If you were to guess which state has the most earthquakes per year, many would assume California. And they would be wrong. Alaska is the champion when it comes to the frequency of earthquakes. Alaska outranks California and every other state in the number of quakes and greatest magnitude achieved.
Where are earthquakes most common
Looking at the state-by-state report of earthquakes over magnitude 3.5 from the USGS, Alaska amounts to 57 percent of all earthquakes in the United States. That's more than 12,000 earthquakes in 30 years! Not surprisingly, the 10 states with the most earthquakes are in the western U.S.
This chart doesn't take into account the damage caused by earthquakes. Alaska is a vast state with a small population, so many of these quakes are centered in rural areas away from people. Some earthquakes on the Aleutian Islands are in areas so remote they might not even be recorded. On the other hand, earthquakes in California are more likely to be located in more populated areas.
While the west coast is the most active region, there are other parts of the country susceptible to earthquakes. For example, The New Madrid Seismic Zone is shared between five states (Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas). If this was counted as one state it would rank 11 on the list.
Fun fact: There were no earthquakes above magnitude 3.5 reported in Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, North Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin from 1974 to 2003.
Many are certain that standing in a doorway during the shaking is a good idea. That's false unless you live in an unreinforced adobe structure. Otherwise, you're more likely to be hurt by the door swinging wildly in a doorway or trampled by people trying to hurry outside if you're in a public place.
Before an earthquake
- Create an emergency action plan for your household. This should include a specific meeting place where family members will gather should they become separated. For example, those living in apartments could meet at a nearby playground or other open space. Residents of single-family homes could meet in the backyard.
- Make sure all family members are familiar with the "Drop, Cover and Hold On" technique. Drop to the floor, cover your head with your arms and hold on to something sturdy. Stay there until the quake subsides.
- A readily available emergency preparedness kit can be a literal lifesaver. At a minimum, it should include sufficient food and water for the family for at least three days. Additionally, include necessary medications for family members and enough food and water for pets. Other items such as flashlights, batteries, a fire extinguisher and a portable radio will help round out your emergency preparedness kit and provide for basic needs in the event of many types of emergencies.
- If possible, fasten things like television sets, shelves and other household items to a permanent fixture, such as a wall. During an earthquake, unfixed objects tend to fall and can cause serious injury.
- Earthquake insurance coverage will help you rebuild and recover from earthquake damage. Most standard homeowners' and renters' insurance policies don't cover earthquake damage. For those living in apartments, even if the landlord has an earthquake insurance policy, your possessions won't be covered. Purchasing your own policy will help as you work to recover.
During an earthquake
- Remember the "Drop, Cover and Hold On" technique and use it. Wait until the shaking stops before attempting to help others.
- If you're inside, stay there until the shaking stops. Major earthquakes can cause many unforeseen hazards. Attempting to navigate them while the tremor is ongoing increases your chances of injury.
- Avoid elevators. Power outages may prevent them from working properly, which could lead to being trapped inside. The aftermath of a major tremor places a severe strain on emergency services, so you may find yourself stuck there for some time.
- If you're driving, pull off to the side of the road as far away as you can get from any buildings, overpasses, and other structures that could fall, then remain in your car. When you do resume driving, take it slow and be mindful that debris may be found on the roadways.
After an earthquake
- Remember your emergency action plan. If household members are missing, go to the predetermined meeting location and wait for them there.
- Stay away from damaged buildings and debris. If you're inside of a damaged structure, move outside as quickly as possible once the shaking has stopped. Go to an open area away from tall buildings and power lines.
- Remember that aftershocks frequently follow large earthquakes. If you feel an aftershock begin, remember the "Drop, Cover and Hold On" technique.
- Emergency response systems experience great strain in the aftermath of even relatively small earthquakes. Phone systems may be overwhelmed with very high call volumes, and emergency vehicles will need to quickly reach those in need. Use phones and roads for emergencies only so that those urgently in need of assistance can receive it faster.
- If you find yourself trapped, make as much noise as possible so that rescuers can locate you. Do your best to remain calm and breathe.
Experiencing an earthquake is a frightening prospect for anyone. The magnitude of the damage can be significant, particularly in areas of high population density. However, by following earthquake safety guidelines and planning ahead, you can maximize your chances of survival and minimize the impact for you and your loved ones.