April is Earthquake Preparedness Month in Utah. As part of the observance, millions of Utahns will participate on April 20, 2023, in an earthquake drill called “The Great Utah Shakeout.” Earthquakes in Utah may be inevitable, but catastrophic damage is not. The steps you take before, during, and after an earthquake will help you be safer and reduce injuries, damage, and losses.
Often, only some people will notice when the shaking begins if an earthquake occurs during the day. For many people, it may feel as if a large semi-truck is passing by. People in cars or near busy roads may not notice the initial tremors. As the shaking becomes more prominent, its jitteriness may catch the attention of people not in a car. During an earthquake, people forget their elementary training of drop, cover, and hold on, especially people caught outdoors. Instead, some people may attempt to run to safety but will only make it a few steps before falling. Others may stand in place, trying to keep their balance and avoid falling to the ground.
Intense shaking usually begins within the first minute, causing bookshelves, desks, and other pieces of heavy furniture to move back and forth, and anything not anchored may fall. People in office buildings may notice light fixtures and other objects swaying from side to side. Statistically, only a small percentage of people protect themselves from falling ceiling tiles, pictures, filing cabinets, and other furniture by getting under tables or chairs.
Within the first two minutes of the earthquake, people caught outside may notice the ground moving like an ocean wave. Everyone inside may feel like they are on a ship rolling out at sea.
Parked cars may rock, and hanging objects will continue to sway slightly. Windows, dishes, and doors may rattle, and buildings with wooden walls and frames may creak during the event.
Widespread power outages may make daytime visibility inside large buildings difficult. If the earthquake strikes at night, fallen objects littering the floor may cause people to trip and injure themselves as they try to escape in the dark. In some homes and buildings, heavy pieces of furniture, such as entertainment centers or dressers, may tip over, blocking exits or trapping people under them.
After the shaking, people may wander around, uncertain how to respond to the event. Some may gather belongings and search around the fallen debris, trying to make sense of what happened. People with access to a phone may try to call or text their loved ones to verify their safety. A sense of dread may overcome individuals who cannot contact their family and friends.
Ground shaking during an earthquake is seldom the cause of injury. Collapsing walls, roofs, flying glass, and falling objects cause most earthquake-related injuries and death. Move as little as possible to reach a safe place. Most injuries occur when people try to move more than a short distance during the shaking.
The essential part of any hazard emergency plan is learning and practicing protective actions. Remember, the first three actions you should take are drop to the ground, cover your head and neck, and hold on to whatever you are using to protect yourself. Following these three actions can dramatically reduce injury and death during earthquakes.
To learn more about emergency preparedness tips and details about the Great Utah Shakeout, please visit www.shakeout.org/utah/ or beready.utah.gov.