Be earthquake-ready!

Be earthquake-ready!

Living in a country situated in a moderate seismic hazard zone, over the years Portugal has been hit by a number of major earthquakes.

The regions of Lisbon and the Algarve are among those where earthquakes are most likely to occur.

Earthquakes can have a devastating effect on people’s lives. I have always regarded it as vitally important to hold whole school assemblies, training sessions and practise exercises in order to promote earthquake-safety.

Many of our newly-enrolled children, and their parents, may only have recently arrived in Portugal, sometimes with limited Portuguese and/or English, and may not be as aware of the importance of earthquake-safety.

Indeed, as a school, we were honoured to welcome David Thomas MBE, BEM, President of Safe Communities Portugal, to advise our school and orchestrate our participation in the annual “A Terra Treme” Earthquake Awareness protocol.

This exercise takes place annually on November 9 at 11:09 across the whole of Portugal and is promoted by Safe Communities Portugal and the initiative of the National Emergency and Civil Protection Authority.

It seeks to draw attention to the seismic risk and the importance of simple actions that citizens should adopt in the event of an earthquake, but which can save lives. It lasts for just one minute, during which participants are invited to perform the three save gestures: DROP, COVER, HOLD.

Our students took part and executed the exercise in a very calm manner. David was very impressed with the smooth execution of the exercise.

Informed children are proven to be better able to keep their cool in potentially hazardous situations or when they feel an earthquake as they know what could happen. They will have both a concept and understanding of the actions to be taken.

Equally important is the fact that educating children in a positive way about earthquakes and the correct procedures to follow will mean that lives are saved.

At our school, all children undertake regular earthquake drills and talk through the actions to follow depending on where they are at the time of the earthquake.

It is also vital that parents, both at home and when staying somewhere new, help their children to be aware of different situations and the correct procedure to follow.

There will be times when your teenagers are at home alone or babysitting their siblings. Lives can be saved by having had talks about earthquake safety.

Safe Communities Portugal ( and the National Emergency and Civil Protection Authority recommend the following steps for families to take.

Before an earthquake

  • Talk about earthquakes with your family and friends and draw up an emergency plan.
  • Make sure everyone knows what to do if an earthquake occurs.
  • Arrange a family meeting point after an earthquake should individuals be separated.
  • Check your home, make sure its corridors are clear and large heavy objects are placed on the floor and not on shelves.
  • Make clear the safest places to shelter, interior doorways, corners of interior walls, under tables and beds.
  • Know the places to avoid; near windows, mirrors, lamps, furniture, and other objects that fall, as well as elevators and exits to the street.
  • Prepare an emergency kit.
  • Make sure that all children know their home address.
  • Practice – Drop, Cover, Hold On.

During an earthquake

  • Perform the three actions that can save lives – Drop, Cover, Hold On.
  • If you are on one of the upper floors of a building, do not rush to the stairs.
  • Never use lifts.
  • Stay close to a beam or pillar, in the corners of the rooms or under a sturdy table or bed.
  • Keep away from windows and mirrors, furniture, lamps, and other objects that may fall.

After an earthquake

  • Stay alert as aftershocks may occur and eventually a tsunami.
  • Make sure you are not injured and try and help those around you.
  • Do not rush to the stairs or exits and never use elevators.
  • Do not smoke or light matches or use lighters. Remember that there may be gas leaks.
  • Turn off water, gas, and electricity.
  • Avoid contact with glass, electrical cables, and metal objects.
  • Wipe up any spilled flammable products immediately, for example alcohol and paint.
  • Calmly encourage your family to leave your home if you find that it has suffered considerable damage or is in danger of collapse.
  • As soon as possible, go to an open and preferably a high point, away from the sea or watercourses and only return home when the authorities advise.
  • Leave the streets clear for emergency vehicles.
  • Do not use the phone. Alternatively, use SMS or social networks to communicate with family and friends.
  • In an emergency (serious injuries, gas leaks or fires), call 112

After taking part in the earthquake exercise, David Thomas could not emphasize more strongly how important it is for all children, families, and schools to be aware of how to be prepared for an earthquake.

Being and staying safe does not happen by accident and, as parents, it is vital for us to consider this wherever we are at home, at a friend’s house or when on holiday.

Make it part of your routine to talk about what your children need to do in the event of an earthquake and how to be prepared. Teach and practice with your children ‘Drop, Cover, Hold On’.

By Penelope Best, Head of School,
Eupheus International School, Loulé