Earthquakes are one of the most unpredictable and destructive natural disasters, and although seismologists have studied them extensively, there is still a lot of confusion and false information around them.
This article will separate fact from fiction in 8 commonly believed earthquake myths to help you better understand and prepare for them.
Causes and Characteristics of Earthquakes
Before debunking earthquake myths, let’s review the causes and characteristics of these natural disasters. Earthquakes are caused by movement and friction between tectonic plates in the Earth’s crust, which results in a release of built-up seismic energy. This release of energy causes the ground to shake, a.k.a. an earthquake.
Other factors that can cause earthquakes include volcanic activity, magma movement, and underground mine collapses. Human activities, such as mining or fracking, can also induce earthquakes.
Debunking Common Earthquake Myths
Misconceptions surrounding earthquakes relate to the causes of this natural phenomenon, humans’ and animals’ abilities to predict them, and actions to take when they strike. Let’s take a closer look at the truth behind these earthquake myths.
Myth #1: Animals Can Predict Earthquakes
Contrary to popular belief, animals cannot predict earthquakes. While some anecdotal evidence suggests that animals may act strangely before an earthquake occurs, this is likely due to their sensitivity to vibrations and other environmental changes before an earthquake strikes. In fact, researchers are unable to confirm that there is a correlation between earthquake predictions and animal behavior.
Myth #2: Earthquakes Only Occur In Specific Places
Another common misconception is that earthquakes only occur in specific locations, such as the West Coast of the United States or Japan. While over 80 percent of the largest earthquakes have occurred around the edges of the Pacific Ocean, known as “The Ring of Fire,” earthquakes can happen anywhere in the world, including all 50 states of the U.S. and places that have never experienced one before.
Therefore, it’s essential to be prepared no matter where you live. Check here for a list of the 16 states with the highest seismic hazard level, and then learn how to construct an earthquake preparedness plan.
Myth #3: Earthquakes Can Cause Pieces of Land to Fall Into the Ocean
This misconception stems from the fact that California sits on the San Andreas Fault System, which separates the North American Plate from the Pacific Plate. As a result of tectonic plate movement, the Pacific Plate is slowly sliding northwest in relation to the North American Plate.
This movement occurs horizontally, so Los Angeles is getting closer to San Francisco, but California won’t fall into the sea. Earthquakes, though, can slightly alter the coast’s shape.
Myth #4: We Can Predict Earthquakes
It is also commonly believed that earthquakes can be predicted and occur in cycles. While some seismologists believe that earthquake activity may occur in patterns, earthquakes’ exact patterns and frequencies are difficult to accurately predict due to their complex nature.
Prediction technologies are constantly advancing, and seismologists can now anticipate earthquakes with a certain degree of accuracy; however, they still don’t know precisely when or where an earthquake will occur until it does.
Myth #5: Small Earthquakes Mean A Bigger One Will Follow
One of the most pervasive earthquake myths is that small earthquakes mean bigger ones are coming soon. While it’s true that more minor quakes can be a prelude to larger ones, they don’t always indicate that a big earthquake is coming. In fact, only about 5% of earthquakes are followed up by more significant quake events.
Myth #6: You Should Open Doors and Windows During An Earthquake
Another earthquake myth is that you should open doors and windows during an earthquake. However, this is not recommended as it can create additional hazards of being struck by flying objects or debris. Instead, the CDC recommends that the best earthquake response is to seek immediate shelter underneath a sturdy piece of furniture, such as a desk or table.
Myth #7: You Should Stand in a Doorway During an Earthquake
One of the most well-known earthquake myths is that you should stand in a doorway during an earthquake. This is not true and can be dangerous. As previously mentioned, the best thing to do during an earthquake is to drop, cover, and hold on.
Myth #8: Building Codes Ensure All Buildings Are Earthquake-Resistant
Modern structures built under current building codes are designed to resist damage and collapse during earthquakes using various seismic-resistant techniques. However, not all buildings are built this way, especially older ones that have yet to be retrofitted.
Additionally, no building can be completely earthquake-proof, and its effectiveness depends on various factors such as the earthquake’s magnitude and location, the construction quality, and the building’s maintenance.
Other Doubts About Earthquakes
Now that we’ve reviewed eight of the most common misconceptions about earthquakes, we’ll address some other doubts about these natural disasters.
What should I do during an earthquake?
The best thing to do during an earthquake is to stay indoors and drop, cover, and hold on. This means getting down on the ground, taking cover under a table or desk, and holding on to it for protection.
Can earthquakes be prevented?
No, earthquakes cannot be prevented. However, you can take steps to prepare for an earthquake, which we’ll tell you more about in the following question.
What is the best way to prepare for an earthquake?
The best way to prepare for an earthquake is to educate yourself about the dangers and take steps to protect yourself and your family. This includes having an earthquake emergency kit, creating a family preparedness plan, preparing your home, and knowing what to do during an earthquake, which our Grab + Go Box can help with!
Earthquakes are accompanied by many myths and misconceptions. However, don’t let these inaccuracies put you and your family at risk; instead, use our online resources and consult the Guidebook and Action Plans inside your Grab + Go Box to avoid being caught off guard.
Remember, the best thing to do if you’re worried about an earthquake is to be prepared and informed so you can keep yourself and those you love safe.