Earthquakes—before, during and after

An earthquake is a shaking of the Earth's crust. They strike without warning and vary greatly in severity. Earthquakes can be caused by:

  • underground volcanic forces
  • the breaking of rock under the Earth's surface
  • a sudden movement along an existing fault line.

Most earthquake deaths are caused by falling objects.

Other effects of an earthquake can include:

  • damage to electricity and telephone lines
  • rupturing of gas, sewer and water mains
  • landslides, faults and subsidence
  • tsunamis.

Since 1994, all buildings in Australia must be built to resist earthquakes.

Before an earthquake

  • Ask your local council
    • if earthquakes have ever occurred in your area and what damage resulted
    • about ways to make your house safer in the event of an earthquake
  • Find out how and where to turn off power, gas and water
  • Plan with your family (or household) where you will meet if separated
  • Know your safe areas during an earthquake
  • Check your insurance policy to make sure it is adequate and that you are covered for damage caused by earthquakes.

Watch for warning signs

  • Erratic animal behaviour—scared or confused pets, or birdcalls not usually heard at night may indicate that an earthquake is imminent
  • Ground water levels—watch for sudden water level changes in wells or artesian bores.

During an earthquake

  • If indoors—stay there (clear of falling debris outside)
    • Keep clear of windows, chimneys and overhead fittings. Shelter under and hold onto a door frame, strong table or bench
    • In high-rise buildings, stay clear of windows and outer walls. Shelter under a desk near a pillar or internal wall
    • Do not use elevators
    • In crowded buildings, do not rush for doors, but move clear of overhead fittings and shelves
  • If outside—keep well clear of buildings, overhead structures, walls, bridges, powerlines, trees, etc
    • On a city street, shelter from falling debris under strong archways or doorways of buildings. Don't go under awnings as they may collapse
  • If in a vehicle—stop in an open area until the shaking stops
    • Beware of downed powerlines and road damage, including overpasses and bridges.
    • Listen to your car radio for warnings before moving.

After an earthquake

  • Turn off electricity, gas, and water. Do not light matches until after you have checked for gas or fuel leaks
  • Check for injuries and apply first aid. Do not move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger
  • Check for broken water, sewerage or electrical mains
  • Do not use the telephone immediately (to avoid congestion) unless there is a life-threatening situation
  • Check for cracks and damage to your building
  • Evacuate the building if it is badly damaged, and be prepared for aftershocks
  • Do not waste food and water as supplies may be interrupted. Collect emergency water from heaters, ice cubes, toilet tanks and canned foods
  • Listen to your local radio station and heed warnings and advice on damage and service disruptions
  • Try to avoid driving unless in an emergency (to keep the streets free for emergency services)
  • Do not go sightseeing or enter damaged buildings
  • Try to stay calm and help others if possible.

More information about earthquakes