The right behavior during earthquakes – Our shock moment in Ecuador

It’s 05/26/2019 just before 3:00 AM in Riobamba Ecuador. We wake up in our hotel from the bed shaking. Our things on the nightstands rattle quietly, otherwise it is silent. After a few seconds the dogs outside start barking. The vibrations go through our spines. Briefly, we both lie in bed, trying to realize what just happened.

It’s an earthquake.

It’s the first earthquake we’ve experienced in our lives “Ithink we need to get out” I declare uncertainly. We grab the next best clothes and head out into the hallway. All the while, the earth is already coming to a halt again. The epicenter was 590 kilometers away from us in northern Peru, where we plan to travel in two weeks. The magnitude was an 8.0.With a quake like that, the earth shakes too much to stay on its feet. We were lucky and only got the foothills. Our behavior in this situation was far from optimal.

In the corridor, the other guests of the hotel are already standing. We are all a little perplexed as to what to do now that the quake is over. The gentleman from the room next door is from the region and has earthquake experience. We are told to leave our clothes on and put our shoes next to the bed. If another earthquake comes, we’ll get out faster. Still slightly in shock, we go back to bed. Sleeping is out of the question. Instead, we research what to do in case of an event.

You can also find a detailed report on earthquake preparedness and response on the German Geo Research Center page. However, below we have summarized for you everything that can be helpful when traveling.

Prepare properly for earthquakes

A new country a new city and a new accommodation: these are all factors that in case of crisis lead to a lot of uncertainty and cost time. Therefore, you should not get the idea to look around and search for your things only during an earthquake.

  • Know your escape routes and surroundings:During an earthquake, contrary to popular opinion, you should not leave the building. The risk of falling or being hit by falling objects is too great. However, after an earthquake, you shouldn’t have to wander around a damaged building forever because you can’t find the exit. Therefore, see where the escape routes are. This is also very useful in case of fire.
  • Know the premises:To save time during an earthquake, you should scout out safer places in advance. The best place during an earthquake is a door frame, under a sturdy bed or desk. If all that is not available, you can also lie down next to a load-bearing interior wall. Exterior walls are not recommended. You can recognize load-bearing interior walls by the fact that they are thicker than other interior walls and are present on all floors. Be sure to avoid close proximity to anything that can fall or topple over, such as pictures, mirrors, display cases and cabinets.
  • Agreed meeting places with your travel companions: After an earthquake, it can be chaotic. Therefore, always arrange a meeting point in case your group is separated in a safe place – so outside the potential disaster area.
  • Pack an emergency bag: In an emergency bag include a flashlight, first aid kit, water, durable food, weather protection depending on the area (eg rain poncho or sweater), a map of the area, possibly shoes. Also a power bank and cell phone can be helpful.
  • Sleep dressed and put more clothes and shoes handy: After an earthquake, you should be able to quickly leave the building. During or after a quake still looking for the clothes, costs valuable time and can be dangerous. Besides, you certainly want to spare yourself the embarrassment of standing naked on the open street. Shoes are important so you can get out of debris with broken glass without injury. A rain jacket or sweater will keep you warm if you can’t get back into the building.

What to do during an earthquake

Depending on where you are at the start of an earthquake, there are several options for what to do properly. No matter where you are, find a safe position, sit or lie down to avoid falling over, and protect your head with your arms – Unless you’re by the ocean, in which case, run!

  • In the house: Go quickly to your safe place and stay there!  Stay under furniture even if it moves until the earthquake is over. Be careful not to get hit by falling objects. Stay away from all things that can hit you and do not run around in a panic. Avoid all places where you could fall, such as windows, stairs or balconies. Hold on to solid structures or your furniture.
  • In the car: Drive to the right and stop. Note, however, that you come to a halt in a place where you can not fall from adjacent houses, trees, lanterns and power cables dinge on the car. If possible, do not stop on bridges, in tunnels or under or below underpasses, as these can collapse. Also, keep intersections clear. Stay in your car and wait for the quake to pass. Turn on your radio and hazard lights!
  • Outdoors: Gain distance from anything that could fall on you; trees, power lines, lanterns, houses, slopes from which rocks could come loose, and stay away from places you could fall or that could collapse, such as bridges. You should avoid narrow alleys during and after a quake.
  • At the sea: If you are at the sea then nothing like away. Cliffs can break off. However, the greatest danger is on shallow stretches of coastline in the form of tsunamis. Tsunamis can be time-delayed even hours after an earthquake, even after only mild earthquakes, because the epicenter may be some distance away and several waves may arrive with a time delay. The waves can build up to a height of more than 100m, especially in fjords. Therefore, run as fast as possible inland to the top.  Even if the earthquake is already over, you should stay in a higher area until an official tsunami all-clear has been given. By the way, tsunamis can occur even if you have not felt an earthquake. If the water unexpectedly retreats into the sea, then nothing like away.

What to do after an earthquake

You’ve survived an earthquake. Now take a deep breath and look at the situation around you

  • Get an overview: How much is broken, how much is chaos?
  • Leave the house: Depending on how strong the earthquake was, you should first of all leave the house. Don’t forget your emergency bag. When you leave the house, look to see if any power poles may have fallen and wires are exposed. Also look up to see if there are any roof tiles or the like still hanging loose to avoid being hit.  Assume that aftershocks can begin at any time, which can bring damaged houses to collapse.
  • Disaster Control: In the meantime, the disaster control will be active in the event of a strong earthquake. Follow the instructions.
  • First aid: Provide first aid to others affected and try to assist them. Do not move seriously injured unless absolutely necessary but try to alert a doctor.
  • Do not enter damaged buildings: Do not enter damaged buildings or piles of rubble under any circumstances. There is a risk that they will collapse. Only when the authorities release a building again, it is safe to return. (Evtl but it makes sense to stay on site to keep off looters and easier to be found by friends, depending on prior arrangements.)
  • Watch out for fire: After earthquakes are often damaged power and gas lines or flammable liquids run out. Therefore, fires often cause more damage than the earthquakes themselves. Keep an eye on the wind and watch for the smell of smoke.
  • Keep the phone network free: Ever whether phone, SMS or Internet, in a disaster all networks are overloaded. Use it therefore only for the most necessary and only as short as absolutely necessary.
  • Park car / keep road clear: Drive the car only if it is absolutely necessary. The roads are probably blocked with debris, clogged with cars that want to leave the area and actually they are needed for clearance and therefore closed by the police. Therefore, also make sure that your car does not block the way for the rescue workers. If necessary, leave the key in it (though then it’s pretty much gone by the time you get back. Better leave off the road)
  • away from bridges and tunnels: Do not drive in any case bridges, underpasses or ramps, because they can collapse.
  • Away from the coast: Avoid beaches and coasts. There is still a risk of tsunamis long after the earthquake. Wait for the official all-clear.
  • Build groups / gather information: Try to join forces with other tourists and collect names, birth dates, place of origin / residence and the data of relatives. Give this information if possible to a (EU) embassy.
  • Drinking water: If the drinking water supply is flat, you can often still find usable water in cisterns or water tubs. To be on the safe side, boil drinking water or rely on a water filtration system such as the Lifestraw
  • Hygiene:If your worst-case scenario is ending up in a reception camp, pay close attention to hygiene. Fecal matter should be buried.

Apps for earthquake warning

Time is an important factor in earthquakes. Especially at night, it can take a short time to realize what is happening. But unfortunately, the bed is not the safest place during an earthquake. Therefore, apps can help, which wake you up with an alarm in case of an earthquake. Thus, you know immediately what is going on and canas quickly as possible in safety bringen.

However, this idea is unfortunately not very realistic. All apps in our test hadat least half an hour delay from the beginning of the earthquake to the notification. Therefore, they serve more to inform where and how strong the quake was than to warn.

  • EarthQuake (Android): The app is available for a fee in the Appstore for Android (5,99€). After our scare at night, I bought this paid app to be on the safe side. It has an alarm function. The app has a seismograph on board that can potentially help detect aftershocks early. In our involuntary test, it performed only moderately.
  • Earthquake (Apple): For the IPhone there is the app of the same name for 3.99€. This also has an alarm function. It not only collects data from 30 reporting agencies, but also registers which users in the vicinity of an event opened the app in the immediate period and calculates from this where the earthquake was felt. The app sounds the alarm as soon as the first reporting station registers the quake. Until now, it was always the first app to send out a message. However, the delay was also here about 25 minutes.
  • Disaster Alert: The Pacific Disaster Center’s app issues warnings for a range of disasters, including tsunamis, hurricanes and floods in addition to earthquakes. The app is available for free for Android and Apple. However, the current user interface is clunky and unwieldy, which is why it tends to get poor reviews in the app stores. However, it is one of the apps that we trust to notify us in time in case of a disaster – if you find the right settings for it. In the case of earthquakes, however, we usually did not receive any warning at all. Once, however, we got a tsunami warning at night, which would probably still have been in time – only that we had set it wrong and the tsunami was on the other side of the world.
  • Volcanoes & Earthquakes: This app is available for free in the Appstore. It is more for education on geological phenomena than for early warning. However, anyone who feels an earthquake can send a report. This gives a good overview of where and how strong the quake was. In addition, it has good notification features with numerous options to set filters and also choose your own sounds. In the Pro version for 5,99€ you can also create filters for certain volcanic activities. It is actually not intended as an early warning system but rather for hobby geologists. Among the Android apps in the test, however, it surprisingly performed best. So we were only afterwards (about 30 min later), but then very reliable about all earthquakes we had felt notified .
  • Earthquake Alert: This app is available for Android. However, the name is misleading. It is not an early warning system. This makes it either the worst or also the most honest app in the test. One problem with the app is definitely that the distance filter goes by epicenter. So if you select to only be notified about earthquakes within a 200km radius, then you wouldn’t be notified about an earthquake like tonight, 590km away, even if it is still clearly felt at a magnitude of 8.0 even at that distance. It is quite possible that the other apps are also affected by this problem, but here it is particularly noticeable.
  • Safe travel: In the app of the Foreign Office you can find information about the country of travel and can report an emergency or let it be known that you yourself are okay. So you save the Foreign Office the search in case of doubt. In addition, after a disaster, you can usually find local contacts in the app or information on where you can get more information. However, the app is not suitable as an early warning app.

You know other good apps for the crisis or have experience with one of these apps in an earthquake? Then feel free to drop us a comment or email !

Conclusion correct behavior during earthquakes

You are not as helpless in the face of earthquakes as Europeans commonly think. The right preparation and the right behavior in an emergency contribute a lot to survive an earthquake unscathed.For many residents in earthquake-prone areas, especially around the Pacific, they are a normal part of life, just like the active volcano on the outskirts of town. The most important thing is to keep a clear head and listen to common sense and the crisis-tested people of the region. The typical mistakes we also committed are not expecting an earthquake, not preparing and walking around during the earthquake.

We were lucky that day. We were far enough away from the epicenter to be spared any damage. Therefore, it was back to bed for us and we tried to sleep. The next morning at breakfast, the people from the region could not really understand our excitement. That it was our first earthquake surprised everyone.In some parts of the world earthquakes are just part of life. Not every earthquake ends in a catastrophe. Sometimes the ground just shakes a little bit.

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