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National Preparedness Month: How to Prepare for an Earthquake

Post Date:09/08/2017 4:00 PM

An earthquake is the sudden and rapid shaking of the earth, caused by the breaking and shifting of subterranean rock as it releases strain that has accumulated over a long time. Earthquakes can happen at any time of the year and occur without warning, although they usually last less than one minute.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has declared September to be National Preparedness Month. Although it is good practice for families to create an emergency plan for disasters in general, it is also crucial for residents living in California to prepare for the possibility of larger and more severe earthquakes. 

Before an earthquake occurs, secure items that could fall or move and cause injuries or damage, such as bookshelves, televisions, computers, or hot water heaters. In every emergency plan that you and your family create, discuss how you will communicate with each other in the case of being separated or the disaster happening during work or school hours.

The first 72 hours after an earthquake are critical. A good rule of thumb is to have supplies for about that amount of time. Essential supplies include water, first aid kit, flashlight and extra batteries, fire extinguisher, non-perishable (or canned) food, and a manual can-opener.

Planning for an earthquake includes making sure each member of the family knows how to “Drop, Cover, and Hold On!”: Drop to the ground, Cover your head and neck with your arms and, if a safer place like under a table or desk is nearby that you can get to without exposing yourself to flying debris, crawl to it and Hold On to maintain cover.

During an earthquake, do your best to shelter in place – whether you are inside a building, in a car, in bed, or outside. Do not run out of the building during strong shaking; try getting as low as possible to the floor and hold tight until the shaking stops. If you are outdoors when you feel the shaking, move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires then “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” once in the open. If you are in a moving vehicle during a shake, stop as quickly and as safely as possible – away from trees, overpasses, and wires – and stay in the vehicle. 

When the shaking stops, look around. If the building is damaged and there is a clear path to safety, leave the building and go to an open space away from damaged areas. If you are trapped, do not move about or kick up dust; instead, use your resources. Use your cell phone to call or text for help, or listen to the radio for important information and instructions.

California makes up a good portion of the western United States coast. As such, learning about tsunamis is a key part of creating an emergency plan. After a severe earthquake, walk inland and to higher ground immediately, then monitor official reports for more information on your area’s tsunami evacuation plans.

Disasters can strike without warning; however, planning ahead and making sure everyone is on the same page is the best way to prepare for the worst. 

The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office has created SMCReady, a hub for emergency preparedness. You can also sign up for alert notifications at In the event of an earthquake or disaster, the site will go into emergency mode and bring you live updates and tweets from around the city, information on missing persons, and ways you can help. Additionally, the City of Millbrae is served by the Central County Fire Department (CCFD). CCFD aims to provide exceptional emergency and non-emergency services to residents; this includes CPR training and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Training for those who would like to plan ahead, as well as first response in the event of a disaster.

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