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Earthquakes - Emergency Preparedness

In Canada, the coast of British Columbia is the region most at risk from a major earthquake. Other areas prone to earthquakes are the St. Lawrence and Ottawa River valleys, as well as parts of the three northern territories. Approximately 5,000 mostly small earthquakes are recorded in Canada each year.

What is an earthquake and when do they occur?

  • The earth's crust is composed of many large and small segments called tectonic plates. These plates are in constant slow movement. With these movements come small tremors and earthquakes.
  • Shallow crevasses can form during earthquakes due to landslides or other types of ground failures.
  • Buildings do not automatically collapse in earthquakes.
  • Earthquakes cannot be predicted.

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What should I expect during an earthquake?

Small or moderate earthquakes

  • These can last only a few seconds and represent no emergency risk.
  • Ceiling lights may move and some minor rattling of objects may occur in your home.
  • You may feel a slight quiver under your feet if you are outside.
  • If you are close to its source, you may hear a loud bang followed by shaking.

Large earthquakes

  • These can last up to several minutes and constitute a natural disaster if its epicentre is near a densely populated area, or its magnitude sufficiently large for the region.
  • The ground or floor will move, perhaps violently.
  • Whether far away or close to the source, you will probably feel shaking followed by a rolling motion, much like being at sea.
  • If you are far away from the source, you might see swaying buildings or hear a roaring sound.
  • You may feel dizzy and be unable to walk during the earthquake.
  • If you live in a high rise or a multi-storey building, you may experience more sway and less shaking than in a smaller, single-storey building. Lower floors will shake rapidly, much like residential homes. On upper floors, movement will be slower but the building will move farther from side to side.
  • Furnishings and unsecured objects could fall over or slide across the floor.
  • Unsecured light fixtures and ceiling panels may fall.
  • Windows may break.
  • Fire alarms and sprinkler systems may be activated.
  • Lights and power may go off.

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What should I do before an earthquake happens?

  • Go through your home, imagining what could happen to each part of it, if shaken by a violent earthquake. Check off the items that you have completed in this home preparedness checklist External Link.
  • Make sure you, your family, and your colleagues know what to do during and after an earthquake (see information below).

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What should I do during an earthquake?

Wherever you are when an earthquake starts, take cover immediately. Move a few steps to a nearby safe place if need be. Stay there until the shaking stops.

  • If you are indoors: "DROP, COVER, HOLD ON"
    • Stay inside.
    • Drop under heavy furniture such as a table, desk, bed or any solid furniture.
    • Cover your head and torso to prevent being hit by falling objects.
    • Hold onto the object that you are under so that you remain covered.
    • If you can't get under something strong, or if you are in a hallway, flatten yourself or crouch against an interior wall.
    • If you are in a shopping mall, go into the nearest store.
      • Stay away from windows, and shelves with heavy objects.
    • If you are at school, get under a desk or table and hold on. Face away from windows.
    • If you are in a wheelchair, lock the wheels and protect the back of your head and neck.
  • If you are outdoors: Stay outside.
    • Go to an open area away from buildings.
    • If you are in a crowded public place, take cover where you won't be trampled.
  • If you are in a vehicle: Pull over to a safe place where you are not blocking the road. Keep roads clear for rescue and emergency vehicles.
    • Avoid bridges, overpasses, underpasses, buildings, trees or anything that could collapse.
    • Stop the car and stay inside.
    • Listen to your car radio for instructions from emergency officials.
    • Do not attempt to get out of your car if downed power lines are across it. Wait to be rescued.
    • Place a HELP sign in your window if you need assistance.
    • If you are on a bus, stay in your seat until the bus stops. Take cover in a protected place. If you can't take cover, sit in a crouched position and protect your head from falling debris.
  • AVOID the following in an earthquake:
    • Doorways. Doors may slam shut and cause injuries.
    • Windows, bookcases, tall furniture and light fixtures. You could be hurt by shattered glass or heavy objects.
    • Elevators. If you are in an elevator during an earthquake, hit the button for every floor and get out as soon as you can.
    • Downed power lines – stay at least 10 metres away to avoid injury.
    • Coastlines.

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What should I do after an earthquake?

Stay calm. Help others if you are able.

  • Be prepared for aftershocks.
  • Listen to the radio or television for information from authorities. Follow their instructions. Place telephone receivers back in their cradles; only make calls if requiring emergency services.
  • Put on sturdy shoes and protective clothing to help prevent injury from debris, especially broken glass.
  • Check your home for structural damage and other hazards. If you suspect your home is unsafe, evacuate and/or do not re-enter.
  • If you have to leave your home, take your emergency kit and other essential items with you. Post a message in clear view, indicating where you can be found. Do not waste food or water as supplies may be interrupted.
  • If you are at work, school, or another community building, follow the evacuation instructions from building management.
Get more tips about what to do in your home after an earthquake External Link.

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