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New York City earthquake: What to do and how to prepare

New York City earthquake: What to do and how to prepare


A 4.8-magnitude earthquake rocked the East Coast mid-morning Friday, sending high-rise buildings in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware swaying.

Californians and other West Coast residents may scoff at the alarm expressed by their East Coast counterparts of a seemingly small earthquake. But this quake struck the most densely populated region of the United States, shaking some of the country's oldest buildings and alarming people who often take for granted that the ground doesn't move much. So it's worth taking seriously.

In fact, the East Coast is much less geologically active than the West Coast of the United States, with fewer active fault lines that cause major earthquakes. However, there are frequent smaller tremors. The US Geological Survey reports that the eastern part of the country has experienced more than 400 earthquakes with a magnitude greater than 3.5 over the past 50 years. In 2011, a 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck Virginia, causing shaking to be felt along the East Coast and some damage to buildings in Washington, D.C.

The eastern United States experiences less frequent and intense earthquakes than the West Coast. USGS Why do earthquakes hit the East Coast differently than those hit the West?

One difference between earthquakes in the eastern and western United States is the nature of the ground beneath them. The rocks beneath the eastern United States are older and denser than the rocks beneath the surface in the west, so Earth-shaking waves travel farther.

“In the western United States, the ground beneath us is warmer, interrupted by faults, and seismic waves are weakened (filtered),” said Robert De Groot, who leads public outreach for the USGS' ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system. Western United States, in an email. “Think of the Earth's interior as a hall of mirrors and lenses. Waves are scattered, redirected, and so on.

As with any earthquake, there is a possibility of aftershocks, although they are often weaker than the earthquake that preceded it.

The West Coast also has a long history of designing structures that can withstand earthquakes. Although tremors tend to be weaker in the east, over the years, states along the Atlantic coast have revised their building codes so that homes, offices, stores and warehouses can better withstand tremors.

But these new rules only apply to new buildings, and there are plenty of old, historic buildings still in use today — especially in cities like New York. “Your community likely has many older structures that are not earthquake protected,” FEMA wrote on its website. “These existing buildings are the single largest contributor to earthquake risk in the United States today.”

What should you do when you feel an earthquake

While earthquake safety is an old-fashioned thing for people who grew up on the West Coast, many in the Northeast had no idea what to do when the ground started shaking. (Other than tweeting.)

The old advice of getting under the door frame immediately no longer applies. “In modern homes, doorways are no stronger than any other part of the house, and the doorway does not protect you from the most likely source of injury: falling or flying objects,” according to the University of Washington Department of Emergency Preparedness. “You may also not be able to brace yourself in the door during strong shaking. You are safer under the table.”

Instead, there's a new slogan: “The best advice is to drop, cover, and stabilize if you feel shaky,” says de Groot. What this means is to stand on your hands and knees, covering your head and neck with your arm while sitting under a table or desk, holding on to a piece of furniture. Avoid outside walls, windows and hanging objects. Do not take the elevator, climb the stairs, or try to escape the building.

If you're in bed, stay there. Lie face up, and cover your head and neck with a pillow. If you are outside, move to an open area away from buildings. If you are driving, stop and set the parking brake, and avoid bridges, trees and power lines. Earthquakes are sudden and can be dangerous and devastating, but with proper precautions, they don't have to be fatal.

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