communication. We could smell smoke outside, but without a radio, we could not tell where it was coming from. Your car radio, if you have a car, will be helpful, but it will run your battery down.
People do odd things in an earthquake. The ones that lived below us made sure all their furniture was protected in case the roof caved in, but they kept their baby inside and unprotected. They just weren't thinking clearly.