City of Pasadena City of Pasadena

Disaster Preparedness:  Earthquake


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Before an Earthquake Strikes - Protect Your Property - During an Earthquake - After an Earthquake

Earthquakes: Southern California’s Most Prevalent Disasters

An earthquake is a sudden, rapid shaking of the ground caused by the breaking and shifting of rock beneath the Earth's surface. This shaking can cause buildings and bridges to collapse; disrupt gas, electric, and phone service; and sometimes trigger landslides, avalanches, flash floods, fires and huge ocean waves (tsunamis). Buildings with foundations resting on unconsolidated landfill, old waterways or other unstable soil are most at risk. Buildings or trailers and manufactured homes not tied to a reinforced foundation anchored to the ground are also at risk since they can be shaken off their mountings during an earthquake.

Before an Earthquake Strikes

• Pick “safe places” in each room of your home. A safe place could be under a sturdy table or desk or against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases and tall furniture that could fall on you. The shorter the distance to move to safety, the less likely you will be injured. (Injury statistics show that people moving as little as 10 feet during an earthquake are most likely to be injured.) Pick safe places in your office, school and other buildings that you frequent.

• Practice “drop, cover and hold on” in each safe place. Drop under a sturdy desk or table and hold on to one leg of the table or desk. Protect your eyes by keeping your head down. Frequent practice will help reinforce safe behavior during an earthquake.

• Build a kit. What you have on hand when an earthquake strikes can make a big difference. Plan to store enough supplies for everyone in your household for at least three days.

• Make a plan. Planning ahead is the first step to a calmer and more assured disaster response. Develop your earthquake preparedness plan and evacuation plan with your family. Inform guests, babysitters and caregivers of your plan. Everyone in your home should know what to do if an earthquake occurs. Assure yourself that others will respond properly even if you are not at home during an earthquake.

• Get training. Arrange for your neighborhood, business or institution to receive Pasadena Emergency Response Team (PERT) training offered by the Pasadena Fire Department. You’ll learn disaster preparedness, first aid, fire suppression and light search and rescue, all or which will be vitally important during and after a major earthquake or other disaster. Call 626-744-7276 to arrange for the training.

• Discuss earthquakes with your family. Everyone should know what to do in case all family members are not together. Discussing earthquakes ahead of time helps reduce fear and anxiety and lets everyone know how to respond.

• Talk with your insurance agent. Different areas have different requirements for earthquake protection.

Protect Your Property

• Bolt bookcases, china cabinets and other tall furniture to wall studs. Brace or anchor high or top-heavy objects. During an earthquake, these items can fall over, causing damage or injury.

• Secure items that might fall, such as televisions, books, computers, etc. Falling items can cause damage or injury.

• Install strong latches or bolts on cabinets. The contents of cabinets can shift during an earthquake. Latches will prevent cabinets from flying open and contents from falling out.

• Move large or heavy objects and fragile items to lower shelves. There will be less damage and less chance of injury if these items are on lower shelves.

• Store breakable items such as bottled foods, glass and china, in low, closed cabinets with latches. Latches will help keep contents of cabinets inside.

• Store weed killers, pesticides and flammable products securely on bottom shelves in closed cabinets with latches. Chemical products will be less likely to create hazardous situations from lower, confined locations.

• Hang heavy items, such as pictures and mirrors, away from beds, couches and anywhere people sit. Earthquakes can knock things off walls, causing damage or injury.

• Brace overhead light fixtures. During earthquakes, overhead light fixtures are the most common items to fall, causing damage or injury.

• Strap your water heater to wall studs. The water heater may be your best source of drinkable water following an earthquake. Protect it from damage and leaks.

• Bolt down any gas appliances. After an earthquake, broken gas lines frequently create fire hazards.

• Install flexible pipe fittings to avoid gas or water leaks. Flexible fittings will be less likely to break.

• Learn how to shut off your gas. Visit and click on Safety or call (800) 427-2200.

• Repair any deep cracks in ceilings or foundations. Get expert advice if there are signs of structural defects. Earthquakes can turn cracks into ruptures and make smaller problems bigger.

• Check to see if your house is bolted to its foundation. Homes bolted to their foundations are less likely to be severely damaged during earthquakes. Homes that are not bolted have been known to slide off their foundations; many have been destroyed because they became uninhabitable.

• Consider having your building evaluated by a professional structural design engineer. Ask about home repair and strengthening tips for exterior features, such as porches, front and back decks, sliding glass doors, canopies, carports and garage doors. Learn about additional ways you can protect your home. A professional can give you advice on how to reduce potential damage.

During an Earthquake

• Drop, cover and hold on! Move only a few steps to a nearby safe place. It is very dangerous to try to leave a building during an earthquake because objects can fall on you. Many fatalities occur when people run outside of buildings, only to be killed by falling debris from collapsing walls. In U.S. buildings, you are safer to stay where you are.

• If you are in bed, hold on and stay there, protecting your head with a pillow. You are less likely to be injured staying where you are. Broken glass on the floor has caused injury to those who have rolled to the floor or tried to get to doorways.

• If you are outdoors, find a clear spot away from buildings, trees, street lights and power lines. Drop to the ground and stay there until the shaking stops. Injuries can occur from falling trees, street lights and power lines or building debris.

• If you are in a vehicle, pull over to a clear location, stop and stay there with your seatbelt fastened until the shaking has stopped. Trees, power lines, poles, street signs and other overhead items may fall during earthquakes. Stopping will help reduce your risk. A hard-topped vehicle will help protect you from flying or falling objects. Once the shaking has stopped, proceed with caution. Avoid bridges or freeway onramps and offramps that might have been damaged by the quake.

• Stay indoors until the shaking stops and you're sure it's safe to exit. More injuries happen when people move during the shaking of an earthquake. After the shaking has stopped, if you go outside, move quickly away from the building to prevent injury from falling debris.

• Stay away from windows. Windows can shatter with such force that you can be injured from several feet away.

• In a multistory building, expect fire alarms and sprinklers to go off during a quake. Earthquakes frequently cause fire alarm and fire sprinkler systems to go off even if there is no fire. Check for and extinguish small fires. If you exit, use the stairs – not the elevator!

After an Earthquake

• Check yourself for injuries. Often people take care of others without checking their own injuries. You will be better able to care for others if you are not injured or if you have received first aid for your injuries.

• Protect yourself from further danger by putting on long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes and work gloves. This will protect your from injury by broken objects.

• After you have taken care of yourself, help people who are injured or trapped. Call 9-1-1, then give first aid when appropriate. Don't try to move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger of further injury.

• Look for and extinguish small fires. Eliminate fire hazards. Putting out small fires quickly using available resources will prevent them from spreading. Fire is the most common hazard following earthquakes.

• Leave the gas ON at the main valve unless you smell gas or think it's leaking. It may be weeks or months before professionals can turn gas back on using the correct procedures, so only turn gas off if you strongly suspect there is a leak. Explosions have caused injury and death when homeowners have improperly turned their gas back on by themselves.

• Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline and other flammable liquids immediately and carefully. Avoid the additional hazard of a chemical emergency.

• Open closet and cabinet doors cautiously. Contents may have shifted during an earthquake and may fall out when you open closet and cabinet doors, creating further damage or injury.

• Inspect your home for damage. Get everyone out if your home is unsafe. Aftershocks following earthquakes can cause further damage to unstable buildings. If your home has experienced damage, get out before aftershocks happen.

• Help neighbors who may require special assistance. Senior citizens and people with disabilities may require additional assistance. If there are caregivers, they may need assistance as well.

• Listen to a portable, battery-operated radio or television for updated emergency information and instructions. If the electricity is out, this may be your main source of information. Local radio may provide the most appropriate advice for your particular situation.

• Expect aftershocks. Each time you feel an aftershock, drop, cover, and hold on! Aftershocks frequently occur minutes, days, weeks, and even months following an earthquake.

• Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines and stay out of damaged areas. Hazards caused by earthquakes are often difficult to see and you could be easily injured.

• Stay out of damaged buildings. If you are away from home, return only when authorities say it is safe. Damaged buildings may be destroyed by aftershocks following the main quake.

• Use battery-powered lanterns or flashlights to inspect your home. Kerosene lanterns, torches, candles and matches may start fires.

• Inspect the entire length of chimneys carefully for damage. Unnoticed damage could lead to fire or injury from falling debris during an aftershock. Cracks in chimneys can be the cause of fires years later.

• For insurance purposes, take pictures of any damage to your house and its contents.

• Avoid smoking inside buildings. Smoking in confined areas can cause fires.

• When entering buildings, use extreme caution. Building damage may have occurred where you least expect it. Carefully watch every step you take.

Examine walls, floor, doors, staircases and windows to make sure the building is not in danger of collapsing.

• Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas, using the outside main valve if you can, and call the gas company at 800-427-2200 from a neighbor's home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.

• Look for damage to the electrical system. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires or if you smell burning insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. NEVER step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker; call an electrician first for advice.

• Check for sewage and damage to water lines. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber immediately. If water pipes
are damaged, call Pasadena Water and Power’s emergency assistance line at (626) 744-7138 and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water from undamaged water heaters or by melting ice cubes.

• Watch for loose plaster, drywall, and ceilings that could fall.

• Use the telephone only to report life-threatening emergencies. Telephone lines are frequently overwhelmed in disaster situations. They need to be clear for emergency calls to get through.

• Watch animals closely. The behavior of pets may change dramatically after an earthquake. Normally quiet and friendly cats and dogs may become aggressive or defensive. Keep your dog on a leash and in a fenced yard.

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