How to prepare for an earthquake -

Are you ready for an earthquake?

The U.S. Geological Survey tracks millions of earthquakes around the world every year. And here in the United States, earthquakes have more than doubled over the past decade.

In Oklahoma, a recent earthquake rattled residents unaccustomed to temblors, damaging many homes.

It's impossible to predict exactly when an earthquake will occur. But at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., scientist Andrea Donnellan is spearheading a team working to refine locations where they may occur to within a six-mile radius.

The team is studying the movements of the earth's surface.

"You can think of the earth's crust a little bit like silly putty," says Donnellan. "And so the earth's crust stretches and moves. If we stretch it hard enough, it will break. But I don't think any of us knew exactly when that break was going to occur."

One area of major concern is right in the center of America's heartland. It's called the New Madrid seismic zone. Two-hundred years ago, three earthquakes struck the region. The shakers were so violent, they re-routed the Mississippi river.

And it could definitely happen again.

The central U.S. earthquake hazard can be very high. From 2010 to 2011, the USGS recorded 20 earthquakes of a magnitude of 4.0 or higher across the country. The vast majority occurred in locations not usually thought of as "earthquake country."

Donnellan says all Americans need to be prepared.

"What I do with my family is make sure we have an emergency plan. Make sure that things are secure inside the house," says Donnellan. "That includes bolting large furniture like bookcases to the wall."

One of Andrea's biggest earthquake survival tips runs counter to most people's instincts: When the earth starts shaking, do not run outside!

"People have run out of buildings during earthquakes and facades have fallen off and actually killed them," she warns. "Also, they can get thrown or tripped because the ground is moving."

She recommends organizing two earthquake kits – one for your home and one for your car. The kit should contain bottled water, canned food and a can opener.

"It's important to store your food and water in a place where you think it's probably not going to be buried," says Donnellan.

The scientists at JPL hope they will someday improve earthquake forecasts, which should help us be better prepared. But with almost every region of the United States at risk, the best time for all Americans to prepare is now.

Copyright 2012 America Now. All rights reserved.

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