In mere seconds, a strong earthquake can transform your life forever. In a very strong earthquake, those first few seconds can be the difference between life and death. Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce personal risk and increase the chances of staying alive.
When an earthquake strikes
= Quickly review your environment =
What are your surroundings like? Walls on low buildings are more likely to fall inwards. Glass windows and brickwork will shatter and fall outwards. In earthquake-prone areas, you should always be aware of your surroundings at all times, so that you will be ready if a major earthquake hits.
Avoid electric and telephone poles if you have a chance, or put something solid between them and you. Otherwise, pull over in front or behind a pole, never between it and the road. It will probably tilt or fall in a strong earthquake, but the wires will probably make the poles fall towards the road or away from the road.
Take a few seconds to turn off any open flames or electrical switches. The last thing you want is for your stove to cause a fire while you are trapped under rubble.
= If you are outside =
If you are already outside, stay there. You will be rescued much more quickly outdoors than if you are trapped in the debris of a building.
If you are in your car, stay there. If you are currently driving, pull over quickly, kill the engine, and try to get as low as possible in case something lands on your roof and dents it.
If you were walking, drop to your hands and knees and cover your head with your hands. For a more slowly-hitting earthquake which announces its arrival with a low growl, you have a few seconds to try to find a picnic table or other similar shelter to hide underneath it.
= If you are inside =
It can be more dangerous to rush outside than to stay inside, especially if the building is constructed to earthquake standards. If not, try to get outside if possible, but only if you can do it in seconds while the floor is moving underneath you.
Open the door and get into a doorway. Doorways are built to take direct weight. Even if the walls fall in on you, the doorway will give you some protection. The walls may fall in around you, but that particular wall won't fall on top of you. Doorway frames can also be deformed as the building shifts. If the door is open, you won't be trapped.
Dive under the nearest sturdy-looking desk or table and brace yourself against its legs. If you don't have a sturdy cover object near to hand, drop down, cover your head with your hands, and brace next to a sturdy object that can form an angle with something else and make a safe space for you.
In Japan, building staff are trained to respond appropriately to earthquakes. if you are in a department store, theater, train, or other public place, follow their instructions.
Immediately after an earthquake strikes
= Wait for the shaking to stop =
Stay in your shelter until the shaking has stopped. Do not expose yourself to falling objects. Even after the shaking has stopped, be prepared for strong aftershocks.
If walls have collapsed around you, your next actions depend on your environment. If quick rescue is likely, stay where you are and try not to dislodge any debris which may be sheltering you.
However, if you are in a region where widespread devastation is likely and rescue may be slow in coming, try to pull yourself out of the rubble as soon as you can. In this case, time is not on your side.
= Landslides and tsunami =
In rocky, cliffside, or mountainous regions, watch out for rockfalls or landslides. Avoid areas under crumbling cliffs and muddy hillsides.
Is this a coastal region which could be subject to tsunamis? Are you on high ground? If not, get to high ground as fast as possible. In a solid building, this could simply involve climbing the stairs to the third or fourth floor. Otherwise, follow the marked tsunami evacuation route.