Mexico registers around 43 earthquakes a day. While most of them go unnoticed, it is a common occurrence that you will eventually get used to. Whether or not you feel an earthquake depends on where the epicenter is, the distance below the surface of the earth in which it occurred, and where you are. Mexico is part of the Ring of Fire, where there is a concentration of tectonic plates interacting with each other, mostly in the form of subduction. This means that one tectonic plate is going underneath another. Because of this, there is increased volcanic and seismic activity in the region. Mexico lies on the Northamerican Plate and the Pacific Plate, the Rivera Plate, the Cocos Plate, and the Caribbean Plate. Five tectonic plates are constantly interacting with each other, and Mexico feels the effects of this every day.
Mexico has an alarm system that will alert of an incoming earthquake, but it is not always reliable. For example, in Mexico City, the alarm will not go off if the epicenter is inside the city or if the intensity or duration is too small. Keep in mind that after a terrible earthquake in 1985, buildings are required to meet a certain standard that will ensure they can withstand earthquakes of up to 9,0 on the Richter Scale. Earthquakes are felt stronger in the area of Mexico City that lies on the lake that the city was initially built on - in the 14th century.
Mexico has the ‘Brigada de Topos de Tlatelolco’ (Mole Brigade of Tlatelolco), a rescue organization that was formed in 1985 and has since helped save lives in Mexico and abroad. The most notable of their efforts were in Nepal in 2015, Haiti in 2010, and in the Pacific Rim after the 2004 tsunami.
How to stay safe
There are many precautions you can take to make sure you and your loved ones are safe in the event of an earthquake. The most important of which is to know what to look out for. Here are a series of steps you can take to ensure your safety:
- Have an evacuation plan in your home. Learn the evacuation plan at your place of work. Know the fastest and safest way to reach safety. Practice your evacuation plan.
- Identify what objects might be a hazard during an earthquake. Secure them if you can, keep it in mind if not. These objects can be anything from TVs, sculptures, boilers, to bookcases.
- Know where to turn off gas and water lines if you can.
- Keep an emergency kit with a portable radio, a lantern, first aid kit, water, whistle, emergency phone numbers, and copies of personal documents.
- Keep calm and follow your emergency plan.
- Drop, Cover and Hold On. Get on the floor, cover your neck with your hand or arm, and hold on to something sturdy.
- If you’re above a third floor, do not try to evacuate unless you can do so in less than 15 seconds.
- Do not use elevators.
- If you can’t evacuate, find a place that is far away from windows, preferably next to a load wall.
- Move away from objects that could fall on you, like electronics.
- Do not get under a desk or table.
- If you’re on the street stay away from lampposts and electric cables. Do not run or cause a panic.
- If you’re trapped, do not move, cover your mouth with a piece of cloth, and under no circumstances light a match.
- There are always aftershocks, so do not stay in a place that was affected by the first wave.
- Cut the electric current and gas lines. Make sure there hasn’t been a gas leak. If you find a leak, call emergency services and stay away from the leak.
- Get in contact with your family, but do not make unnecessary use of electronics and phone lines.
Common myths and the truth
There are many things you should not do during an earthquake. There are many myths about staying safe, like the ‘triangle of life,’ that have been disproved but are still commonly believed.
The myth of the ‘triangle of life’ was spread through a chain email for many years. It stated that if you seek shelter next to a solid surface, under the misguided idea that the sturdier the object is, the less it will compact if the building were to collapse, creating a ‘safe space'. This idea is completely unsubstantiated, and official institutions like the Red Cross and the United States Geological Survey have warned against it.
Another common misconception is that building collapse is the most dangerous part of an earthquake, when in reality, the vast majority of injuries happen as objects fall on top of people.
There is a belief that door frames are the safest place during an earthquake. This is also false, unless you live in a very old adobe house. Most modern houses do not have re-enforced door frames, providing no extra safety.