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Earthquake Preparedness for RVers

An RVers Preparedness Plan for Earthquakes

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Earthquake zones eastern US

SDC map of the Eastern United States for low-rise Occupancy Category I and II structures located on sites with average alluvial soil conditions. Each color represents the potential damage

FEMA News Photo

One of the last natural disasters RVers think of is an earthquake. I mean, when you think of earthquakes what comes to mind? Japan? Mexico? California? New Zeland? The Ring of Fire? If so, you’re both right and wrong. Unless you’re RVing in one of those areas, and even if you are, you’re probably not working an earthquake into your vacation plan.

Where the Fault Lies

While earthquakes are common in all of those areas did you know that some of the most active faults in the continental United States are nowhere near either California or Mexico?

The New Madrid fault covers southeastern Missouri, northeastern Arkansas and parts of Tennessee and Kentucky. On June 7, 2011 there was a 3.9 earthquake in St. Louis Missouri.

The Wabash Valley seismic zone extends across southeastern Illinois and southwestern Indiana, down to the northern Kentucky border.

One U.S. Geological Survey earthquake map shows earthquakes in the Wabash Valley and New Madrid seismic zones. Just click on the map to see the number of earthquakes in those area stronger than 2.5 magnitude.

The Sangre de Cristo fault, runs along the western base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains in Colorado and the eastern edge of the San Luis Valley. It is one of dozens of faults scattered throughout the Colorado Rocky mountains. The map linked above also shows dozens of earthquake centers near Denver and scattered across the Rockies.

While faults are scattered through all 11 western states, 45 out of 50 states are at moderate to high risk for earthquakes. In 1979 an earthquake with an epicenter in the Wabash seismic zone was strong enough to knock a Houston, Texas brick home a couple inches off it’s foundation. Details of the earthquake maps shown above are at FEMA's earthquake page.

Earthquake Preparedness

Earthquakes are also one of the most unpredictable natural events. Unless you can read animal behavior regarding earthquakes very accurately, and just happen to be near some that pick up on the impending quake, you’re pretty much at the mercy of your wits, awareness and your preparation. Make sure you have an emergency kit with supplies to get you through a disaster.

When you arrive at your RV park, (before an earthquake,) take a look around the area where your RV is set up. Identify safe areas. Most injuries and deaths result from walls collapsing, flying glass and falling debris.

During and earthquake, if you are in your RV, it may be safer to stay inside and get under your table than to go outside if there is a chance of a tree, pole, power line, or other object falling on you. Getting under a table, in a hallway, shower or between beds might be the safer places. Trees can fall on RVs and crush them, but if you stay low, away from windows and falling objects, and near stronger structures you may be safer than trying to go outside during an earthquake.

If you are outside, find an open area away from trees, power lines, poles, or overpasses.

If you are in an activity room or other building, get under heavy furniture such as a desk or table. If there is nothing that sturdy, stand flat against an inside wall or crouch in a corner, but away from windows, any hanging objects (pictures, mirrors, etc.) or tall furniture such as a bookshelf that could fall over. Don’t attempt to go outside, or move around to another room in the building.

Develop a disaster preparedness plan and review it with each family member. Teach everyone how to turn off gas, water, and electricity. In an RVers case, that would be to shut off the propane tanks as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Have a list of emergency phone numbers available in an easy to access place. In this age of cellphones, these are easy to program into your phone, no matter how frequently you move around.

Include a communications plan in your preparedness plan. Earthquakes happen so suddenly that not only should members of any RVing party know where each other is at any given time, each should know how to reach one another when an emergency occurs.

If you find yourself trapped under debris, try to stay still and not stir up dust. Cover your mouth and nose with clothing to keep from inhaling dust. Don’t shout unless you know someone is close enough to hear you. Shouting may result in inhaling dust. Instead, tap on something to let people know you are there.

After the Earthquake

Aftershocks are common, though usually milder. Depending upon the strength of the initial earthquake, the aftershock might be strong enough to pose a danger, so be ready.

  • Keep your NOAA radio turned on and listen for warnings and advisories. If you are near the coast, tsunamis may be possible. Dams may be damaged threatening flash floods and other damage may put you at risk for a secondary emergency.
  • If you are boondocking in the wilderness, watch for landslides or falling rocks or boulders that have loosened. When safe, move your RV to a safer spot in a more open area until you know that roads are clear and you can safely leave the area.
  • Inspect your RV, vehicle and site carefully for damage. Don’t light any fires. There may be gas leaks in the area.
  • Use caution opening cabinets as the contents may fall out. 
  • Once you and your family are safe, check around your park to be sure others are safe. If anyone is injured, call 911, give first aid, and move injured people only if it’s safer to do so than to leave them where they are.
  • Check sewer lines. Loose sewer lines in an RV park can create a biohazard that is easily prevented. 
  • If any chemicals, bleach, cleaners, oil products, or other hazardous liquids have spilled, clean them up immediately. 
  • If a power line has fallen on your RV, don’t go outside or touch any metal fixtures. Call 911 for assistance. 
  • If you can travel after an earthquake, be aware that there might be power outages, downed power lines, closed roads, traffic lights that don’t work and other hazards you might not anticipate.
  • Contact the American Red Cross Safe and Well site to register your location and let family or friends know that you are safe. Phone and Internet services may be interrupted, but this way they won’t have to worry.
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