Natural Disaster Survival Series: Earthquakes

Natural Disaster Survival Series: Earthquakes

We never imagine the worst happening to us, especially when on holiday.

However, some destinations are prime locations for natural disasters such as hurricanes, cyclones and earthquakes.

Throughout our Natural Disaster Survival series, we will look at many types of catastrophic events to help keep you in the know.

In this article, we focus on earthquakes – advising on what to do if you get caught in one, how to stay calm and, most importantly, how to get out alive!

Let’s get started.

A Bit of Background

Earthquakes are caused by tectonic plates shifting together and causing strong vibrations.  These vibrations are measured on the Richter scale.  The Richter scale is a scale of numbers ranging from 1-10 and is used to measure the size of the earthquake – the bigger the number, the bigger the earthquake.

Humans notice roughly 100,000 earthquakes globally every year, with there being around 500,000 earthquakes annually that we can’t even feel.   These numbers are staggering and really put into perspective how likely it is that travellers (especially keen ones) could experience one in their lifetimes.   It is estimated that we have on average 18 ‘major’ earthquakes (registering as 7.0-7.9 on the Richter scale) and 1 ‘great’ earthquake (8.0 or more) around the world in any given year.

The largest earthquake ever recorded was witnessed in Valdivia, Chile in 1960.  This earthquake is reported to have been 9.4-9.6 on the Richter scale.   The effects of this earthquake were huge, with multiple tsunamis wreaking havoc on the Chilean coast, as well as affecting Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines, and even reaching as far as New Zealand and Australia.  Some of the largest waves recorded during this event were 82 feet tall. Due to the sheer size of this natural disaster, it is unclear exactly how many fatalities occurred.  It is estimated that there were possibly thousands of deaths related to this catastrophe and millions of dollars’ worth of damage.

So, what do you do if you are stuck in an earthquake?

Whether inside or outside, the following applies to everyone:

  • Drop
  • Cover
  • Hold On


As soon as you feel the ground shaking, drop to the floor.  This helps prevent any injury to you should the earthquake be powerful enough to knock you off your feet.


When on the ground, move under cover.  This can be a doorway or a solid table.  If these are unavailable to you, move away from walls and any fixtures or fittings which may be able to fall onto you.  If outside, find open space away from buildings, power lines and bridges etc which could be damaged and/or collapse.

Hold On

Once you have found a safe spot, hold on.  The more stable you can make yourself, the less likely you are to be thrown around during a powerful earthquake.

If you are caught out in a motor vehicle – stop, park and find open space.  Stop as quickly and as safely as you can and try to remember to put the handbrake on before you exit the vehicle.

Take extra precaution in the middle of the night as there could be damage to roads, buildings and other structures that you cannot see.  If you are in bed, stay in bed as long as nothing around you could fall over and hurt you.  It is likely that the light and power will go out, so we recommend staying still in the dark if possible to prevent any further injury.  If you must move, proceed with caution.

If you have access to a radio or phone, tune in or try and contact local authorities to find out if any warnings have been issued.    If warnings or instructions have been issued, follow them.


If the authorities advise you to evacuate, do so immediately.  Follow the instructions of any police officers or local officials who may be on the ground guiding people to safety or to local evacuation facilities.

What if I become trapped?

If you do become trapped, try and remain as calm as possible.  Panicking will limit your oxygen intake and may cause dizziness or potentially blackouts.   It is also best to stay as still as possible so as not to disrupt dust and debris, limiting your ability to breathe properly.

Use what you can around you to try to make noise and attract help – for example, bang on pipes or doors or blow on a whistle. Shouting should be a final precaution as you want to remain calm and not inhale too much airborne dust.   Any noise will attract helpers to you, so you can be rescued as soon as possible.

What to do when the shaking stops?

If you are indoors and can do so safely, leave the building and get into an open space away from anything that could collapse.  If possible, smell for gas and ensure the mains are turned off.  If you are not able to do this, alert local authorities of any immediate danger.

When moving, take precaution to avoid any unstable structures, damage to roads / pavements and keep alert for anyone that may need help.   If safe for you to do so, help with any local rescue missions or if you find someone who is trapped, send for more help and try to comfort them.  In knowing they are not alone, they are at less risk of suffering a panic attack.

Tsunami Warning

If the authorities issue a tsunami warning, move immediately to higher ground.  Keep alert for information and instructions on what to do and do not return to lower ground until advised that it is safe to do so.  Tsunami waves can last as long as eight hours so be prepared to wait it out somewhere safe.

Final Advice

It’s always good to be as prepared as possible. Here are some early measures you can take to ensure you remain safe during a major event:

  • Know where the first aid box is. Locate this as soon as you arrive so it can be accessed by all family members / travelling companions quickly and efficiently.
  • Know where the gas and electricity mains are. Again, knowing where these are will save time and potentially lives, if they need to be turned off in an emergency.
  • Save local numbers in your phone. This includes fire services, local police and ambulance services.
  • Have an evacuation plan and make sure everyone knows it! Sometimes families and travelling parties can get split up – arrange a place to meet should this happen or ensure you all have charged phones so contact can be established when it is safe to meet up again.
  • Register your trip with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs via the smartraveller website. The government will then know you may be affected by the disaster and provide assistance if required.

Remember, your life is more important than anything else.  Get yourself to safety first and then contact the necessary entities to discuss any potential issues you may have.  This includes airlines, accommodation providers, your travel insurer and family members.



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  1. […] will be an earthquake.  If you feel an earthquake, wait until the shaking stops before moving (click here for Earthquake Survival Tips).  Although not every earthquake causes a tsunami, remember that if […]