Have you ever worried about what to do during an earthquake if you’re in a tall building? There are greater risks and dangers that you may face depending on the floor that you are on. Japan has an average of 2-3 earthquakes per day, but most are not strong enough to be felt on ground floors.
Buildings in Japan are designed to sway in response to ground tremors. This helps to prevent them from collapsing, and keeps them intact. This also means that the higher up you are, the worse an earthquake will actually feel. Here are some tips on what you can do to stay safe during an earthquake if you are in a tall building when one hits.
Avoid Furniture That Could Fall Over
Tall furniture such as bookshelves, cabinets, and mirrors may fall over during strong earthquakes. There is a danger that they could fall directly onto you and cause bodily harm. There is also a risk that they could collapse and block your safest exit.
Try moving away from tall furniture as soon as an earthquake begins. If you get a notification from Japan’s Early Earthquake Warning System, move to a safe area right away, even if you don’t feel any tremors yet.
The system is designed to give you advance notice, but you may only have a few seconds or a minute depending on how far away the epicenter is. Anti-Tip Tension Springs (link to Amazon) can be installed to help prevent large furniture from falling over. They are very inexpensive to get and take just a few minutes to set up.
Stay Away from Glass Windows
Strong earthquakes may cause windows and other easily breakable items to shatter. Do not stand anywhere near these if possible. Face away from glass to protect your eyes in case it shatters. Many tall buildings in Japan have glass doors and windows at the entrance.
Avoid exiting the building from these areas, and take the emergency exit instead. Do not attempt to catch or save glass items during an earthquake. Also, avoid attempting to pick up broken pieces by hand after an earthquake ends. Instead, use a broom to sweep up the larger fragments, and a vacuum cleaner for the smaller ones.
Don’t Stand near Any Cabinets
Many homes and offices are built with tall cabinet spaces in order to save room and increase the amount of storage. Cabinets can be particularly dangerous if they are used to store heavy items that could fall out during an earthquake.
This could lead to an injury or prevent you from getting to an exit if the items were to block your path. As a precaution, check your cabinets and move any heavy or breakable items to lower shelves.
Also, try not to store items in high cabinets near the exit, or secure the cabinet doors so there is less of a chance for them to swing open during an earthquake.
Avoid Small or Tight Spaces Where You Can Become Trapped
It may be possible to become trapped in narrow spaces because of objects that fall and block the exit, or from doors that won’t open due to warped frames. As buildings shake from earthquake tremors, the door frames also move and twist.
You might not be able to open a door if it bends too much and becomes stuck. Try to stay out of restrooms and narrow hallways with only one exit. There is also a danger when leaving a door open, because it may swing back and forth and injure someone.
Check the door frames in the room to determine if they’re made from wood or metal. If you notice that the frame is constructed from wood, try to secure the door open during an earthquake or leave that space if possible.
Learn more about The Safest Place in an Apartment During an Earthquake.
Don’t Take the Elevator
Elevators may stop working or become unsafe to use during and immediately after an earthquake. Do not attempt to use an elevator even if it appears to be working. Locate the nearest stairwell, and make your way down to the emergency exit.
Elevators in Japan are inspected quite regularly, but they shouldn’t be used if a major earthquake has recently occurred, and an inspection has yet to be concluded. If you are already in an elevator when an earthquake occurs, get off at the next available floor, and use the stairs to get to an exit.
There is a chance that the power in the elevator will be cut and/or the emergency brakes will activate. Each elevator has an emergency call button that you can use to contact help. Someone may not answer immediately, so try to remain calm until they are able to respond.
It is unlikely that the elevator car will fall, but it is possible that you can get stuck for a long time until a technician or emergency workers are able to come and get you out.
Crawl If the Shaking Is Too Strong to Walk
As mentioned before, the taller a building is, the more it will sway during strong earthquake tremors. Walking and standing can become difficult or impossible depending on the intensity of the quake.
Try your best to crawl to a safe spot and wait until the tremors have stopped or significantly weakened before attempting to stand. Cover your head and neck with one arm while using the other to help crawl under a sturdy desk or table.
Do not attempt to crawl outside the building, because a quake that is strong enough to prevent you from walking is also strong enough to cause a significant amount of debris to fall from it.
Protect Your Head as Much as Possible
Tall buildings can continue swaying for several minutes following an earthquake. In the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, Shinjuku Center Building continued to swing back and forth for 13 minutes after it had ended. Wait until an earthquake has stopped for certain before attempting to leave the building.
Debris could continue to fall for quite some time, and aftershocks are likely to occur. You can protect your vital organs by crouching down on your knees, and keeping your head down during the quake. Use a pillow or cushion in addition to your arms to cover your head if there is one within reach.
It is a good idea to invest in a safety helmet if you live or work in a tall building. You should keep it in or near your emergency grab bag so you can quickly get both while exiting the building.
The chance of parts of the exterior of the building collapsing is much greater than the interior. So, prioritize taking cover in safe spots that meet the conditions mentioned above.
Check out the Japan Meteorological Agency for the latest earthquake warnings and information.
For California residents we suggest checking out this Household Earthquake Safety Guide.