How to prepare for an earthquake | PEMCO

October 16, 2023 by PEMCO Insurance

great-shake-out.pngFor all of us who needed a little reminder we live in earthquake country, Mother Nature delivered a 4.3 shaker eariler this month centered under Marrowstone Island off Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. 

While the rumbling was too slight to trigger damage or even an emergency alert, the temblor couldn’t have been timed better for Washington and Oregon’s annual Great ShakeOut drill, coming up Oct. 19 (at 10:19 a.m.). The exercise will give your family the practice they need to confidently say, “I know just what to do!” the next time the earth moves. 

It’s also a great time to sign up for smartphone emergency alerts in Washington and Oregon just in case the next one’s not quite so gentle. 

What should I do if an earthquake hits? 

Advice has changed over the years about the best way to escape injury in an earthquake. Once experts said you should crouch in a doorway.  

Now, they recommend that you: 

  • drop to your hands and knees,  

  • cover your head and neck with one arm and take shelter under a sturdy desk or table (stay on your knees to protect vital organs), and  

  • hold on with the other hand until the shaking stops.  

Hanging on is important because you can move with your shelter if it shifts, staying protected from falling debris. If there’s no shelter to get under, curl up along an inside wall on your knees and cover your head and neck with both arms. If you use a wheelchair or can’t get on the floor, stay seated (with wheels locked on your wheelchair) and bend forward, covering your head and neck with your arms or a pillow. 

Not everyone has heard about the Drop, Cover, Hold technique and are surprised to learn recommendations have changed.  

“In 2001, during the Nisqually quake, we were living in a split-level house with our one-year-old son,” a Mill Creek, Wash., PEMCO member told us. “When it hit, I scooped him out of his playpen and held him while I crouched in the kitchen doorway. I remember counting the stairs – six – that I’d need to go down so I could run out the front door if I had to.  

“Even though we were fine, it’s a little creepy knowing now that what I did wasn’t the safest choice.” 

Experts say that the fear of a ceiling collapse, which prompted a lot of advice aimed at positioning yourself so you’d have a “void” area around you, is overblown thanks to current building codes and earthquake retrofits (like bolting structures to foundations). With the exception of a true megaquake, a ceiling collapse is unlikely. 

Running outside comes with its own dangers, too, including injury from falling while trying to run when the ground is shaking, being hit by crumbling masonry from chimneys, or electric shock from downed power lines. 

What should I do if I’m driving when an earthquake hits? 

Other than noticing the steering feels a little off, it’s often hard to tell if an earthquake is happening when you’re driving. Once you’ve realized, though (hello, swaying light pole!), there are a few things you should do: 

  • Get off bridges and overpasses. 

  • Pull over to the shoulder (away from trees, poles, or buildings). 

  • Set the parking brake and leave your seatbelt on. 

  • Wait until the shaking stops. 

  • If you’re near the beach, drive to higher ground (in case there’s a tsunami). 

  • Tune in AM radio for emergency alerts. 

  • Text your family to make sure everyone is safe. 

Watch for debris or damaged roadways as you make your way home or to pick up family members. Knowing a few alternate routes can help you get where you’re going even if your usual road is blocked. 

PEMCO spoke with FOX13 News with tips for handling an earthquake when you’re driving. 

How can make my home safer in an earthquake? 

Emergency preparations can feel overwhelming, but you’ve got this! Here are the top three areas to focus on: 

  1. Make sure your home is bolted to its foundation. While that’s a requirement for newer construction, some older homes may need retrofitting.  

  2. Make an “earthquake sweep” through your house:  

  • Kitchen. Install childproof latches on cupboard doors to keep them closed. In homes without small children, move cleaners and chemicals to lower shelves so they can’t tumble out and spill. 

  • Bedrooms. Scoot your bed away from the window and remove pictures hanging over the headboard. Keep a pair of sturdy shoes and a flashlight under the bed – both can help you safely navigate in the dark if fallen items are strewn around. 

  • Living and family rooms. Apply safety film to strengthen sliding glass doors and picture windows. Add ledge barriers to display shelves and move heavy items to lower shelves.  

  • Home office. Anchor file cabinets and bookshelves to the wall with sturdy straps.  

  • Garage. Post signs showing where and how to shut off utilities like natural gas, and make sure you have the tools needed to do the job (a special wrench, for example). Strap your water heater to the wall. 

  1. Make an emergency kit. Last month, we featured “5 ways to prepare for an emergency,” with a focus on PNW weather. Check out how to make a “bug out” and a “bug in” kit to keep your family comfortable until all’s well again. 
    You’ll also want to update your family’s emergency communication plan so you’ll know how to get in touch after an earthquake. 

Can PEMCO help me get earthquake insurance? 

Yes! While virtually no homeowners policies sold in the United States (including PEMCO’s) cover most damage caused by earthquakes, we can help you find coverage through insurers that specialize in it. If you insure your home with PEMCO, you’ll have a head start with information we already have on file about your home, like age, square footage, and construction characteristics. 

And a bit more good news if high deductibles have been an obstacle in the past: We now partner with two companies that offer deductibles as low as 2.5%. 

We know that earthquake insurance may not be for everyone, but it’s worth a no-obligation discussion to understand the risks and prices in your area.  

Call your local PEMCO agent or PEMCO Insurance Agency at 1-800-GO-PEMCO, ext.4007, to get connected. We’re here to help! 





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