7 Steps to Earthquake Readiness

Don't Panic, be the Architect of your Survival

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A friend in another country sent me an article last week about a series of deep ocean earthquakes that happened just off the coast of California recently, along with wishes for my safety. As someone who has lived in California for only four years now, I realized more clearly that there is always the potential for earthquakes here. And while there is currently no scientifically reliable or accurate way to predict imminent earthquakes, you can be prepared for them. So, rather than panic about my lack of knowledge, I realized that I needed to make a plan but I wasn’t sure where to turn to and not be overwhelmed with information. So, I asked my cousin Reid, who works as an Analyst on Seismic Activity, for a user-friendly breakdown that I could understand.

Stop, Drop, Cover

If you feel shaking, the rule is: drop, cover and hold on. That is to say, get low, get under a table or a desk and hang on. Grab your phone and your water bottle if they’re handy, you might be there for a little while. The table or desk may prevent injury or death from objects falling on you. Remember: Earthquakes themselves don’t usually kill people, it’s the falling structures and aftermath that do.

Be Ready

That means, be fit. Do you have a fitness routine? Do you regularly walk, run, stretch, hike, do yoga or ride a bike? If you don’t, for your basic overall health and for a leg up on natural disaster preparedness, it is a must. Your physical and mental stability and agility in a time of stress will allow you to navigate treacherous terrain more easily, you’ll be less likely to get injured and if you do, you will recover faster. Also, do you have first aid training? Consider it – it’s not realistic to expect that police, fire or EMT services are the first responders every time, especially in a massive event. YOU are the first responder for yourself and everyone in your vicinity if something catastrophic occurs.

Take the High Road

If you’re in a coastal area or near a lake in hilly country, it’s a good idea to get to high ground. If you’re in a coastal community, elevated parking garages are a good choice because their strength and open structure will allow possible resulting tidal wave water to pass through. If the earthquake has passed and the structure is still standing, there’s a good chance it will continue to do so.

Rule of Threes

How would/could you respond to:

Three minutes without air, three minutes without homeostasis (thermal regulation of the body), three days without water, three weeks without food?

There isn’t much you can do about the issue of air (other than trying not to hyperventilate). But the other situations you can be prepared for by having meal kits –  one for home and one for vehicles. Typically, 72-hour kits are widely available at places like Costco and the Red Cross. Many varieties are available and ideally, a one-two week supply is a better option. Keep two big water cooler tanks full and sealed (you may already have these) and a water filter suitable for camping. This way, you already have clean water and a way to clean more. Do you camp? If so, you may already have a camping stove, fuel, flashlights, tools, blankets, and weather resistant clothing. If not, consider getting into it or at least going on a few trips so that if or when the time comes, you’ll know the basics of how to get by.

Your Home

There are things you can do to minimize the damage that might occur during an earthquake to your home. Bolt shelving and tall furniture to the wall studs and keep heavy items low. If you ever do major renovations there are structural engineering considerations that you can do to improve the dynamic resistance of the structure to g-force acceleration from seismic shear waves. Typically, in the architecture business and especially in California, renovations and new builds on large public, institutional or commercial structures will involve Seismic Analysis and reinforced Structural Engineering. You can also have this type of work done in your home.

Stick Together

The final thing to do is band together. People assume that society immediately devolves into a chaotic, apocalyptic, free-for-all. But history says otherwise. It takes time for those situations to develop, when desperation takes over after weeks or months of struggle. During a catastrophe and in the immediate aftermath, society tends to pull together. Rates of crime decline dramatically. Neighbors work together. Strangers work together. In many respects, it brings out the best in us. (That said, one should always remain aware, so trust your gut).

Get Outside

Learn to live rather than just survive while outside! A closer connection to nature means that being out of doors won’t be as frightening when there might not be any other choice. Natural disasters aside, we can all do with more time spent outside – why not try something you’ve never done before? And what if you’ve already done all the suggestions? Invite someone else you know who might need the nudge to try. You might save a life in the long run.


My cousin Reid spent his childhood and teen years first with cub scouts and then cadet training, so along with his higher education and current job expertise combined, he is more informed than the average person. But, he also stated that most of his helpful tips and additional research came from this short list of good reads and videos if you want to source out other user-friendly material:


The SAS Survival Guide: The original and best survival guide for any situation in every climate.

The Disaster Diaries: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apolcalypse:Very well done and moves beyond the paranoid mentality of many survival experts. Best of all it’s well-written, experiential, and has a post-disaster context.


Les Stroud – Survivorman – With video views topping 3.4 million, Les Stroud is a Canadian who is the only producer in the history of television to produce an internationally broadcast series entirely written, videotaped and hosted alone.

Ray Mears – Woodlore – Ray’s vision was to provide others with the opportunity to step beyond survival training and really master the skills of traditional wilderness travel. Through his videos and online and in-person courses, he helps provide new insights into the natural world, develop self-confidence, dispel fear and encourage a positive mental attitude.

Hopefully, this gets you off to a good start on your preparedness journey, ready, set, GO!

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