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Surviving an Earthquake

Updated on August 23, 2011


Earthquake awareness has increased since the catastrophes in Chile and Japan. This has showed us how much damage this events can have and that it is better to be prepared than to suffer an accident.

Earthquakes are a natural disaster that cannot be prevented or predicted and can take place without warning or announcement. Earthquakes happen because of the movement of tectonic plates that make up the land that we live in. The world is basically cracked and every piece that makes up the world is a tectonic plate (see picture below). As you may know, the world is currently changing and basically moving around very slowly. At some random moments the tectonic plates might to some hard movement that can cause them to crash into each other or separate therefore shaking everything around. This is what causes the earthquakes and even if it is only a minor movement of a plate, it can cause a lot of damage to us. This can also cause eruptions and creation of volcanoes and mountains. As a side note, you might notice that in most of the places these plates meet there are volcanoes, mountains or islands that can stretch out along all the edges of the plates such as the Andes, the Himalayas or the Philippines. This has been created because of the moment of the plates. However, there is not a known pattern followed in the moment of the plates so, other than some myths, there is no way to predict an earthquake.

As you might notice by my profile, I live in Guatemala. Guatemala is located in Central America and right between the Caribbean Plate, North American Plate and the Cocos Plate. This, obviously, increases our chances of being struct by and earthquake. Nonetheless, I do like looking at the positive side of things so: in the positive side, this has caused that we are surrounded by mountains therefore making it almost impossible for a tornado to enter our land. Unfortunately for us, we have been struck by devastating earthquakes through time, possibly the most famous and strong ones in the recent times are: 1918, magnitude of 6.0, 1942, magnitude of 7.9/38 deaths and (probably the most devastating one of all) 1976, magnitude of 7.5 and with many after shocks/23,000 deaths (this earthquake has a whole explanation for the destruction it did and lives it took but, if you like, that could be another blog). If you look at the dates you might notice that there is an interval of around 30 years withing every major earthquake, which could indicated that around this time another big earthquake would strike Guatemala. That combined with the events in the world right now and the constant tremor after tremor (there are about 10 every single day, getting stronger and stronger) we have here in Guatemala has made the awareness to go up and everybody in the country expects an earthquake any time soon. Media and politicians spread the word while schools teach the kids of how to be ready for an earthquake. Making our earthquake IQ to go sky high. So I am going to teach you everything I know about how to react, what to do and what not to do for your survival during an earthquake.

Tectonic Plates
Tectonic Plates
Red spot, marks where an earthquake has taken place. See any similarities?
Red spot, marks where an earthquake has taken place. See any similarities?

Tremor or Earthquake?

The used scale to measure the magnitude of an earthquake is the Richter scale. It goes from 0.0 to 10.0 as it goes up the earthquake is stronger. 0.0, is an inactive state; 2.0, is a micro earthquake you would not feel it; 4.0, some shaking, noises you would notice it; 6.0, strong shaking can be destructive; 8.0, can cause some serious damage and deaths strong shaking that extend hundreds of km across can cause openings in the ground; 10.0, never recorder an earthquake of this magnitude, complete devastation spreads in a very large area. Basically anything from 2.0 to 5.9 is recorder as a tremor and it will unlikely cause some if any destruction. Anything from 6.0 to 10.0 is recorded as an earthquake, causes destruction and devastation.

Currently in Guatemala we are getting 2-3 4.0 to 5.0 tremors a day and some others that are very minor and we might not even feel. Some people say the plates are relieving movement bit by bit and it is preventing an earthquake, some other say it is the coming of a huge destructive earthquake.

Preliminary Precautions

Remember, an earthquake can happen in any time of day, during midnight or midday so you must always be prepared.

  • Know where the people you care are, so during chaos you can got to the as fast as possible to their aid and to maintain organized. Remember that in the moment of chaos (just like you will) everybody will be trying to contact the people they care so expect the telephone lines to be saturated and for your calls to not make it to their destination.
  • Know your surroundings: places you can protect yourself, places to be aware of.
  • Keep in your house, car and workplace a earthquake kit so can id you in any kind of situation. It can contain everything from the basics: flash light, first aid kit (alcohol, bandages, etc.), water, food, ax/hammer; to more complex stuff like: helmets, fire extinguisher, matches/lighter, etc.
  • While you sleep, have some shoes accessible next to your bed. My grandfather had to carry my mother and his 2 brothers through the entrance of their house filled with broken glass barefoot in 1976.
  • If there is any medical emergency have the medicines accessible and ready to take (of you are diabetic, allergic, etc.)
  • Always know your WAYS out. Have the keys to open your front door ready, know your back door and how to get to it and have the keys ready.

What to do:

  • When the earthquake starts do not panic or run. The earthquake lasts only seconds an earthquake that lasts a minute is a very very long earthquake. So protect your self and wait for the earthquake to pass.
  • Go into the TRIANGLE OF LIFE (see picture below) do not go directly under an object IT COULD CRUSH YOU kneel right beside it where you are protected. Cover your neck with your hands and your face with the rest of your arms.
  • Watch out for windows, glass, decorations, lamps, etc. that could fall or break and hurt you.
  • After the earthquake and if you are OK look for a source of light to illuminate your path and look for people that might need help. Of the building you are in looks in bad condition PLAY IT SAFE, escape with enough time. If you are hurt, stay in one safe position and scream for help.
  • Use the stairs.
  • Stay in a safe spot until you are told by authorities that it is safe, remember in many cases there are after shocks and this might be enough to bring down a house or a building.
  • Help anyone in aid specially children.

What not to do:

  • Do not panic and run.
  • Do not do anything stupid that might hurt you or others.
  • Do not try to contact anyone or use any kind of device until you in a safe spot.
  • Do not go under things, TRIANGLE OF LIFE.
  • Do not try to save things during the earthquake or an emergency escape you are risking your life.
  • Do not take the elevator.

Play it safe

There is no way we can know how we are going to act in this kind of situation, or if our instinct will make us risk our life. But by knowing this and taking the right precautions you can avoid a great incident. If you live in an area that can be affected by earthquakes, spread the word. Send them this article or teach them yourselves what you learned from it. The important thing is for everybody to be prepared, you never now when it might happen.


Triangle of Life
Triangle of Life


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    • Elbeto94 profile image

      Elbeto94 6 years ago from Guatemala

      You are right, and that is why we have to be prepared to avoid any accident we could prevent.

    • lasker profile image

      lasker 6 years ago from Dhaka

      I know how crucial it is to face an earthquake and to survive. However, its life and we have to take it.