While there are very few ways to detect an earthquake is about to happen, knowing what to do and what to avoid if an earthquakes strikes can save your life.
Earthquakes, which are some of the strongest natural phenomena on Earth, can occur anywhere on the planet as energy is either released from volcanic activity or from faults slipping in the Earth's crust.
Forty-five states and territories in the United States are at moderate to very high risk of earthquakes, and they are located in every region of the country, the American Red Cross said.
1. Don't wait to have an earthquake plan
By planning ahead, people will be ready to live with the risk of fire, the potential lack of utilities and basic services and the certainty of aftershocks once an earthquake is over.
The most important step toward earthquake safety is building awareness of the risk that they pose, coupled with taking action now, said Steven J. Jensen, Ph.D, a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council.
"While we cannot stop the earth from shaking, we can make reasonable choices about where we live, how our buildings are constructed, how furnishings like bookshelves might be secured and the types of supplies we keep on hand," he said.
According to the Red Cross, an emergency preparedness kit should contain numerous items including extra cash, copies of important personal documents such as medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates and insurance policies.
2. Don't tie up phone lines during an earthquake
Other than for an emergency, it is better to send a text message by cellphone than to possibly tie up the lines needed for emergency response.
However, do have an emergency communications plan in place before an emergency strikes, Mark Benthien of the Southern California Earthquake Center said.
A communications plan should include the names, numbers and email addresses of everyone in the household, and a central contact for an out-of-town family member, he said.
The plan should also have details on where the family will meet in case of an emergency, whether it is at home or outside of their neighborhood.
"People can practice how to protect themselves during earthquakes, along with millions of others each year, by participating in Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills," Benthien said.
The Red Cross has an emergency app with a "Family Safe" feature to allow people to check on loved ones who are in an area affected by an emergency.
Facebook also offers "Safety Check," a way to let a person's friends and family know they are safe.
3. Don't leave household items unsecured
Earthquake shaking can move almost anything, even large or heavy items, Benthien said.
"Most injuries and damages are caused by falling or flying objects, not collapsing buildings," Benthien said.
Moving furniture such as bookcases away from beds, sofas or other places where people sit, sleep or spend a lot of time can prevent problems during an earthquake, he said.
4. Don't run outside during an earthquake
Research has shown that running outside during an earthquake is the wrong thing to do, according to the Earthquake Country Alliance. Windows, facades and architectural details are often the first parts of the building to collapse. To stay away from this danger zone, stay inside if you are inside and outside if you are outside.
Stay, drop and cover until the shaking stops. Dropping to the floor prevents the earthquake from knocking you down.
"The idea here is to stop moving and drop down, which will keep your center of gravity low and prevent falls," Jensen said. "Falling is a major cause of injuries and is particularly bad because it limits what you can do next."
Once down low, seek cover under a table or a sturdy object, which can offer protection from falling objects.
"If no cover is available, protect yourself by crouching down with your face toward the ground and your hands behind your head and neck. And hold on," Jensen, who is an adviser, emergency manager and lecturer at California State University at Long Beach, said.
Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls and anything that could fall such as light fixtures or furniture.
5. Don't turn on the gas after a quake
Shut off the main gas valve only if a leak is suspected because of broken pipes, the odor or sound of leaking natural gas, or the meter is spinning quickly, according to the Alliance.
Don't use matches, lighters, camp stoves or barbecues, electrical equipment and appliances until you are sure there are no gas leaks, the Alliance said.
They may create a spark that could ignite leaking gas and cause an explosion and fire.
Only the gas company can turn the gas back on after they check for leaks.