Earthquake tips

Key points about what to do before and after an earthquake

  • There are thousands of earthquakes in Aotearoa New Zealand every year.
  • Most of these are either so small or so deep within the earth that they cannot be felt. But each year, about 150 – 200 quakes are big enough to be felt.
  • A large, damage-causing earthquake is much less likely but could occur at any time.
  • Here are some suggestions for how to prepare at home for a damaging earthquake, and what to do afterwards if you experience one.  
Family sheltering under table during earthquake
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Think about what might happen if there is a major earthquake and talk to your whānau about what you all need to do and how you can get ready – just in case. Talk about the possible impacts, make a plan and gather resources.

What if I’m stuck at home? 

Do you have enough supplies to get through a few days without power and water? Things you might need include: 

  • water (can be stored for up to a year in a clean container. Add 0.5 tsp of unscented household bleach and mix well, don’t drink in the first half hour after mixing)
  • tinned food (and food for pets)
  • medicines for everyone who needs them 
  • a first aid kit 
  • torch, candles, radio 
  • toilet paper and a large plastic bucket
  • work gloves and masks 
  • a ‘grab bag’ for each whānau member with essential supplies, eg, walking shoes, warm clothing, hand sanitiser, phone charger, cash, photo ID, water and snack food. 

 If the power is out: 

  • Eat food in the fridge first then the freezer. 
  • No power means you have to make alternative arrangements for lighting, heating and cooking.
  • You also won’t be able to charge mobile phones or laptops, so use them carefully and conserve battery life
  • Keep a solar or battery powered radio to learn about safety messages. 
  • If you have a car, you could listen on the car radio for updates, and also charge your phone.  

Get to know your neighbours so you can support each other and share resources if necessary.

What if I can’t get home? 

If your normal route home is not available, how will you get there? Check other routes on a map. If you have work mates living near you, travel back together. 

In case it’s not safe to go home, decide with your whānau on a good place to meet up – a friend or whānau members house, or a school. 

If you have tamariki at school, give the school a list of other people who you can trust to collect them in case you can’t get there.  

Keep your ‘grab bag’ in the car so you have essentials with you when you’re away from home.

What if I have to evacuate (leave my home)? 

  • Think about where you could go if you are asked to leave your home, and make sure everyone in your household knows where that is. If you are in a tsunami zone, make sure your evacuation place is outside the zone. 
  • Have a ‘grab bag’ ready for each whare member – remember medicines, a torch, radio and first aid kit. 
  • Don’t forget your pets. 

Graphic with drop cover and hold advice for earthquake safety

Image credit: Civil Defence, NZ

DROP down on your hands and knees. This protects you from falling but lets you move quickly if you need to. 

COVER your head and neck (or your entire body if possible) under a sturdy table or desk (if it is within a few steps of you). If there is no shelter nearby, cover your head and neck with your arms and hands and stay away from windows that could shatter. 

HOLD on to your shelter (or your position to protect your head and neck) until the shaking stops. If the shaking shifts your shelter around, move with it.

What if I’m not inside during an earthquake? 

  • If you’re outside Drop, Cover and Hold a few steps away from trees, buildings, powerlines. 
  • If you’re driving Pull over and Wait. Pull to a clear location and stop. Wait there with your seatbelt fastened until shaking stops. Proceed with caution and avoid bridges or ramps as they may have been damaged in the quake. 
  • If you’re in bed Stay, Cover and Hold. Cover your head and neck with your pillow and stay under the blankets. 
  • If you’re in an elevator Drop, Cover and Hold until shaking stops then get out at the nearest floor if it’s safe. 
  • If you have a mobility impairment – Drop, Cover and Hold or Sit, Cover and Hold. Get as low as you can and cover your head and neck with both hands. Stay still until shaking stops
  • If you use a walker or wheelchair Lock, Cover and Hold. Lock your wheels and get as low as possible. Bend over and cover your head and neck, stay still until shaking stops. 

Be informed

Listen to the radio or follow social media for updated emergency information from Civil Defence(external link) and instructions from your local emergency management officials. Earthquakes can trigger landslides, avalanches, flash floods, fires and tsunami, so staying informed can help you know what to do to stay safe. 

Expect aftershocks

Aftershocks are normal for the first few days and weeks after a major earthquake. Remember to drop, cover and hold. It stops you being knocked over, makes you a smaller target and protects your organs. Do not run outside or stand in doorways. 

Keep safe and look out for others

Look after yourself and get medical treatment if necessary. Help others if you can. Check on your neighbours, especially those who are older, have young children or have a mental or physical disability.

Avoid dangerous areas

Assess your home and workplace for damage. If the building appears unsafe get everyone out. Use the stairs, not an elevator. When outside, watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines. Stay out of damaged areas.

Text if not urgent

Try not to overload phone lines with non-emergency calls. Text friends and family to see if they are OK 

Don’t go sightseeing

Don’t go out looking at damage, you’ll get in the way of emergency services trying to do their jobs. You may put yourself and others at risk.

For more information see the NZ Civil Defence(external link) website.

It’s normal to feel upset after an earthquake. If you need support, advice or just someone to talk to, call the Ministry of Health's 24/7 Earthquake Support Line(external link) free 0800 777 846. There’s an experienced team of people ready to respond. 

You can read the Ministry of Health's guide to managing stress in an emergency(external link) and helping children.(external link) 

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

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