Get to know your neighbors.
A third of Americans have never interacted with their neighbors, according to a 2015 report released by the Knight Foundation’s City Observatory. That’s not great news in an emergency, says McCoy. You don’t need to exchange holiday gifts or plan vacations with your neighbors, but you should try to learn a few names and be more aware of who you share space with.
“When these things happen, you see neighbors helping neighbors. You see the best in humanity most of the time, and people really turn out and help each other,” says McCoy. “That’s how people successfully make it through a lot of these things.”
Friendly neighbors will be the people you’re able to turn to and share resources with in an emergency. If you have elderly neighbors, they especially may need assistance after an earthquake, whether that means helping make sure they aren’t hurt and are safe from the elements or helping them with medications or contacting family, says McCoy.
Once you’ve connected with your community, there are resources available to help you prepare together. In Seattle, the city’s Seattle Neighbors Actively Prepare (SNAP) program was created to provide tools to help neighborhoods organize to work together in a disaster. There are currently 135 Community Emergency Hubs designated throughout the city where people can gather.
Create a communications plan.
After the initial shock of an earthquake, you’ll want to know that your family is safe. Spending a few minutes now to come up with a plan can save you at least a little panic, says Newcombe.
“Communication and making sure that other people know that you are OK is really, really important,” she says.
Consider setting a designated out-of-state relative or friend who your entire family will contact, says James Lucci, communications supervisor at Airlift Northwest. Local cell networks will be bogged down after an earthquake, and you may not be able to contact your loved ones. You’ll have a better chance at getting a call through to someone out of state, he says. That person can let others in your family know who has contacted them—and can spread the word that you’re OK.
Know where you can get medical care.
After an earthquake, emergency services are going to be extremely busy. Roads may be unpassable or bridges down, and even if an ambulance can make it to you, it likely won’t be immediate, says McCoy. You may need to have an alternate plan for how you’ll get medical assistance if you need it.
If you’re new to the area, familiarize yourself with the hospitals and clinics you can walk to from your home. Fire stations also typically become hubs for medical care after an emergency, so locating the fire stations near you can be helpful, too, he says.
Determine alternate routes and set a meeting point.
Most of us have our typical routes for getting to work or running errands. But earthquake destruction could leave you looking for a new way to get home. Familiarizing yourself with multiple ways home from the places you frequent could help you get home to your loved ones faster, says McCoy.
To that end, having a place where your family can meet if your home becomes damaged can help you make sure everyone is accounted for. This could be a corner down the street, that big rock your family always notices or whatever is memorable, says McCoy.
“Get the kids on board and have everybody understand what the plan is,” says McCoy.
Don’t forget your furry friends.
If you’re a pet owner, it’s important to keep your pet in mind when you’re preparing your emergency kit, says McCoy. That means having extra water stored for your pet and keeping some extra food, waste bags or litter on hand.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has online resources to help pet owners prepare.
Be prepared at work.
Unfortunately, you can’t predict where you will be when an earthquake strikes. And while most people don’t have the space to stockpile food and water at their office, it’s a good idea to keep some items at work, says Newcombe.
This could include extra medication, a sturdy pair of shoes and daily comforts such as a toothbrush and toothpaste, says Newcombe. If you wear contact lenses, consider keeping spare glasses at work. Workplace preparedness should focus on having “small things that will make it more comfortable,” she says.
What to Do After an Earthquake