An earthquake is a term used to describe both a sudden slip on a fault and the resulting ground shaking and radiated seismic energy caused by the slip, or by volcanic or magmatic activity, or other sudden stress changes in the earth. (U.S. Geological Survey)

Worldwide, more than one million earthquakes occur each year, or an average of two a minute. A major earthquake in an urban area is one of the worst natural disasters that can occur. During the last four decades (1970-2017), earthquakes have been responsible for over a million deaths around the world in Armenia, China, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Iran, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, and Turkey.

Excessive urbanization in various seismically active parts of the world has led to megacities with population densities of 20,000 to 60,000 inhabitants per square kilometer. Such cities are highly vulnerable to earthquake hazards, which include high case fatality rates for trauma, asphyxiation, hypothermia, and acute respiratory insufficiency, in addition to fractures and other injuries caused by the destruction of infrastructure.

Before an earthquake

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  • Prepare for a probable earthquake by creating a family plan that includes how to contact each other and where to meet.
  • Learn how to act in the case of an earthquake by participating in simulations in your community/workplace/school.
  • Talk to your children about what to do if there is an earthquake, and especially, what to do if they are alone when one occurs.
  • Locate the safest places in your home/workplace/school to take shelter in an earthquake, and identify evacuation routes.
  • Keep emergency telephone numbers close at hand (civil defense, ambulance, hospitals, fire department, police, etc.).
  • Make sure you have sufficient emergency supplies, including clean water, non-perishable foods, prescription drugs, first aid kit, batteries, radio, and food for pets. Keep important documents such as passports or identity documents with you.
  • Prepare an emergency backpack/kit in case you have to evacuate the area.
  • If there is a pregnant woman in the family, prepare a pregnancy kit with medical documents, medicines, and other things that might be necessary if she is hospitalized for delivery or any complication.

During an Earthquake

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  • Stay calm and, if necessary, help calm the people who are with you.
  • Stay away from windows and from objects that could fall, such as loose electrical wires. 
  • Go to a safe place and take a protective position next to a wall or solid piece of furniture.
  • If you need to evacuate, use stairs, not elevators. Go to a safe area.
  • Follow the instructions of civil defense officials and other authorities.
  • If you are trapped, try to strike a metal object to make noise.
  • If you are on a public street or road, move away from utility poles, cables, and high buildings. 

After an Earthquake

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  • Check the condition of your dwelling. If you consider it unsafe, notify the authorities and go to a temporary shelter, or stay with acquaintances or family members.
  • Consult official sources to get the most up-to-date information.
  • Be careful with electrical currents, propane/natural gas lines, and sources of chemical hazards.
  • Help your family members and community by offering messages of support and encouragement. 

Health Services

  • After an earthquake, make sure that all injuries are thoroughly evaluated by health workers.
  • Health services may also have suffered structural damage and are not always able see patients. It is important to find out what health centers and hospitals are functioning.
  • Temporary health care services will be organized by health authorities. Go to one of these for any minor injury or to get emergency psychological care.  

Safe drinking water and food

  • After an earthquake there is very likely to be a shortage of drinking water. Basic personal hygiene and hand washing are essential to prevent disease from spreading. These are especially important in an emergency.
  • For drinking, use water that is bottled, boiled, or disinfected with chlorine. Cook your food and wash your hands thoroughly before cooking.
  • Make sure that the bottled water you drink is properly sealed before you use it. Do not drink from the bottle if the seal is broken or twisted.
  • Boiling is the way to kill disease-causing viruses, parasites, and bacteria that may be in water.
  • If you cannot boil water, you can disinfect it using bleach (chlorine). Fruits and vegetables can be disinfected with a solution of water and household bleach. The amount of chlorine that should put in water will depend on the concentration of chlorine in the product you are using. Read the label to determine the percentage of chlorine. Most household bleaches have around 4% chlorine. At this concentration, add 1 teaspoon of bleach for each liter of water. 
  • Wash your hands with soap and clean water, or clean them frequently with an alcohol-based gel (hand sanitizer).
  • Try to stay well hydrated at all times and eat three meals a day.
  • Recall the 5 keys to safe food: Wash your hands; Make sure that cooking surfaces and equipment are well disinfected; Separate raw food from cooked food; Cook foods thoroughly and keep them at safe temperatures; Use treated water and select food that is in good condition. 
  • To maintain public hygiene, it is necessary to ensure proper sanitation, waste disposal, food hygiene, and measures to prevent mosquito breeding. Organize with your community to ensure that, together, you can maintain hygiene in your streets and neighborhoods.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women

  • Notify the nearest health care providers if you are pregnant, to ensure access to early care. It is important to tell them if you are taking a prescription drug during pregnancy.
  • Try to be with someone-a family or community member-at all times. This will help you handle stress and anxiety.
  • Try to drink enough clean water, have a place to rest, and eat safe foods.
  • Women who are breastfeeding should continue to do so, since breast milk is the safest food for babies. Even in stressful situations, it is important to encourage mothers to breastfeed their children.

People with noncommunicable chronic diseases

  • Make sure you always have your medicines in an emergency pack.
  • Notify health authorities of your disease and the treatment you are following, so that you can continue treatment in an emergency situation.
  • If you have a noncommunicable disease with acute complications (e.g. diabetes, hypertension, or a condition requiring dialysis) and cannot get access to your usual medicines, try to get to a health care facility as soon as possible.

 Mental health 

  • Loss and displacement are among the most stressful situations you can face. It is important to be prepared to face feelings like fear, pain, and depression.
  • Remember to take care of yourself. Try to sleep at least 6 to 8 hours a day and eat regularly.
  • Communicate with family members, friends, and members of your community. They are probably feeling just like you are. Prepare to provide support and encouragement to other people.
  • It is important for people to know that it is OK to feel upset or frightened when a disaster has occurred. Dealing with these feelings in a healthy way will help you face them and recover more easily.
  • Children tend to be very affected by disaster situations. Talk to them and help them deal with their feelings after an earthquake.

Prevent accidents

  • Inspect your house during the day and notify civil defense authorities if you find structural damage.
  • During rubble-clearing work, use a respirator or mask, closed boots or shoes, a helmet, and if possible, safety glasses to prevent accidents.
  • Check the electrical equipment and propane/natural gas lines to detect any problems.
  • Keep children and pets outside the home until you have finished cleaning it and have inspected your building's structure.
  • If you find dead animals, notify health authorities or, if possible, cover the animals with lime.