Should You Go Into the Basement in an Earthquake?

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Building facades can rain down debris during an earthquake.

The Central United States Earthquake Consortium warns that there's a 25- to 40-percent chance of an earthquake during any 50-year period. While a powerful earthquake could be catastrophic, it's important to note that it's falling debris, and not the ground's movement, that causes most injuries and deaths. Knowing what to do in an earthquake greatly increases your chances of emerging safely.

General Considerations

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, most earthquake injuries occur "when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave." Thus, if you're inside your basement when an earthquake hits, by all means, stay there. However, if you're on an upper level, don't try to move to the basement. In fact, FEMA recommends not moving more than a few steps to safety, if possible.

Take Cover Indoors

As soon you suspect an earthquake is in progress, drop to the floor and protect your head with your arms. Move away from outer walls, glass, light fixtures and furniture that might tip, such as a hutch or wall unit. Inside walls are safer, notes the Centers for Disease Control, as they're the least likely to collapse and can protect you against falling objects. The CDC recommends that you stay in an inside corner or doorway if you're not able to find cover. However, if there's a heavy table nearby, get underneath it and hold on tightly. If the table moves, try to move with it. Should you be in a public building during an earthquake, move away from outside walls, glass and fixtures that could fall on you, and take cover. Stay away from the doorways, as a crowd could trap you in a dangerous space near an exterior wall or doorway.

Stay Safe Outside

Stay out in the open if you're outdoors when an earthquake strikes, away from anything that could fall on you, such as buildings, power lines, trees and utility poles. Once you're outside, do not go in, as it's very dangerous to be near exterior walls and doorways. When driving during an earthquake, pull out of traffic and stop your car in the first safe place away from bridges, overpasses, poles and other hazards. Be aware of the dangers of post-earthquake events, including landslides in mountainous areas and tsunamis in coastal areas.

Preparing for an Earthquake

Advance planning can keep you safer when a quake hits. FEMA recommends checking your home for shelves that need fastening to walls. It's also wise to rearrange your shelves and cabinets to store heavy and breakable items near the bottom. Consider moving heavy decorations such as mirrors and art away from beds and places where people sit. Lock flammable chemicals in secure cabinets, preferably in a shed rather than inside your home. Make a note of the safest places in each room of your home and hold practice drills with your family so that moving to these spaces quickly becomes second nature.


Daria Kelly Uhlig

Daria Kelly Uhlig began writing professionally for websites in 2008. She is a licensed real-estate agent who specializes in resort real estate rentals in Ocean City, Md. Her real estate, business and finance articles have appeared on a number of sites, including Motley Fool, The Nest and more. Uhlig holds an associate degree in communications from Centenary College.