How to Properly Prepare for a Disaster: Are You Ready?

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The United States experiences more than 1,200 tornadoes annually—four times the amount seen in Europe. In the last 100 years, we have had about 130 major earthquakes world-wide per year.  It seems like we are also experiencing more earthquakes and that they are increasing in intensity and destruction.   Earthquakes and tornadoes can cause mass destruction, completely destroy houses and businesses, shut down entire cities, leave many residents homeless, and lead to devastating injuries with vast numbers of lives lost.  Do you know exactly what to do if disaster strikes?

stormy dock

Credit Image: Neil Kremer on Flickr


What to do the moment you feel the shaking begin.  In almost every situation, you will greatly reduce your chance of injury if you immediately DROP, COVER AND HOLD ON.

DROP down onto your hands and knees before the earthquake knocks you down. This position protects you from falling but still allows you to move if you need to.  You may be able to crawl to get under a desk or the best interior wall position.

COVER your head and neck.  If possible, cover your whole body by crawling under a sturdy table or desk. If there isn’t any furniture or shelter nearby then get down near an interior wall or next to low-lying furniture and cover your head and neck with your arms and hands.

HOLD ON to your shelter (or to your head and neck if you aren’t under a shelter) until the shaking stops. Be prepared to move with your shelter if the shaking shifts it around.

The main goal of “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” is to protect you from falling or being knocked down and getting injured.  Also to protect you from flying objects and other hazards, and to increase the chance of you being in what is called a “Survivable Void Space” in the event the building collapses. The space under a sturdy table or desk has been proven to be the most likely to remain even when the building collapses.  You have probably seen pictures of earthquakes showing tables and desks standing with rubble all around them.

Official Rescue Teams from the U.S. and other countries who have searched for trapped people in collapsed structures around the world, as well as emergency managers, researchers, and school safety advocates, all agree that “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” is the appropriate action to reduce injury and death during earthquakes. They say knowing how to properly prepare for a disaster, saves lives.

You need to know that the exterior walls of a building are the most dangerous place to be during an earthquake or tornado. This is why you don’t want to run inside as it is happening or try to run outside.  Doing so will put you in the most dangerous zone. The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at doors and along the exterior walls.  Inside you want to avoid exterior walls, windows or glass, hanging objects, mirrors, any tall furniture, heavy items that can move, large appliances, and any cabinets or furniture containing glass or heavy objects.

 Special Circumstances

Outdoors: Move to a clear area if you can and try to avoid power lines, trees, signs, buildings, vehicles, and other hazards.

Driving: Immediately try to pull over to the side of the road.  Stop the car and put on the parking brake.  If possible don’t park under an overpass, bridge or power line.  Stay inside the vehicle until the shaking has completely subsided.  Wait five minutes after the shaking  before getting out.  If a power lines land on the car, stay inside until an emergency crew can remove the wire.

In Bed:  Hold on and stay there and place the pillow over your head.  You are less likely to be injured staying in bed covered.  Broken glass and other objects on the floor can cause injury if you roll to the floor or try to move towards the door.  Remember standing up during the emergency is always a bad idea.

Stadium or Theater: Stay in your seat and protect your head and neck with your arms. Don’t try to leave until the shaking is over. Wait five minutes after the shaking before moving.  Then walk out cautiously watching for anything that could fall in the aftershocks.

Downtown or in the City: It is safer to remain inside a building after an earthquake unless there is a fire or gas leak.  Do not use elevators. There are no open areas in most downtown areas far enough from glass or other falling debris to be safe zones.   Keep in mind glass from high-rise buildings will not always fall straight down.  The wind can blow glass in any direction.

Beach: Move to higher ground as an earthquake can cause a tsunami.

Wheelchair:  Lock the wheels and cover your head.

Many of the 120 fatalities from the 1933 Long Beach earthquake occurred when people ran outside of buildings only to be killed by falling debris from collapsing walls. Ground movement during an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or injury. Most earthquake-related casualties result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects and not knowing how to properly prepare for a disaster.


Take time before an emergency situation to locate your best shelter opportunities.  Do this whenever you are in weather that may produce tornadoes. An underground area, such as a basement or storm cellar, provides the best protection from a tornado. If an underground shelter is unavailable, consider the following:

  • Seek a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible.
  • Stay away from doors, windows, and outside walls.
  • Stay in the center of the room, and avoid corners because they attract debris.
  • Go to rooms constructed with reinforced concrete, brick or block with no windows and a heavy concrete floor or roof system overhead.
  • Avoid: Auditoriums, cafeterias and gymnasiums that have flat, wide-span roofs.

You should also be aware of what to do if you are caught outdoors when a tornado is threatening. Seek shelter in a basement or a sturdy building. If one is not within walking distance, try to drive in a vehicle, using a seat belt, to the nearest shelter. If flying debris is encountered while in a vehicle, there are two options: 1) staying in the vehicle with the seat belt on, keeping your head below the windows and covering it with your hands or a blanket, 2) if there is an area which is noticeably lower than the roadway, lie in that area and cover your head with your hands.

After the Storm:

Check yourself and those around you for injuries.  Attend to any injuries you can using your first aid kit. Remember you should not move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger.  You should call 911 to notify them of your location and needs (realizing they may not arrive for hours or days if the call gets through).  Also, 911 may be able to get someone trained in first aid and trauma to walk you through over the phone how to address more serious injuries (realize the lines may be totally jammed with other calls but it is worth trying if you need this help).  You should have in your first aid kit a written overview of what to do with certain situations.  While you are getting prepared, you may encourage one or more members of your family to take a Red Cross first aid class.

After attending to immediate injuries, next you want to look around to access the overall damage and whether or not you are in danger from fires, downed power lines or structure damage that puts you in a dangerous situation.  Access this and determine whether you need to get out of the room/building.  Again be very careful in leaving the building. If you have access to your clothes without being in danger, it is good to change into long sleeve shirts or jackets, long thick pants like jeans, socks and sturdy shoes.  This will protect you while walking through debris and from potentially sharp and falling objects.

If you are able to at this time, inspect your home for overall damage.  Listen to a battery-operated radio, get online on your phone or if you have power turn on the TV for the latest emergency information. You can also listen to your car radio for important news alerts if your power is out or you don’t have a battery-operated radio.

Although the instructions for turning off utilities vary by country, the general rule of thumb would be:  Do not turn off the gas unless you actually smell gas, do not turn off the water unless there is a leak and do not turn off the electricity.   For more details go to

Loss of power often occurs following an earthquake or tornado. If you are left without power, you should turn off and unplug appliances and computers.  You should leave one light on so you will know when the power comes back on.  Avoid using candles, as they are fire hazards.  Do not use your gas stove for heat or operate a generator inside the house or the garage as these could cause carbon monoxide poisoning. If a traffic signal is not working, treat it as a stop sign.

Trapped: If you are trapped in debris, move as little as possible so that you don’t kick up dust. Cover your nose and mouth with a handkerchief, clothing or tear a piece of any thin material.  Knock on a pipe or wall so that rescuers can hear where you are. Continue by knocking three times and then wait.  Then knock three times again.  Or use a whistle if one is available.  Shout only as a last resort as you will quickly lose valuable energy and inhale more dust.  Keep phone calls to a minimum to reserve cellphone battery while you are communicating with rescuers or family members.  Sometimes even if phone lines are not working and even cellphones can’t make calls, you may still be able to send texts.

Being prepared for an emergency situation will help your family stay safe and remain calm by knowing what to do.  This How to Properly Prepare for a Disaster blog could help save lives, please pass it on!

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