Earthquake preparedness 101


The powerful 6.5-magnitude earthquake (as well as the countless strong aftershocks) that jolted Leyte recently, causing deaths and untold destruction, had us cringing and shaking in our seats as we watched the earth-shaking news on TV.

Last Friday, we had the first of the four-day earthquake drills that MMDA (Metro Manila Development Agency) was set to hold in Metro Manila as well as in nearby provinces. The down-to-earth truth is, earthquake preparedness should start even before the earth shakes.

The mantra “I am ready” should ring true especially for us Pinoys as our country sits smack on the Pacific Ring of Fire, with a string of volcanoes and earthquake sites lying on the fringes.  Just like Japan, we’re so vulnerable to earthquakes, which frequently visit our country.  The killer quake that struck Leyte last July 6 and the quakes that hit Surigao del Norte and Sur, Sarangani, Lanao del Sur, and Batangas this year only show how earthquake-prone we are, and these earthquakes remain unpredictable despite the mind-blowing advances in modern science and technology. 

The erratic nature of seismic activities underscores the need to be prepared as earthquakes, like a thief in the night, can come without warning.  For increased earthquake preparedness, here are some tips which can help reduce the impacts of earthquakes on our lives, livelihoods, and properties.  These tips were gathered by the EcoWaste Coalition, a group dedicated to protecting the public health and the environment, from informational materials prepared by MMDA, Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS), Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC), and other sources.

Before the earth shakes

Give your home an integrity checkup.  PHIVOLCS, in collaboration with the Association of Structural Engineers of the Philippines and other partners, came up with a 12-point “Self-Check for Earthquake Safety” questionnaire. Your answers to the questions will indicate “whether your house (especially if it is built with concrete hollow blocks) was properly built and followed appropriate construction procedures and recommended measures or if it would require necessary strengthening.”  The questionnaire, plus suggestions for safer homes, can be downloaded here:

Be aware of your place of work, study, and residence.  MMDA and PHIVOLCS suggest that you familiarize yourself with the strong parts of the building where you can take cover during an earthquake, and with the emergency exit routes.  Everyone should know where the fire extinguishers and alarms are located, which should be prominently marked, and learn how to use them in advance. Everyone should be familiar with the emergency or disaster plan at one’s school or workplace.

Prepare your home, school, and workplace.  Here are more tips from MMDA and PHIVOLCS: Strap or bolt heavy furniture, cabinets and shelves to the walls. Check the stability of hanging objects like ceiling fans and chandeliers, and properly store breakable items, harmful chemicals, and flammable materials in the lowermost shelves and secure firmly.  The public is also reminded to turn off cooking gas tanks when not in use.

Put together a disaster emergency kit.  The PNRC Lifeline Kit, for example, is a portable kit or bag that contains the items one would require to survive the first 72 hours when evacuating from a disaster (these are the crucial hours when power lines are down, as well as water, telephone, and mobile lines).  These items could include water (for drinking and cooking, stored in clean airtight containers), ready-to-eat food, important documents and money, flashlights and batteries, portable radio, first-aid necessities, special needs of members of the family, prescription medicines, emergency tools and gear, personal effects and hygiene kits, whistle, etc.  According to the PNRC, the kit should be checked every six months to make sure that the goods close to their expiry dates are changed and that stored water is replaced to maintain its freshness and effectiveness.  For PNRC’s list of suggested items that should be in the Lifeline Kit, go to

Of course, you can always put together your own disaster survival kit — it could be quite a good family activity that would raise everyone’s awareness on the importance of disaster preparedness.

While the earth is shaking

•  When you are inside a structurally sound building, MMDA and PHIVOLCS advise that you stay there, be calm and do the “duck, cover and hold.”  If possible, quickly open the door for exit.  Take shelter under a sturdy table, hold on to it, or protect your head with your arms. Stay away from glass windows, hanging fixtures, cabinets, shelves, and other heavy objects, and watch out for falling and flying things.

If you are outdoors, move to an open area.  Get away from power lines, posts, streetlights, trees, walls, concrete structures, billboards, and other huge objects that may collapse or topple over.  Stay away from buildings with glass panels as the glass may break and shatter.  If you are on a mountain or near a steep hill slope, go to a safer place.

If you’re in a vehicle, pull to the side of the road and stop at a place free from falling objects. Do not attempt to cross bridges and overpasses, which may have been damaged.

If you are along the shore and feel a very strong earthquake, strong enough to make standing difficult, it is always safest to assume that a tsunami (giant sea waves) has been triggered. Run away from the shore towards higher ground.

After an earthquake

If you are inside an old, weak structure, the MMDA and PHIVOLCS advise you take the fastest and safest away out! Do not rush to the exit; get out calmly in an orderly manner.  Do not use elevators, use the stairs. Check yourself and others for injuries. Be prepared for aftershocks.

Help reduce the number of casualties from the earthquake.  Don’t enter partially damaged buildings; strong aftershocks may cause these to collapse. Gather information and disaster prevention instructions from battery-operated radios.  Obey public safety precautions.

 • Check your surroundings. Clean up spilled chemicals and toxic and flammable materials to avoid any chain of unwanted events.  Check for fire and if any, have it controlled.  Watch out for dangling wires and gas leaks.  Check your water and electrical lines for defects.  If any damage is suspected, turn the system off in the main valve or switch.

Unless you need emergency help, do not use your telephone to call relatives and friends. Disaster prevention authorities may need the line for emergency communication.  Do not use your car and drive around areas of damage; rescue and relief operations need the roads for mobility.

If you must evacuate your residence, leave a message saying where you are going. Take with you your earthquake survival kit, which should contain all necessary items for your protection and comfort.

Also, jot down this list of important emergency hotlines —and post it where you can easily find it when you need it:

1) National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council —  911-1406,  912- 2665,  912-5668,  912-0441

2) MMDA — 136

 3) Meralco — Call Center 16211. For SMS messaging: 0920-9292824 (Smart), 0917-5592824 (Globe)

4) PNRC — 143, 790-2300

As the good old, enduring boy scout motto goes: Be prepared. Be safe, everyone!

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