Curbed LA

How to prepare for LA’s next big earthquake

Assembling an earthquake kit is just the first step If an earthquake of the same severity as the Northridge Earthquake, which devastated Los Angeles 26 years ago, struck today, how many Angelenos would be better prepared than they were in …

Assembling an earthquake kit is just the first step

If an earthquake of the same severity as the Northridge Earthquake, which devastated Los Angeles 26 years ago, struck today, how many Angelenos would be better prepared than they were in 1994? If you're one of the many who haven’t given much thought to preparing for disaster, there’s no time like the present to start. Getting prepared is more than just putting an earthquake kit together (though that’s definitely a must-do). Here are seven things you can do to be better prepared for the inevitable.

Assemble an earthquake kit

  • Why is an earthquake kit important? Because in the aftermath of a major earthquake, clean water, food, needed medicines, and other necessities will probably be hard to find. Also, unless your home is severely damaged or the area is unsafe (perhaps because of a post-quake fire), it’s the best and safest place to be.
  • Starting a kit from scratch can seem costly and daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. The Red Cross has a calendar that breaks down a voluminous emergency kit into manageable pieces. Every week, add a small and relatively inexpensive batch of items to the pile—a gallon of water here, a can opener there—and after 21 weeks, you have a solid supply for a quake.
  • Most recommendations say your kit should hold enough supplies for, at a minimum, three days and as many as two weeks. That includes food and water—a gallon per person per day—for that much time. It’s worth noting that the city’s emergency manager prepares for significantly more than that.
When an earthquake hits, do take cover under a heavy piece of furniture. Do not get under a doorway.

Know what to do immediately when an earthquake hits

  • Drop, cover, hold on! These three simple actions—dropping to your hands and knees, covering your head and neck, and holding on to something—are designed to minimize injury and harm. It’s short, sweet, and easy to remember, but experts recommend practicing so you don’t panic and forget what to do during an actual emergency.
  • If you don’t have a huge table or sturdy piece of furniture to get under, you should still drop and cover. Crouch up against an interior wall that’s away from windows, get on your knees, and cover your head and neck.
  •, an alliance based at the University of Southern California’s Southern California Earthquake Center, has a great list of scenarios Angelenos might find themselves in during an earthquake where it might not be easy to stop everything and get under a table—if you’re driving a car, holding a baby, or physically unable to get on the floor—and how to best protect yourself in each one. For instance, if driving, you should pull over to the side of the road, stop your car, and put on the parking brake until the shaking stops.
  • What if you’re riding the subway during an earthquake? Depending on the intensity of the shaking, you might not even know there was an earthquake (but your subway driver will). If you do feel something, don’t fret: Subway tunnels are generally pretty safe places to be in an earthquake—at least, in comparison to surface structures.
  • What should you not do during an earthquake? It’s hard to say “never” do something, but the general consensus is that running outside while the earth is shaking is not a good idea, as falling objects pose a major danger.
  • Along the same lines, getting in a doorway isn’t recommended anymore. Doorways in contemporary homes aren’t built any stronger than other parts of the residence, and it’s likely that the door could hit and hurt you during all that rocking. You’re most likely safer under a table.

Download LA’s early warning app

  • Earlier this month, Los Angeles became the first city in the country to have an earthquake early-warning app. ShakeAlertLA will send a warning to LA County residents who have the app when an earthquake of magnitude 5.0 or higher is expected. Depending on the epicenter of the quake, Angelenos could have between a few seconds or a whole minute’s warning before the shaking starts. That might not seem like much, but getting even just a few seconds’ warning that shaking will begin can give you a chance to drop, cover, and hold on.
  • The heads-up that an early-warning app provides is incredible, but the alert is not much help if you don’t know what to do once the alarm sounds. Remember that downloading an app “doesn’t take the place of taking other important steps to prepare for an earthquake,” such as having a family disaster plan or securing your space, says Ryan Arba, chief of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services’ Seismic Hazards branch.

Learn about your home’s hazards

The city of Los Angeles is requiring owners to retrofit the types of apartments that crumbled in 1994. Plug your address into the building and safety department’s website to see if your building needs to be shored up.
  • The city’s in the process of overseeing retrofits on some of the more dangerous types of buildings to be in during an earthquake—”soft-story buildings” like dingbat apartments and a certain type of concrete buildings. You can pop your address into the department of building and safety’s website to get information on whether your building needs these upgrades. If your building does need retrofits, talk to your neighbors and landlord to find out when they’re being done.
  • If your building does need retrofits, talk to your neighbors and landlord to find out when they’re being done.
  • Whether you live in an apartment building or a single-family home, there are a whole slew of potential hazards that your home could hold, from unreinforced brickwork to a less-than-sturdy foundation. Knowledge is power, and once you identify the hazard, there are steps you can take to mitigate it.
  • Buy earthquake insurance. Earthquake insurance is available to homeowners, owners of condos and mobile homes, and renters (through an addition to renter’s insurance), but it’s estimated that only about 15 percent of homeowning Angelenos have it—and the number for renters is believed to be much lower.
  • Depending on your coverage, earthquake insurance can help pay for a place to stay if your home is uninhabitable and pay to make repairs or replace damaged items. Not having that money to fall back on “is what’s going to cause long-term devastation in the aftermath of a [major] earthquake,” says Jason Ballman, a spokesperson for the Southern California Earthquake Center.

Be prepared for cell phone service to go out

  • Cell service will almost definitely be overwhelmed by calls in the immediate aftermath of an earthquake. If you need to get in touch with people, you should text, which requires less bandwidth than a call to go through, but even then, it might take a while.
  • Your family disaster plan should include a spot to meet up with your family if you are apart when disaster strikes. This way, regardless of whether there’s cell service, you have a way to get in touch and make sure you are all okay.

Take a class

  • After a major earthquake, first responders will be swamped with calls and will need to address the most pressing needs first, putting out major fires or pulling people from collapsed buildings. This means that Angelenos will need to rely on themselves and each other for immediate help. To help prepare people to do this, the LA Fire Department offers Community Emergency Response Training.
  • A CERT class, which trains regular people to respond to a number of different types of disaster, runs through many of the items on government preparation lists in the form of a seven-week session, with once-a-week classes on everything from basic first-aid to doing emergency triage. The classes are free and they’re available regularly, across the city.
  • CERT classes are largely available in English, but there are classes from time to time in the many other languages spoken in LA. Right now there’s an ongoing class in Korean in Koreatown. Want to take a CERT class in Spanish? You can go onto the city’s CERT website and request one. (There is a minimum of 25 attendees required.) The CERT website also has earthquake prep materials in over a dozen languages.
  • Keep in mind that low-income and immigrant communities are often the hardest hit by disasters. This will be especially true in an earthquake, says Barrios, because many of these communities reside in neighborhoods with older, vulnerable housing stock.

Talk with your neighbors

  • It’s great to prepare yourself and your household for an earthquake, but chances are, your home exists on a block with other people, and after a major quake, you all might have to rely on each other for things. Community response is “really crucial” in those instances, says Ballman. Reach out to your children's schools, your place of worship, and see how you can collaborate on preparedness.
  • Make sure you know who in your building or on your block might have limited mobility and need extra help post-quake—seniors, people in wheelchairs or with limited mobility, people will small children—so you can check in on them.
  • Why involve your neighbors in your planning at all? Because rebuilding after a devastating earthquake will extend beyond the walls of your personal residence. “You will almost certainly live through the disaster. It is the community, society itself, that is at risk.” seismologist Lucy Jones writes in The Big Ones: How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us (and What We Can Do About Them). Recovering from a serious earthquake will take time, and will be challenging. Under those circumstances, “a community whose people know and care about one another is the one that will pull through.”