Earthquakes are intense natural phenomena that occur when rock plates shift deep below the surface of the Earth.  They can cause significant personal and property damage, depending on surface elevation, soil conditions and local geography. They can also trigger associated events such as tsunamis. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which caused over 225,000 casualties according to the US Geological Survey, had resulting waves of up to 30 metres high, the height of a nine-storey building.

Search and Rescue Team Operation 1Over the past 100 years, there have been nine earthquakes in Canada higher than magnitude 7 on the Richter scale according to Natural Resources Canada. The Haida Gwaii earthquake in October 2012 had a magnitude of 7.7 and could be felt across most of Northern BC.

Each year, Canada experiences approximately 5,000 earthquakes. Most of these can be considered small to moderate and last just a few seconds. Canadians living along the coast of British Columbia as well as those living along the St. Lawrence and Ottawa River valleys are most at risk of experiencing an earthquake as they sit in active zones.

Signs of a small to moderate earthquake include:

  • Light movement of ceiling fixtures
  • Loose items on counters may move
  • Individuals outside may feel the ground move slightly

Large earthquakes can last several minutes and can have severe consequences.  Signs of a large earthquake include:

  • Severe shaking
  • Fire alarm activation
  • Individuals living on top floors of the condo or apartment buildings may feel experience swaying on higher levels
  • Power outages
  • Sprinkler system activation
  • Shattered windows

Read more about the ShakeOut Drill on

There are several measures that individuals can take to protect their households and families from the consequences of a large earthquake.  While each situation may be different and it is ultimately your responsibility to determine what is safe, here are some ideas of measures you may wish to undertake:

  • Avoid hanging heavy objects such as mirrors or heavy paintings above beds or sofas
  • Ensure that beds and chairs are not directly positioned under windows
  • Use anti-skid pads under furniture
  • Secure televisions and small appliances
  • Child-proof cupboards
  • Secure loose roof shingles
  • Tightly secure lids of flammable liquids and store them away from heat
  • Ensure that you have a fully stocked emergency kit available at all times
  • Purchase a portable radio with batteries
  • Ensure all family members know how to turn on and off water, electricity and gas. Use colour-coded indicators so the on and off positions can be easily identified.
  • Find and follow regional emergency services twitter accounts

Having adequate emergency supplies available for you and your family will allow for emergency responders to treat the most critical areas first.  Each family should create a supply list to match your specific needs – and here are a few ideas to help guide you:


Water—at least a 3-day supply; 4 litres per person per day
Emergency Plan

Can opener
Aid – First Aid Kit
Money (Cash)
Emergency Flashlight (plus batteries)

Edibles—at least a 3-day supply of non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food
Additional Items
Documents – (identification, medication list, home ownership/rental documentation, birth certificates, insurance policies, Emergency contact numbers)
Your Keys – Extra set of car keys and house keys

Other items

  • Waterproof duffle bag to store emergency supplies
  • Heating Fuel
  • Medications (7-day supply)
  • Swiss Army Knife (or comparable tool)
  • Cell phone with chargers
  • City map
  • Protective shoes, clothes, rain gear, and a hat
  • Supplies for babies and pets
  • Emergency blanket
  • Insect repellent and sunscreen
  • Camera for photos of damage

Individuals can minimize injury and protect themselves from earthquakes using the ‘Drop, Cover, and Hold On’ technique. It is recommended that individuals remain in this position for at least one minute after the earthquake to remain protected from aftershocks. Following are some tips that you may wish to note.


  • Move away from windows and heavy objects
  • Drop to the ground
  • Crawl beneath a heavy piece of furniture
  • Cover your head to protect yourself from falling debris
  • Hold on
  • If furniture is not available, flatten yourself against a wall to avoid being hit by debris – avoid doorways
  • If you are in an elevator attempt to exit at the closest floor
  • If you are in a mall – seek cover in the closest store


  • Move away from buildings
  • Move towards open spaces
  • Move away from fallen power lines

In your car

  • Pull over to the side of the road and keep your seatbelt fastened- avoid bridges, underpasses, and fallen power lines
  • If a power line falls on your vehicle – wait for emergency services – do not exit your vehicle.
  • Stay inside your vehicle and listen to the radio for instructions or messages
  • If you are on a bus – stay seated until the bus has stopped before attempting to take cover
  • Beware of aftershocks. Large earthquakes are often followed by aftershocks with magnitudes comparable to the initial earthquake
  • Check for personal injury and seek treatment before assisting others
  • Locate family members and pets and assess injury – if medical attention is needed call emergency services. Keep phone usage to a minimal. If help is needed place a large help sign in your window
  • Protect yourself with closed-toe shoes, a long sleeve shirt, and work gloves to prevent injury from broken glass and furniture
  • Earthquakes frequently cause small fires – check your home and extinguish immediately
  • Check your home for spilled hazardous materials – clean immediately.
  • Check for other structural damage. If you smell gas do not turn on the lights or light matches and shut down your power. Leave your home immediately. Be sure to take your emergency kit and other supplies and leave a clearly visible note informing people that you are safe and your location
  • Check for updates: radio, television, internet and social networks.
  • If tap water is available – fill as many empty bottles as you have available. Fill up the bathtub for a reserve supply.
  • Once all your household is accounted for – check on your neighbours and find out if they experienced any gas leakages.
  • If you have to evacuate your home and you have a pet – look for a pet-friendly shelter.

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