Earthquake preparedness and response
Earthquakes can't be predicted. The first sign may be a loud bang or roar. You may then feel the ground shake and roll for several minutes. Aftershocks, or smaller earthquakes, can continue for many hours, even days. Take the following steps to stay safe.
In this section:
- During an earthquake: Drop, cover and hold on
- Prepare your home
- Make an emergency plan
- Build an emergency kit & grab-and-go bags
- Research insurance options
Other Sections: Tsunami preparedness and response
When you feel the ground shake, immediately drop, cover and hold on.
- Drop to your hands and knees. If you’re inside, stay inside – don’t run outdoors or to other rooms.
- Cover your head and neck with your arm and take shelter under a sturdy piece of furniture. If there is no shelter nearby, crawl to the nearest interior corner or wall while continuing to protect your head and neck.
- Hold on to your shelter, covering your head and neck until the shaking stops.
The Great British Columbia ShakeOut: Join us every October to practice how to drop, cover and hold on at home, at work or at school. Follow the link to for more information and to register.
What to do if you’re…
In a wheelchair
Lock, cover and hold on. Lock your wheels and remain in place until the shaking stops. Always protect your head and neck with your arms, a pillow, a book or whatever is available.
Hold on and stay there, protecting your head with a pillow or blanket. You are less likely to be injured in bed where you are shielded from flying objects and broken glass. Most injuries occur when people try to run for cover.
In a high-rise
Immediately drop, cover and hold on. Avoid windows and other hazards. Do not use elevators. Be aware sprinkler systems or fire alarms may activate.
Pull over, stop and set the handbrake. Avoid overpasses, bridges, power lines, signs and other hazards. Stay inside the vehicle until the shaking is over. If a power line falls on the car, stay inside until a trained person removes the wire.
In a store
Immediately drop cover and hold on. If you must move to get away from heavy items on high shelves, drop to the ground first and crawl only the shortest distance necessary.
Near the shore or on the beach
Immediately evacuate to high ground. Don’t wait for officials to issue a warning. Walk quickly, rather than drive, to avoid traffic, debris and other hazards.
In a stadium or theatre
Stay at your seat, bending over to protect your head and neck, or drop to the floor between rows if there's room. Don’t move until the shaking is over. When it stops, walk out slowly, following directions from officials. Remember to drop, cover and hold on during aftershocks.
Immediately drop, cover and hold on. Move to a clear area only if you can safely do so. Don't run. Avoid buildings, power lines, trees, signs, vehicles and other hazards.
When the shaking stops...
- Count to 60 before getting up, giving displaced objects a chance to settle.
- Stay calm and move cautiously, checking for unstable objects and other hazards above and around you.
- Be aware of the potential for aftershocks. Drop, cover and hold on every time you feel one.
- Do not call 911 to report an earthquake. Only call 911 for serious injuries.
- Follow all directions from local authorities and first responder personnel.
- If your home is severely damaged and unsafe to stay in, take your grab-and-go bags and evacuate to somewhere safer.
- If your home is damaged but safe to stay in, shelter-in-place and use your emergency kit.
If you suspect a gas leak, turn off the gas valve and leave your home immediately. Once the gas is shut off at the meter, do not try to turn it back on. Only a registered contractor can do that safely.
Before an earthquake, you can help prevent injuries and damage by making some changes inside your home. Severe shaking can topple large furniture and appliances, toss heavy items from walls and shelves, and throw open cupboards. To prevent these things from happening:
- Secure tall, free-standing furniture, such as bookcases, cabinets and shelving to wall studs using “L” brackets, corner brackets or anodized aluminum moulding
- Move framed pictures and mirrors away from beds, couches and chairs
- Secure cabinet doors with push or pull latches
- Use strong strapping and ratchets or other connectors to secure refrigerators, freezers, washers and dryers
- Anchor water heaters snugly to the wall with straps. If necessary, contract a licensed gas fitter to install a flexible gas line
- Know how to turn off your electrical panel, water and gas in case of leaks or if directed to do so by officials. If you suspect a gas leak, turn off the gas valve and leave your home immediately. Once the gas is shut off at the meter, do not try to turn it back on. Only a registered contractor can do that safely.
You and your family could be on your own for several days while emergency responders work to save lives and manage the aftermath. It may be weeks before infrastructure, utilities and essential services are restored.
Phone, gas, electric and water services may be disrupted following an earthquake. Roads could be blocked, stores closed and gas stations out-of-service.
Thinking ahead and creating an emergency plan will strengthen your ability to respond and recover. Remember to consider the unique requirements of everyone in your home, such as children, pets and those with additional preparedness needs.
Download PreparedBC’s fill-in-the-blanks emergency plan (PDF, 1.9MB) and complete it with your household.
If your house, apartment or condominium is structurally sound following an earthquake, the best thing you can do is shelter-in-place. In other words – stay home and use your emergency kit. This will help first responders do their job and ensure emergency reception centres are available to those who need them most.
To build your emergency kit, collect enough non-perishable food, water and emergency supplies to support your household for a minimum of 3 days, although your target should be one to two weeks. Make sure everything is stored together in an accessible location.
In case you have to leave your home, you should also prepare grab-and-go bags for each family member, including pets. These should be smaller versions of your emergency kit, but customized to meet unique personal or medical needs. Ensure the bags are accessible and that everyone knows where they are.
Home insurance policies in British Columbia cover earthquake damage and losses. Call your insurance representative to discuss your coverage or contact the Insurance Bureau of Canada at 1-844-227-5422.
Disaster Financial Assistance is not available for losses due to earthquake, which is why it’s important to discuss coverage with an insurance company or representative. If you leave your home due to a mandatory evacuation order, most homeowner and tenant insurance policies will provide coverage for reasonable living expenses for a specified time.
What about tsunamis?
Tsunamis are most often caused by huge undersea earthquakes that displace a massive volume of water and trigger a series of large waves. The waves can be up to 100 kilometres long and spaced as much as an hour apart. Read about tsunami preparedness.