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California earthquakes: What to do before, during and after

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

No matter where you live in California, there is a risk of considerable damage due to an earthquake. 

Almost every Californian lives within 15 minutes of an active fault line. And many can still recall some of the strongest quakes to hit the state, from the widespread damage caused by the 6.7 magnitude Northridge Earthquake to the building collapses from the Bay Area’s Loma Prieta Earthquake.

So, state and federal agencies have a wealth of resources to help residents prepare for the inevitable next quake. Here is what you need to know before during and after the rumbling: 

California’s emergency alerts

California Earthquake Early Warning Program
The State of California has created a tool that will automatically be able to warn residents seconds before an earthquake strikes. That amount of time can be lifesaving, according to researchers.

The California Earthquake Early Warning Program works with the USGS to get ShakeAlerts sent to residents the moment researchers detect a quake over magnitude 5.0.

The system automatically alerts anyone with modern wireless devices that they are near the epicenter of an earthquake. There is no need to register for this system; it’s the same technology that pushes AMBER Alerts, Presidential Alerts and other imminent danger alerts to mobile devices.

NBC 7’s Omari Fleming explains what the app does, and how and when you can download it.

Download the MyShake app
California in late 2019 also released a downloadable app called MyShake that can alert users to earthquakes as soon as they start. It also allows Users to Share

The app calculates location, intensity and sends alerts to areas where shaking is likely to occur from quakes of magnitude 4.5 or greater. It is available for download to IOS users through iTunes and through GooglePlay stores for Android phones.

Check for local resources
In addition, local municipalities have their own services to warn residents of a quake. For example, San Diego County uses the SD Emergency app and Alert San Diego phone system to warn residents of disasters. 

How to prepare for an earthquake

The best thing you can do when an earthquake hits is to be prepared ahead of time. With these four steps:

  1. Secure your space
    Find items that will easily move during an earthquake. The state says to think about what would tousle if your home was turned on its side and secure those items. 
  2. Create a disaster plan
    Some suggestions for your disaster plan include: how you will contact each other and deciding where your family will meet in case of an emergency; and making sure every member of your family knows how to turn the gas and electricity off. More information on disaster plans can be found here
  3. Organize disaster supplies
    Your emergency kit should provide enough supplies to last your family three weeks — food, water, clothing, personal care and other items. Also create a “grab-and-go” bag in case you need to quickly leave your home. Don’t forget about supplies for your pets. 
  4. Ease financial hardship
    Renters and homeowners should consider getting earthquake insurance and look into ways to increase the stability of your home. Create copies of your IDs and insurance records. Print photocopies of items in your home that will help when you file an insurance claim. 

Photos: What to Keep in Your Disaster Emergency Kit

What to do in an earthquake

Of course, we all know that when the ground starts shaking to drop, cover and hold on. But what else should you do in the midst of an earthquake? 

If you are in bed when an earthquake strikes, cover your head with a pillow and stay down. If you are outside, crawl towards an open space away from buildings, power lines and trees. 

If you are in need of immediate help, call 911. Contact 211 for less urgent matters. 

Once the temblor stops, evacuate your home. This may be the best chance to prevent further injury in case of an aftershock. Where possible, it may be better to evacuate on foot. 

Seek out an emergency shelter

An earthquake can also trigger a tsunami near the coast. If you’re coastal, pay attention to the waves. If the water suddenly pulls away from the shore, a tsunami may be imminent. Search for higher ground. Find out if you are in a tsunami zone here

Lastly, register yourself as “safe and well” so people know you are OK. 

September is National Preparedness Month, so Bill Earley with the Red Cross offers some tips for how San Diegans can better prepare for an emergency.

What to do after an earthquake

Start to check on your home, but don’t enter until you know it’s safe. Check for gas leaks, chemical spills, broken water pipes or damaged electrical wires. 

Use your refrigerated food first and store canned goods for later. It may be hard to access supplies at stores following a quake. 

Contact your insurance company and begin taking photos of the damage. 

In the weeks following the quake, contact state and federal agencies like FEMA to inquire about federal assistance. 

Official earthquake resources 

For more resources, visit these official sources:

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.