Earthquake Safety

Trinidad and Tobago, and the surrounding region is a very seismically active area. Across the Eastern Caribbean, over 2,200 earthquakes are recorded annually. Since 1990, the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre records an annual average of 280 earthquakes in the Trinidad and Tobago region (area bounded by 9.5°- 11.5°N & 59.5°W – 63.5°W). Of these 280 quakes, 50 of these seismic events are on average, above magnitude 3.5. Hence, it is imperative to know what to do before, during and after an earthquake.

Before an Earthquake

Earthquakes occur without warning and can be disastrous when combined with other hazards. Hence, it is important to be amply prepared before one strike.

  • Assemble and maintain an emergency preparedness kit. Ensure that all family members know where it is stored. The goal of the emergency preparedness kit is to hold supplies that would sustain your family for at least 3 days without the need of external assistant following an earthquake or any other disaster. List addresses, telephone numbers, and evacuation sites for all places frequented by family members (e.g., home, workplaces, schools). Include the phone number of an out-of-state contact. Ensure that family members carry a copy of this list and include copies in your emergency supply kits. (FEMA)
  • Practice “drop, cover and hold”. In each room of your home, identify the safest places to “drop, cover, and hold on” during an earthquake. Practice going to these safe spots during family drills to ensure that everyone learns where they are. (FEMA)
  • Create a household evacuation plan that includes your pets.
  • Staying informed about your community’s risk and response plans.
  • Consider obtaining an earthquake insurance policy. Standard homeowner’s insurance does not cover earthquake damage. (Ready.gov)
  • Consider a retrofit of your building to correct structural issues that make it vulnerable to collapse during an earthquake. Consider obtaining an earthquake insurance policy. Standard homeowner’s insurance does not cover earthquake damage. (Ready.gov)
  • Prepare the interior of your home and businesses. Any unsecured objects that can move, break, or fall as an earthquake shakes your home are potential safety hazards and potential property losses. Walk through each room of your home and make note of these items, paying particular attention to tall, heavy, or expensive objects such as bookcases, home electronics, appliances (including water heaters), and items hanging from walls or ceilings. Secure these items with flexible fasteners, such as nylon straps, or with closed hooks, or by relocating them away from beds and seating, to lower shelves, or to cabinets with latched doors. (FEMA)

During an Earthquake

An earthquake will occur without any warning. Once in a safe location, drop, over and hold on!

  • Drop. Cover. Hold. Get under a study desk or table. Stay away from glass, mirrors, windows, picture frames and objects that may shatter.
  • If no shelter is available, seek cover against an interior wall and protect your head and neck with your arms. Stay clear of windows, mirrors, glass objects and heavy objects. If you are in the kitchen, GET OUT. Several items may fall on you.
  • Move as little as possible – most injuries during earthquakes occur because of people moving around, falling and suffering sprains, fractures and head injuries. Try to protect your head and torso.
  • If in bed, stay there and cover your head and neck with a pillow.
  • If inside, stay there until the shaking stops. DO NOT run outside.
  • If you are in a high-rise building, expect fire alarms and sprinklers to go off. Do not run out of the building or down stairs while shaking is occurring. There is a real hazard of falling plaster, ceiling tiles, bricks, stacked objects, lighting fixtures and other objects.
  • Stay indoors until the shaking stops and you are sure it is safe to exit. If you must leave a building after the shaking stops, use stairs rather than an elevator in case of aftershocks, power outages or other damage.
  • Be aware that smoke alarms and sprinkler systems frequently go off in buildings during an earthquake, even if there is no fire.
  • If you smell gas, get out of the building and move as far away as possible.
  • Before you leave any building, check to make sure that there is no debris in your evacuation path from the building that could fall on you.

Staying Safe Outdoors

  • If outside there are no obvious signs of danger nearby, stay there and stay away from glass buildings, electricity poles, and heavy equipment.
  • Try to get as far away from buildings, power lines, trees, and streetlights as possible.
  • If you’re in a vehicle, pull over to a clear location and stop. Avoid bridges, overpasses and power lines if possible. Stay inside with your seatbelt fastened until the shaking stops.
  • After the shaking has stopped, drive on carefully, avoiding bridges and ramps that may have been damaged.
  • If a power line falls on your vehicle, do not get out. Wait for assistance.
  • If you are in a mountainous area or near unstable slopes or cliffs, be alert for falling rocks and other debris as well as landslides. (Red Cross)

After an Earthquake

Secure Personnel & Property

  • When the shaking stops, if people around you are injured, practice Check. Call. Care. Check yourself for injuries and get first aid, if necessary, before helping injured or trapped persons. Check the scene to ensure it is safe for you to approach, call for help and if you are trained, provide first aid to those in need until emergency responders can arrive.
  • Do not attempt to move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger. 
  • Check for broken gas lines and fires.
  • Check your building for serious damage and evacuate if the building seems likely to collapse.
  • Exit the building, safely using stairwells, and proceed to a safe space or planned muster area to report on injuries, damage, and potentially hazardous conditions. 
  • Businesses: once you have exited the building, do not re-enter until trained emergency personnel have inspected the building.

Remain Informed.

After natural disasters, misinformation is prevalent. Be prepared for more earthquakes (aftershocks). Hence, it is imperative for both personal safety and company operations that a trusted source is used for disaster response and seismic information. This could be your trusted media source for meteorological information such as local media (CCN TV6, CNC3 News, TTT Live etc.) or trusted organizations that specifically focus on the hazard such as:

Manage Hazards

Responding promptly to hazards can prevent further damage and injuries. This may entail extinguishing small fires or reporting larger blazes; turning off the water supply when broken pipes are leaking; shutting off the electricity when damaged wiring threatens to spark fires; turning off the natural gas when you suspect that gas is leaking; or evacuating your home when any of these hazards or others, such as structural damage, make continued occupancy potentially unsafe.

After an earthquake, the disaster may continue. Expect and prepare for potential aftershocks, landslides or even a tsunami if you live on a coast.

Each time you feel an aftershock, DROP, COVER and HOLD ON. Aftershocks frequently occur minutes, days, weeks and even months following an earthquake.

Report any of the relevant issues to the following emergency numbers:

Emergency Numbers for Trinidad and Tobago
Emergency Numbers for Trinidad and Tobago

DO NOT

  • Light a match or turn on a light switch.
  • Touch fallen power lines.
  • Go sightseeing.  Leave the streets clear for emergency and rescue vehicles.
  • Attempt to move seriously injured persons unless they are in danger of further injury.

Caring For Yourself & Loved Ones

  • If you are at home, look quickly for damage in and around your home and get everyone out if your home is unsafe.
  • Listen to a portable, battery-­operated or hand­-crank radio for updated emergency information and instructions.
  • Pay attention to how you and your loved ones are experiencing and handling stress. Promote emotional recovery by following these tips.
  • Watch animals closely and keep them under your direct control.
  • Help people who require additional assistance—infants, elderly people, those without transportation, large families who may need additional help in an emergency situation, people with disabilities, and the people who care for them.
  • Be careful when driving after an earthquake and anticipate traffic light outages.

Returning Home Safely

  • Stay out of damaged buildings.
  • Use extreme caution and examine walls, floors, doors, staircases and windows to check for damage.
  • Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines and report them to the utility company immediately.
  • If you smell natural or propane gas or hear a hissing noise, leave immediately and call the fire department.
  • Open closet and cabinet doors carefully as contents may have shifted.
  • Follow these tips for inspecting your home’s structure and utilities & systems after an earthquake.
  • Take pictures of home damage, both of the buildings and its contents, for insurance purposes.

Cleaning & Repairing Your Home

  • Wear protective clothing, including long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and sturdy shoes, and be cautious.
  • Clean up spilled medications, bleach, gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately.
  • Learn about your area’s seismic building standards and land use codes before you begin any construction.
  • Follow the Red Cross tips on preparing your home for an earthquake.
  • Learn more about how to clean up after an earthquake, including the supplies you’ll need and how to handle fire hazards such as gas, electricity and chemicals.

Ask a professional to

  • Make sure your home is securely anchored to its foundation.
  • Strengthen exterior features, such as porches, decks, sliding glass doors, canopies, carports and garage doors.

Useful Emergency Numbers

Disaster Management Hotlines & Other Emergency Hotlines for Emergency Services
Disaster Management Hotlines & Other Emergency Hotlines for Emergency Services

Emergency Shelters Across Trinidad

While these buildings are designated as emergency shelters, only particular locations will be opened in the event of a high-impact natural disaster. Keep checking our social media, website, as well as governmental channels for updates on which shelter may be opened near you in the event of a disaster.

Emergency Shelters Across Trinidad. Click for full resolution image from the ODPM

Sources: Red Cross, FEMA, Ready.gov, ODPM, UWI Seismic Research Centre

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