Strong earthquakes have recently shaken Greece, Bali, and California: here’s some tips for travellers
Greece woke up to another 5.2 earthquake on Monday – the second one in two weeks. Last month, Bali was rocked by 6.2-magnitude earthquake while California endured nauseating aftershocks in the wake of 6.4 and 7.1-magnitude earthquakes.
Being in a familiar environment when an earthquake strikes is already unsettling enough, but being away from home can be frightening and disorienting. According to John Bwarie, co-creator of The Great ShakeOut – the world’s largest earthquake drills, magnitude 2 and smaller earthquakes occur several hundred times a day worldwide while major earthquakes – greater than magnitude 7 – happen more than once per month worldwide. Travellers need to be prepared but, particularly if they are from a region that does not regularly experience earthquakes, it may not occur to them until they are literally shaken awake while travelling.
McKenzie McLoughlin, Digital Communications Coordinator at Northern Arizona University, was travelling with her parents in Peru in May when an earthquake shook her from her sleep. “It was around 2:30 AM on May 26 when I woke up feeling a little dizzy,” she recalls. “It took me a minute to realise that it wasn’t me that was dizzy – it was the whole building swaying.” McLoughlin is from Arizona where earthquakes are not common, so she didn’t immediately recognise what was happening. And when she did, she felt unprepared and panicked.
“We [her and her parents] had absolutely no idea what to do,” she explains. “You could say between fight or flight, we flew! We started running down the 12 flights of stairs to the ground floor.” In her haste, she grabbed a water bottle and shoes.
The building was still swaying when they started down the stairs. McLoughlin realised in retrospect that running down the stairs was a risky move but, at the time, she was only thinking about reaching the lobby to gather more information. The hotel was located on the shore in the San Miguel neighbourhood of Lima so she and her parents wanted to find out not only the severity of the earthquake but also if there was the added threat of a tsunami, whether or not it was safe to stay in their rooms, and what to do if there were aftershocks.
Luckily, McLoughlin and her parents made it out of Peru unscathed. But the jarring experience is burned into her memory and it prompted her to better prepare for future travels. McLoughlin wishes she’d done a number of things differently and she hopes others can learn from her experience.
“Find reputable news outlets before you travel so you can keep your eye on them and access emergency info if needed,” she suggests. “Do some research about how likely earthquakes are in the area you are visiting and check out recommendations on the government’s public safety websites for instructions on what to do in the event of an earthquake.” McLoughlin advises travellers to take note of signage and identify safe zones on arrival to earthquake-prone areas. “Keep your most important items (passport, wallet, keys, phone, glasses, etc) together in an easily-accessible place so you can grab them in an emergency,” she advises. “And, rather than run through a moving building in panic, ignore the ‘flight’ instinct and find a safe place [such as under a table in your room or a designated safe zone].”
Professor of geology at Northern Arizona University Ryan Porter agrees that travellers should do their research prior to setting off on their travels. “Know if you are going to an area that might experience an earthquake and know what to do if you experience one,” he says. Porter recommends consulting the Global Seismic Hazard Map to see if your travel destination is within an earthquake-prone region and also read up on earthquake preparedness on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Ready website. If you do experience an earthquake while travelling, Porter says to keep in mind you may be travelling in a disaster area. “Listen to local authorities and try not be an unnecessary burden to them,” he explains. “If people’s lives are at risk, evacuating travellers is likely not going to be their highest priority. Get in contact with your nation’s embassy as soon as is safely possible after an earthquake. They often have resources to help travellers.”
You can also register with your country’s embassy prior to travel through programs (such as STEP for U.S. travellers) to allow your embassy to send you updates, safety information, warnings, and to contact you in the event of an emergency.
California geologist and author Thomas E. Cochrane offers some tips to travellers. “Don’t run outside and do not get into an elevator,” he advises. “Stay away from windows. Get under a heavy table if possible. If you’re driving, pull over and stop – but not under a tree or near any sort of steep slope.” He has specific advice for locals or visitors to California: “If you’re travelling up California’s Highway 1 or other areas of vulnerable coastal or hilly topography, wait a minimum of five minutes before continuing your journey [after stopping to ride out the quake]. What you felt may have only been a foreshock, or it may have been the event itself. But, as was experienced most recently in California, the first event was followed by a much stronger quake. So find an alternate inland route as needed.”
Bwarie cautions that what to do if you experience an earthquake while travelling depends on a variety of factors including where you are, what the buildings are like, and if it’s near the ocean (and could result in a tsunami). As building codes vary by country, so do the risks and responses. The Great ShakeOut has created a number of helpful videos demonstrating what to do in various situations, including if you find yourself shaken awake in your bed and near the shore as McKenzie McLoughlin did.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of tips. Travellers should do ample research prior to departure in order to properly prepare for their specific destination.