Posted by: Anna Webb | January 7, 2010

Earthquakes: Hawaii and Beyond

USGS "Tux" Hawaii Earthquake map

It’s no secret that the Big Island is a major earthquake zone. The island itself is vulnerable to earthquakes due to its volcanic activity and its fault lines.

What does this mean and how does this affect those of us that call this home?

Earthquakes can happen at anytime. The land beneath us shifts due to moving magma and at anytime we can feel it. Most of the earthquakes on the Big Island take place underneath the Kilauea volcano. Of those, the majority take place on the “pali” down below the Pu’u’O’o vent in lower Puna. However, the last strong earthquake we felt in October of 2006 took place on the west side of the island, and as far as experts can tell, because part of the mountain on that side fell away.

What can we do and how can we be prepared? 85% of the earthquakes that take place on the Big Island will not be felt or will be minimal. For the other 15%, all we can do is know what to do when it happens. First, stay calm (easy for me to say!) When the earth shakes, the doors in our home can shift and become jammed. Therefore, a first consideration is to open the front door. Most information will tell you to stand under a doorway. The reason for this is to protect yourself from objects flying/shaking off the walls. Photos, pictures/paintings, decorative objects placed on high shelves, books on bookshelves, etc. are all prone to dislodging during an earthquake. Protect your head.

Be mindful that items held and stored within cabinets can shift during an earthquake. Simply opening a kitchen cabinet to retrieve a glass can be dangerous if they’ve shifted. Items can fall out and hit you in the head so open them with caution. The same applies to your refrigerator. If anyone has opened the freezer door only to have a frozen piece of chicken fall out onto the floor can attest to the pain that can be incurred if it falls on your foot.

Pipes, including gas lines, can become  damaged during an earthquake which can cause a fire. Be mindful of your surroundings and listen for any noises that aren’t normal. Water or gas could be leaking from a pipe. If you are driving, pull off to the side of the road and be mindful of power poles and lines.

Remember, aftershocks are possible. If it’s a strong earthquake lasting more than 5 seconds, there may be another coming. What do you do? Stay calm and stay safe; under a doorway is best. Stay away from windows, mirrors and objects that could fall on you.

Again, most earthquakes aren’t seriously damaging on the Big Island but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen in the future. Educate your family and drill them to know what to do in the event of a serious one. Below are some links that could be informative or helpful to be prepared. In addition, there are some local and global links to keep tabs on earthquakes in your area.

FEMA Earthquake preparedness website

USGS Hawaii earthquake website

Global earthquake website


  1. I’m looking forward to experiencing one while I visit… Adding to my life’s list of “Experiences.”
    I am serious too…


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