Earthquakes: The Basics


Photograph courtesy Flickr/shiyali


Living in a state that has a 99.7 percent chance of experiencing an earthquake of a magnitude 6.7 or higher within the next 30 years, you’d think most Californians would be well-versed in the whys and wherefores of earthquakes. We’re not. Even native Angelenos still think the safest place to take cover indoors during a quake is in a doorway or a bathroom. It’s under a table. To spell out the basics, the Southern California Earthquake Center assembled Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country, a (free) comprehensive guide, covering everything from what causes quakes to how to survive them. Just looking at what the guide recommends for a survival kit can be an eye opener—especially given that seismologists recommend having an emergency kit not only at home but also at work and in the car:

  Medications, prescription list, copies of medical cards, doctor’s name and contact information

  • Medical consent forms for dependents
  • First aid kit and handbook
  • Examination gloves (non-latex)
  • Dust mask
  • Spare eyeglasses or contact lenses and cleaning solution
  • Bottled water
  • Whistle (to alert rescuers to your location)
  • Sturdy shoes
  • Emergency cash
  • Road maps
  • List of emergency out-of-area contact phone numbers
  • Snack foods, high in water and calories
  • Working flashlight with extra batteries and light bulbs, or light sticks
  • Personal hygiene supplies
  • Comfort items such as games, crayons, writing materials, teddy bears
  • Toiletries and special provisions you need for yourself and others in your family including elderly, disabled, small children, and animals
  • Copies of personal identification (drivers license, work ID card, etc.) 

In ordinary circumstances, you’re supposed to drop, cover, and hold on until the shaking stops, but what if you are outdoors or in a theatre and have nothing to crouch under? Some tips from the Central United States Earthquake Consortium.

On the go but need to know when to expect the next aftershock? The U.S. Geological Survey provides a free earthquake notification service, providing emails and texts about recent quakes. Setting up an account for the service is free.