Earthquake Safety Tips

Jason Michael White
Updated February 13, 2014
Earthquake-resistant reinforcement
After an earthquake, make repairs with damage resistance in mind, like adding anchor bolts and shear walls to mitigate damage during future quakes. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Kevin H., San Francisco, Calif.)

Read these tips on cleanup, recovery and how to find the right help after disaster strikes.

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Earthquakes strike without warning and produce enough force to demolish homes, and they still pose a danger even after the shaking subsides.

If your area experiences an earthquake, follow these steps recommended by FEMA as you begin the process of cleanup, recovery and rebuilding.

After the quake

Dangers linger after the shaking stops. Follow these tips to stay safe:

Be ready for possible aftershocks, which can cause further damage in the hours or days following an earthquake. In the event of a serious aftershock, drop to the floor and take cover under a sturdy table or desk. If you don’t have a table or desk nearby, take cover against an inside corner of the room.Extinguish small fires, the most common risk after an earthquake, mainly due to electrical systems damaged during the tremors.Seek shelter if your home appears unsafe. Text SHELTER plus your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter.Use telephones for emergencies only because the quake may damage phone lines, limiting service.

Earthquake cleanup

Look out for potential hazards as you start dealing with the damage in your home. Make checking your utilities a top priority, and take these steps:

Wear long-sleeve shirts, work gloves, long pants and sturdy shoes during cleanup to help prevent injury from broken objects. Check for gas leaks by inspecting the connection fittings on gas-fired appliances and heating equipment. Listen for hissing noises, and be alert for a sulfur or rotten egg smell. Leave your home and call the gas company if you smell gas or hear a hissing noise. If possible, turn off the main gas valve outside your house.Look for immediate signs of electrical damage by visually inspecting your sockets, utility lines and appliances. Turn off your electricity through your fuse box or circuit breaker if you see sparks or broken wires, or if you detect any type of burning smell..Check for water and sewer line damage. Call the water company if your pipes appear damaged, and call a plumber if your sewer lines are damaged.Inspect your home for cracks or other damage, particularly around your chimney and masonry walls. Go over your entire chimney for signs of structural issues, such as cracks and damage to mortar, lines or caps. These structural problems often allow smoke or fire embers to escape from the chimney and enter the home, causing damage or fire.Look inside cupboards and closets for anything knocked loose, but do so carefully as items may tumble off shelves.


Contact your insurance agent to let them know the earthquake damaged your property, says Dan Dyce, claims manager with the California Earthquake Authority. Take pictures of the damage, and keep all receipts for expenditures you make related to the disaster, including for hotel stays, he says.

After you contact your insurer, they will send an adjuster to determine the extent of your needs and initiate the recovery process, he says. Take notes of any conversations you have with your adjuster, Dyce says.

When you’re ready to decide who to hire to start repairing or rebuilding, make sure the contractor has the appropriate license, and beware of scam artists and storm chasers.

Also, repair your home with earthquake resistance in mind, recommends the Earthquake Country Alliance, a public-private organization that educates people about earthquake preparation and recovery.

Read these tips to prevent earthquake damage

For example, if your bookshelves or furniture toppled during the quake, consider anchoring them to the floor or a wall.

Financial help

In the event of a major earthquake, the federal government will declare a disaster, and local governments will set up disaster recovery centers, Dyce says. Within these centers, FEMA, the Small Business Association and non-profit groups such as the Red Cross help guide earthquake victims through the process of getting financial help or assistance with other issues, such as finding temporary housing.

Sometimes an insurance check won’t cover all your expenses, and you may be eligible for additional assistance from FEMA. Many home insurance policies don’t cover earthquake damage, which some homeowners realize only when it’s too late, Dyce says.

If you don’t have proper insurance, you can seek aid through other agencies, but the help may not cover your expenses. Check your policy to determine whether you need additional coverage.

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