Approximately 5,000 earthquakes are recorded across Canada each year. British Columbia is most at risk for a major earthquake, but the St. Lawrence and Ottawa River valleys, as well as parts of Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and the Yukon are also prone to earthquakes. While most earthquakes that happen in Canada are small and leave minimal damage, it’s still important to know what you can do before, during, and after an earthquake to keep your family and home as safe as possible.

How to prepare before an earthquake

It’s impossible to predict an earthquake, so you’ll probably never see one in the forecast, which might make preparing for an earthquake feel a little strange. That said, here are some things you can do to make sure your home is prepared in case an earthquake ever hits:

  • Review your family’s emergency plan. If it’s been a while since you’ve reviewed your emergency preparedness plan as a family, take some time to do that. Mapping out your home’s escape routes and meeting spots, updating your emergency contact list, and reviewing your home insurance policy are just a few of the things you can do to prepare for an emergency.
  • Secure your furniture, electronics, and valuables. Carefully secure all mirrors, framed artwork, and other hanging items so they won’t fall off their hooks if your home begins to shake. To secure tall or top-heavy furniture, use the anchoring hardware provided or purchase appropriate anchoring kits. Make sure you connect anchors to studs in the wall and use flexible fasteners. You should also place heavy or fragile items (like electronics) on lower shelves to prevent them from falling.
  • Get earthquake insurance. Earthquake insurance covers damage to your home and belongings caused by earthquakes. It also covers additional living expenses you may encounter because of an earthquake, like alternate living arrangements or food if you are unable to cook. Earthquake insurance isn’t included in standard home, condo, or tenant insurance policies, and it needs to be added on. If you live in an area prone to earthquakes, you should make sure you have earthquake insurance.
  • Prepare your emergency kit. It’s a good idea to keep a well-stocked emergency kit on hand at all times in case your power goes out or you get stuck in your home. Your emergency kit should contain at least three days’ worth of supplies for each member of your household, including pets. Check these items off your list:
    • Cash
    • A portable charger for your cell phone
    • A battery-powered radio
    • Bottled water
    • Non-perishable food (including pet food)
    • A list of emergency contacts
    • Blankets
    • A flashlight and extra batteries
    • Candles, matches, and a lighter
    • A first-aid kit
    • Extra keys to your car and home
    • Special items like prescription medications or baby formula

Carefully secure all mirrors, framed artwork, and other hanging items in your home so they won’t fall off their hooks if an earthquake causes your home to shake.

What to do during an earthquake

Earthquakes don’t always feel the same, which can make it tough to recognize when one is happening. Some earthquakes may make it feel like a train is speeding past your house, causing a rumbling or shaking sensation. Others may cause a more severe shaking sensation or make it feel like a truck is hitting the side of your house. Keep these tips in mind if you ever feel something that you believe may be an earthquake:

  • If you’re indoors, take cover immediately. Stay inside and try to get under a piece of heavy furniture like a table, desk, or bed. Make sure your head and torso are covered and hold on in case the furniture begins moving. If you can’t get under a piece of heavy furniture, flatten yourself or crouch against an interior wall and cover your head and neck with your arms. Stay away from exterior walls, windows, and shelves with heavy objects.
  • If you’re outdoors, stay there. Go to an open area away from buildings — the most dangerous place is near a building’s external walls or windows.
  • If you’re in a vehicle, pull over and stay inside your car. Avoid bridges, overpasses, underpasses, buildings, or anything else that could collapse. You can also turn on your radio and listen for instructions from local officials.
  • If you’re near a coastline, move inland. Earthquaktweetablees can lead to large ocean waves called tsunamis. If you’re near a coastline during a strong earthquake, move inland or to higher ground and stay there until local authorities say it’s safe to return.

If you’re outdoors during an earthquake, stay there. Go to an open area away from buildings — the most dangerous place is near a building’s external walls or windows.

What to do after an earthquake

While most earthquakes in Canada are too small to cause significant damage, try to stay calm and consider these tips following an earthquake:

  • Be prepared for aftershocks. Aftershocks are smaller earthquakes that may occur following the initial shock of a larger earthquake. Even when an earthquake seems like it may be finished, stay alert and be ready to take the proper safety measures if another earthquake strikes.
  • Check local news sources. If there was significant damage in your community, local authorities may provide guidance on next steps through local news stations or websites.
  • Beware of gas leaks and spilled flammable substances. Don’t turn on any lights or electronics until you’re sure no flammable substances have spilled and there is no leaking gas in your home (hint: leaking gas usually smells like rotten eggs). If you believe there may be a gas leak, shut off the gas valve if you know how, then call your gas provider. Once the gas is turned off, don't turn it back on.
  • Inspect your property for damage. Before you get started, put on sturdy shoes and protective clothing if there are signs of debris or broken glass. Walk through your home carefully in case any pieces of furniture or light fixtures have come loose, as they could still fall. When looking around your property, steer clear of brick walls, chimneys, and other structures that may no longer be secure.
  • Stay away from downed power lines. If you see signs of damage to power lines, stay at least 10 metres away and call your hydro company to let them know. 
  • Contact your insurance broker if your home has sustained damage. If you have earthquake insurance and your home requires repairs, your broker can help you start the process. If it's outside of your broker's regular business hours, contact your insurance company's 24-hour claims service line instead.

After an earthquake, don’t turn on any lights or electronics until you’re sure no flammable substances have spilled and there is no leaking gas in your home.

For more earthquake safety tips, check out this guide from the Government of Canada.

Wondering how you can add earthquake coverage to your home insurance policy? Contact your licensed home insurance broker today.

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