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Earthquake Preparedness and Safety Tips

October 31, 2019

On Monday October 14, 2019 at 10:30pm, a 4.5 magnitude earthquake originating in the East Bay hit Mill Valley and Southern Marin.  No major injuries were reported. But seismologists warn us not to become complacent - more earthquakes are likely and the time to prepare is now.

The US Geological Survey has predicted a 72% likelihood of a 6.7 magnitude earthquake hitting the San Francisco Bay Area within the next 30 years. The 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake 30 years ago resulted in approximately 63 deaths. This is a good reminder for all of us in the community to learn about earthquake preparedness and safety. 

How Do I Stay Safe During an Earthquake? 

Remember 3 things: Drop, Cover, and Hold On!

Drop: Drop wherever you are on to your hands and knees. If you’re using a wheelchair or walker with a seat, lock your wheels and remain seated until the shaking stops.

Cover: Cover your head and neck with your arms. If a sturdy table or desk is nearby, crawl underneath it for shelter. If no shelter is nearby, crawl next to an interior wall (away from windows). Crawl only if you can reach better cover without going through an area with more debris. Stay on your knees or crouched over to protect vital organs.

Hold On: If you are under a table or desk, hold on with one hand and be ready to move with it if it moves. If you can’t find a table or desk, cover your head and neck with both arms and hands. If seated and unable to drop to the floor, bend forward, cover your head with your arms, and hold on to your neck with both hands.

DO NOT get in a doorway.
DO NOT run outside.
STAY AWAY from glass, windows, light fixtures, outside doors and walls, and anything else that could fall.

When an earthquake hits, if you are…

  • in a vehicle, pull over and stop, away from buildings, trees, overpasses and utility wires. Set your parking brake, turn on your hazard lights, and stay in the car with your seat belt fastened.
  • in bed, stay there and turn face down and cover your head and neck with a pillow unless you are under a heavy item that could fall – in that case find the nearest safe place.
  • outdoors, stay outdoors away from buildings, trees, streetlights and utility wires. If you are in a mountainous area or by unstable slopes or cliffs, be alert for falling rocks as well as landslides.

How Do I Prepare Before an Earthquake Hits?

The best time to prepare for any disaster is before it happens.

  • Practice Drop, Cover, and Hold On with your family and coworkers.
  • Secure heavy items in your home like bookcases, refrigerators, televisions, and objects that hang on walls. Do not hang heavy items over places people sleep or sit. Store heavy and breakable objects on low shelves. Remove flammable liquids (such as paints, fuels, solvents, rubbing alcohol, and pesticides) from inside your home and find a safer place to store them such as a garage or outside shed.
  • Create a family emergency communications plan that has an out-of-state contact. Plan where to meet if you get separated.
  • Make a supply kit that includes enough food and water for at least 5-7 days, a flashlight, a fire extinguisher, a whistle, camping gear, important papers and cash. Consider each person’s specific needs, including medication. Have extra batteries and charging devices for phones and other critical equipment. Do not forget the needs of seniors, children, and pets and service animals. Try to have supply kits at home, work, and in your car as you never know when an earthquake will hit.
  • Consider obtaining an earthquake insurance policy. A standard homeowner’s insurance policy does not cover earthquake damage.
  • Consider making improvements to your building to fix structural issues that could cause your building to collapse during an earthquake.
  • Sign up for local emergency alerts, including Alert Marin, Nixle, as well as the MyShake app.
  • Read more on how to prepare and stay safe during and after an earthquake with  information and checklists from FEMA, the Red Cross, and more localized information from Ready Marin, our county’s portal for emergency preparedness information. You can also read more about staying safe with the City of Mill Valley.

I Survived an Earthquake! What Do I Do Now? 

If an earthquake has just happened, there can be serious hazards such as damage to the building, leaking gas and water lines, or downed power lines.

  • Expect aftershocks to follow the main shock of an earthquake. They can occur minutes, days, weeks and even months following an earthquake. Remember to Drop, Cover and Hold On each time you feel an aftershock.
  • Check yourself to see if you are hurt and help others if you can. 
  • If you are at home, look quickly for damage in and around your home and get everyone out if your home is unsafe.Check for dangerous conditions such as structural damage, gas leak or fires. If you smell gas, get out of the house and move as far away as possible. Turn off the gas only if you suspect a leak, as only a professional from PG&E can restore service. Do not search for gas leaks with a lighted match or lighter. Do not use electrical switches or appliances if gas leaks are suspected as sparks can ignite gas from broken lines. Switch off electrical power if there is damage to your home’s electrical wiring.
  • If you are in a damaged building, go outside and quickly move away from the building. Do not enter damaged buildings.
  • If you are trapped, protect your mouth, nose, and eyes from dust. Send a text, bang on a pipe or wall, or use a whistle instead of shouting to help rescuers locate you. Shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust. Do not light a match or use a lighter.
  • If you are in an area that may experience tsunamis, go inland or to higher ground immediately after the shaking stops.
  • If you are at home or on your property and if you decide it is safe, shelter in place. If your home is not safe but the rest of your property is safe, you may be able to camp out in your back yard with the camping gear in your emergency supplies, such as a tent and sleeping bag.
  • Text messages may be more reliable than phone calls. Save phone calls for emergencies.
  • Once you are safe, listen to local news reports for emergency information and instructions via battery operated radio, TV, social media, or from cell phone text alerts. For Mill Valley residents, tune your radio to KQED 88.5 FM, KCBS 740 AM or KGO 810 AM and local TV stations for further information. Visit the City of Mill Valley Warnings and Alerts page for more information.
  • Be careful during post-disaster cleanup of buildings and around debris. Do not attempt to remove heavy debris by yourself. Wear protective clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, work gloves, and sturdy, thick-soled shoes during cleanup. Do not touch downed lines or broken appliances. Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline and other flammable liquids.
  • Let people know you are ok by registering on the American Red Cross “Safe and Well” website.

What Else Can I Do to Help Our Community Be Prepared? 

  • Take a First Aid course through American Heart Association (AHA) or American Red Cross: Check local fire departments and community centers, as well as the Red Cross and AHA websites for classes.
  • Take a CERT course (Community Emergency Response Team): CERT is a national program under FEMA that offers 10 twenty-hour classes in Marin each year. Students learn about putting out fires, first aid, light search & rescue and disaster psychology. As citizen first responders and disaster service workers, CERTs are able to help in their neighborhood and community, bridging the time between a disaster and when the professional responders can arrive. Ready Marin recommends one CERT member for every 20 homes. Learn more & register.
  • Neighbors Helping Neighbors: you may be on your own for some time after a large-scale earthquake, so get to know your neighbors. Who might need help, who has certain skills that will help everyone, who has medical training, who has a generator, etc. 
  • Consider forming a Neighborhood Response Group (NRG): learn more about how other communities in Marin have joined together to form Neighborhood Response Groups and become more resilient. Consider taking leadership and initiative to organize an NRG in your neighborhood. If you live within Mill Valley city limits, contact the Mill Valley Fire Department (415-389-4133) to learn about the process of forming an NRG.