While mentioning “earthquake” frequently brings to mind California or Japan for many people, much of the U.S. experiences earthquake activity on a more moderate level. Though uncommon, Colorado does have earthquakes, particularly in the south-central part of the state. In August 2011, a magnitude 5.3 earthquake occurred within 10 miles of Trinidad, Colo. This was the largest natural earthquake in the state in over a century.
Since 2007, the U.S. Geological Survey has recorded over 130 earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or greater in Colorado.
Minor earthquakes may only be powerful enough to be felt, but cause little to no damage. Stronger quakes can break water and gas lines, disrupt power and cause damage to buildings, including complete collapse. The ground may crack and open, creating a ravine a few inches to dozens of feet deep. The ground may also be forced upward.
Following an earthquake, fires that last for days can be sparked from ruptured gas lines and other causes. Fires following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake were even more destructive than the quake itself. Further, firefighting efforts may be difficult due to lack of water caused by broken water pipes.
Aftershocks – earthquakes that follow the initial event – can continue for days or months, though they are generally less powerful than the initial quake. Aftershocks can further damage buildings and roads.
In addition to causing damage to buildings, a strong earthquake can disrupt travel, utilities (gas, electricity) and communications. A loss of power can disrupt home medical equipment, food storage and the ability to find needed supplies.
Travel may be difficult or impossible due to traffic congestion or lack of fuel, and banking services, such as ATMs, may not work.
Like any other event with the potential to disrupt a community, individual and family preparedness is key. Fortunately, preparedness activities for earthquakes are similar to those undertaken for other risks, such as severe storms and other natural disasters, with some additions.
- Secure heavy furniture that could fall during a quake. Likewise, secure water heaters with metal straps attached to a wall. Check gas line connections to furnaces, stoves and other appliances to ensure they have flexible connectors and replace as needed. Additional steps can be found at http://bit.ly/quakecountry.
- Build a family communication plan. Although an earthquake can disrupt communications, it is possible some services will not be impacted or will be impacted less severely. A form to help you build a communication plan is available at http://www.readycolorado.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/familycommunicationsfillable.pdf.
- Designate a family meeting location and alternate location. You may not be home when an earthquake occurs. Make sure each family member knows where to meet.
- Have an emergency kit for each family member, including food, a three-day supply of water, toiletries and any special care items each person needs. More information about emergency kits can be found at http://www.readycolorado.com/ready-central/build-a-kit/.
- Have family conversations to discuss your emergency plans and how each member can work together to keep everyone safe. Practice your plan several times each year.
More emergency planning resources can be found at http://READYColorado.com, http://bit.ly/readyg and http://rdcrss.org/TxAYmq. You can also receive daily preparedness tips by following @READYColorado on Twitter, or like the READYColorado page on Facebook. Emergency information is posted on http://COEmergency.com during significant events.