If you live in an apartment in an earthquake-prone area, it is a good precaution to learn where the safest spot is when a major earthquake hits. You should examine your home beforehand so you are aware of what dangers are presented in each room, and so you can react more quickly when the time comes.
According to research, the safest place to be in an apartment during an earthquake is under something sturdy, such as a table, that can protect you from falling objects and debris.
Try to cover your face, head, and neck using one hand and use the other one to hold onto your shelter firmly. If the table or the desk has legs, hold on to them and don’t let go even if the table moves around. (Source)
Not all rooms in your home may have such a piece of furniture, so we’ll provide some basic guidelines to help you determine the best and worst places to seek shelter depending on the room you’re in when an earthquake begins.
Stay Inside Your Apartment
As scary as it may seem, try to stay inside of your home during the earthquake where it’s safer. Modern apartments are designed to withstand earthquakes, and the chances of them collapsing are very small.
The earthquake that struck Japan in 2011 was a 9.1 magnitude earthquake, and the strongest recorded in the country’s history. Of the 13,135 known casualties, over 90% of them were a result of drowning from the tsunami, and around 4% were caused by injuries from being crushed. (Source)
As we mentioned before, the safest spot is under something sturdy, because you’re more likely to be injured or killed by debris. Parts of the exterior of the apartment, such as the walls and the roof, could collapse onto you if you were to run outside during the earthquake.
Stay in Your Bed If You’re Already There
If you wake up to an earthquake in the middle of the night, stay in your bed as long as you’re not in any danger of tall furniture falling on you such as bookcases. Use your pillow to protect your face and neck until the shaking stops. If there is a window or any glass nearby, cover your body with a blanket to help keep it safe.
See also our article: What To Do During An Earthquake In A Tall Building
Places to Avoid
Now that you know where you should stay in your apartment, we’ll explain some of the places you should avoid and why.
Dangerous Spots in an Apartment
- Near windows
- Near tall furniture (shelves, bookcases, etc.)
- Near cabinets
- Inside doorways
- Narrow spaces (closets, bathrooms, etc.)
Windows and Other Glass
Windows and other forms of glass are very likely to shatter during an earthquake. Your first priority should be to get away from any windows in your apartment as quickly as possible. If you take shelter under furniture that is near a window, try to face away from it in case it breaks.
Make sure to keep your eyes closed as you take cover, to prevent any broken glass from entering them. After the earthquake ends, be careful not to step on any shards of glass that may be on the floor.
Many injuries during an earthquake are a result of furniture collapsing on victims. If you cannot get under a sturdy piece of furniture, avoid any open spaces where bookshelves, TV stands, mirrors, etc. could fall on you. As a precautionary measure, you should consider rearranging any rooms that may have multiple pieces of tall furniture in them so you can create a safer space if they were to collapse.
The kitchen is one of the most dangerous places to be, because dishes, pots, and pans can fall from the shelves and cabinets. If you are in the kitchen when an earthquake begins, get under your kitchen table. If you don’t have a table, then try to crawl out of the kitchen as quickly as possible.
Also, get away from the stove if you are cooking. Anything on the stove could fall over and burn you. Most stoves in Japan are designed to automatically turn off during an earthquake, so do not go near it in an attempt to shut it down. Don’t panic if hot food starts to spill across the floor. Continue to crawl away to a safer location where it can’t reach you.
Many people believe that doorways are a safe place to stand during an earthquake, but this is simply not true. The door could swing and injure you if you are near it and it is left open. Many door frames are constructed from wood, and these have a tendency to become stuck due to damage from the shaking.
As a precaution, take note of which doors in your apartment have a wooden frame versus a metal frame. You shouldn’t stand in the doorway regardless of the material, but knowing what it is made from can give you a better idea of if you’re likely to be trapped in that area if the door is closed or not.
Bathrooms and Closets
Bathrooms and closets pose the risk of entrapping you if the door frame becomes damaged, and there’s no other way out. If you become trapped, try to help rescuers located you by banging on the wall or pipe. Use a whistle if you have one, but only use shouting as a last resort.
Additionally, bathrooms and closets usually have shelves with items that could easily fall on your head, while leaving you with very little space to couch and try to protect yourself. You should crawl to the nearest safe location to avoid these dangers.
How You Can Prepare Your Apartment for an Earthquake
There are some easy ways that you can make your apartment significantly safer with little investment. Here are some suggestions to changes you could quickly implement:
- Move heavy objects to low shelves so they won’t fall over.
- Secure tall furniture by using Anti-tip Tension Springs.
- Use anti-slip mats to prevent items on shelves and in cabinets from slipping out.
- Practice Drop, Cover, and Hold until it becomes natural.
- Create a family emergency plan and meeting place.
- Buy or prepare an Emergency Survival Kit.
- Make sure your insurance covers earthquakes.
If you haven’t already acquired an Emergency Survival Kit, it is imperative that you do so. Please read our article Emergency Survival Kit List for Residents of Japan to learn more about where you can buy one, or how to make your own.