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Preparing For and Responding to Earthquakes

It’s a good idea to understand what natural hazards could affect the area you live in and how you can reduce the risk of damage to yourself and your property.


The Canterbury earthquakes caused widespread damage in Christchurch and led to the largest insurance payouts in New Zealand. Image: David Whethey.

It is important for all New Zealanders to know about natural hazards and what to do if one occurs. Find out about the area where you live and what the local hazards are. Make an emergency plan with your family. Put a survival kit together and update it often. You can visit your local Civil Defence website for more information.

How to prepare for an earthquake

EQC advises people about how to make their homes more ‘Quake Safe’.

You can also watch this 'Fix, Fasten, Don't Forget' video.

Talk to parents/caregivers about the following list of things to make your house 'quake safe':

  • Check that your home’s foundations are in good condition and properly secured to the house above
  • Secure hot water cylinders and header tanks
  • Remove or replace tall chimneys constructed from unreinforced concrete masonry or brick (usually found in homes built before the 1970s) - thousands of these types of chimneys have fallen down in previous earthquakes
  • Secure tall furniture to wall studs
  • Store heavy objects low down
  • Use non-slip mats under smaller appliances and objects
  • Use plastic putty (Blu Tack) to secure ornaments
  • Add latches to drawers and cupboards – particularly ones that hold fragile items
  • Use appropriate hooks to hang pictures and mirrors – and push hooks closed
  • Know how to turn off gas and water mains in an emergency
  • Check your household insurance cover.

Drop, cover, hold

During an earthquake

  • Move no more than a few steps to a safe place, drop, cover and hold on.
  • Do not run outside.
  • If outside, move no more than a few steps to a safe place, then drop, cover and hold.
  • If in a lift, stop at the nearest floor and get out.
  • If you are in a car, the driver should pull over to the side of the road. Stay in the car until the shaking stops.
  • If you are near the coast, drop, cover and hold during an earthquake, then move quickly to higher ground when the shaking stops. If a quake is long or strong get gone.

After an earthquake

  • Expect aftershocks and help those around you if you can.
  • Report injuries or fires to the emergency services (dial 111).
  • Put out small fires and leave the building if the fires cannot be controlled.
  • Check services such as water, electricity and gas - turn these services off if there is any damage and don't try to fix them yourself.
  • Listen to the radio for advice and information.
  • Do not go sightseeing and stay out of damaged buildings.

Protect your property - Fix, Fasten, Don't Forget!

Other hazards

Earthquakes can also cause landslides and tsunami. If a landslide occurs in your area, leave straight away. Do not return to your home until you are told it is safe. If you live on the coast and you feel an earthquake that lasts longer than a minute, or is so strong that it is difficult to stand up, then you should move to higher ground immediately.

Ready for a quiz? Try the Preparing For and Responding to Earthquakes interactive activity.

If you are at the beach and see the water quickly recede, move to higher ground. You may have only a few minutes before a tsunami arrives.

If the tsunami is coming from a long way off, then you probably will not feel an earthquake, but warnings will be given over the radio. You may have over ten hours to get ready to leave the area.

Lakes and Rivers

If you live near a river and the water level drops suddenly, it could mean there is a landslide dam up the river caused by a landslide. Sometimes these landslide dams can break, causing flooding downstream. Keep away from the river and leave your house if it is close to a river.

If you are near a lake and you feel a long strong earthquake, move away from the lake edge. Sometimes earthquakes can cause lake levels to change, causing waves around the lake edge.

Sometimes landslides can fall into lakes and cause a ‘rockfall tsunami’, which will send large waves across the lake. 

Audio Māori keywords:

Visit the EQC website https://www.eqc.govt.nz/be-prepared to find out more about how to prepare for and reduce loss from natural disasters.