What to do in an Earthquake

New Zealand is sometimes called the ‘Shaky Islands’ – due to the amount of seismic activity that sometime occurs in both the South Island and North Island.

The Richter Magnification Scale measures the energy level of an earthquake on a 1 to 10 scale. One (1) is Micro; 2-3.9 is Minor; 4-4.9 is Light; 5-5.9 is Moderate; 6-6.9 is Strong; 7-7.9 is Major; 8 to 10 is Great and catastrophic. What is also important factor is the distance from the epicentre from cities and buildings where the quake is felt.

The major Earthquake that hit Christchurch in September 2010 was 7.1 on the Scale and the one that followed in February 2011 was 6.3 – which did more damage due to many of the buildings being weakened in the 2010 Earthquake.

Most tremors are minor – and if you are in bed asleep, you may not even notice that there has been a tremor overnight, and hopefully during your stay in New Zealand you will not be affected by Earthquakes or tremors of any kind.

Nonetheless it is good to know what you need to do if an Earthquake does occur – so here is some information for you.

  • Quakes vary in both their intensity and their duration – from just a few seconds to a few minutes – and there may also be aftershocks (a second quake) that follow after the first one.
  • What happens is the ground is both shaken and moves – so anything that is above the ground is also shaken and moves too – including houses and buildings.
  • The best place to be is away from things that might fall – so ideally you are in open space, BUT if inside a building it is best to hide under a solid table or desk (so that if something falls it hits the desk or table and not you. Aim to protect your head and face – with a pillow, your hands, and stay low to the floor.
  • Stay away from doors and glass windows, and external walls and doorways, and away from heavy items such as furniture and kitchen items that could topple or fall on top of you. Position yourself next to an internal wall (not a doorway, as a door can swing with force back at you, and the framework of the doorway may be light weight, not structurally strong). Do not use an elevator lift, and if you can, turn off gas or electricity – to avoid gas leaks or touching open wires.
  • Don’t panic. Try and think rationally. Quakes usually last only a few seconds or minutes at most, so try not to run and get caught by falling bricks or other things that are moving. If you were trapped – avoid shouting if you can (so you don’t lose strength or inhale dust), and try tapping if you can to create noise to alert rescuers when they come.
  • If driving – stop your car where you can in an open space – away from streets, power lines and buildings that could topple – and stay in the car and protect yourself as best as you can.

Hopefully you will never need to use this advice, but it is worth knowing just in case, in the same way as having some first aid training is worthwhile in situations that arise.

Happy Travelling!

Geoff Stuart

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