Natural disasters are the last thing you want to think about before going on holiday. But knowing a few simple things can mean the difference between life and death in an emergency situation.
In light of the tragic earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand, we’ve put together a guide to what travellers should know when going to earthquake-prone locations.
Before you leave: You should always register with your country's embassy in the destination to which you're travelling. You'll either have to call the embassy directly or some countries allow you to input your travel plans online. For example, US Citizens can make use of the State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. Here you can enter information about an upcoming trip so that officials can locate and assist you in the event of an emergency. It also ensures that you'll receive crucial updates from local embassies. The UK's Foreign & Commonwealth office and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade offer similar programs.
When you arrive: Carry local emergency and embassy phone numbers in your wallet, or program them into your phone. When you check into your hotel room, identify safe places to hide in the event of an earthquake - under a heavy desk or table; against an inside wall; away from windows, mirrors or heavy furniture that could fall over - as well as the location of the nearest stairwells. Just a note that contrary to popular belief, doorways are seldom stronger than any other part of a building and should not be your go-to place for shelter in the event of an earthquake.
During an earthquake: If you're in your hotel room, go immediately to one of your identified safe places, duck down and hold on. For rooms without sturdy furniture, crouch in an inside corner of the building and cover your face and head with your arms. If the earthquake occurs while you're in bed and there are no overhead light fixtures, stay in bed and protect your head with a pillow. If you are outdoors, move as far away from buildings, overhead utilities and streetlights as possible. Drivers should pull over to an area away from bridges, overpasses and power lines, and stay inside with seatbelts on until the shaking stops.
If you find yourself trapped: Do not strike a match or lighter as you could cause leaking gas to ignite. Cover your mouth with clothing or a handkerchief, and move about as little as possible to avoid inhaling potentially dangerous dust. Tap on a pipe or use whistles or other available materials to make noise and alert rescuers. Only shout if you absolutely have to as it may cause you to inhale toxic dust.
After an earthquake: Wait till the shaking completely stops before leaving your safe place. If the building or hotel that you're in does not seem to have sustained damage, it's best to stay inside. Otherwise, proceed outside by stairways only. It might be a good idea to put on long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and sturdy shoes to protect yourself from broken objects. Also watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines. If you're in a low-lying coastal area, listen for tsunami warnings and move to higher ground.
After you've assured that you and your travelling companions are safe, contact your embassy or check your country's foreign office website to find out how best to proceed. Most foreign offices set up special disaster hotlines and email addresses for foreigners abroad seeking assistance.
In the aftermath of an earthquake, be prepared for aftershocks, which can occur minutes to months after the initial quake. Use telephones for emergency calls only in order to keep lines open for disaster response. And be sure to alert friends and family members back home of your safety via the Red Cross Safe and Well registry.
If you seek medical treatment for respiratory illnesses, rashes or other ailments in the weeks after returning home after an earthquake, be sure to alert your doctor to the possibility of dust inhalation or other earthquake related illnesses.