Every child in NZ knows the mantra, "DROP, COVER, HOLD" It is what they are taught in school so they know what to do when an earthquake strikes.
When I first settled in NZ I didn't know it was earthquake prone. Nothing prepared me for the shock of feeling the ground under and around me shaking violently. I think my blood sugar must've plummeted as everything veered crazily and a sickening jolt went through the house. I picked up the kids - one a baby and the other an infant - and ran to my neighbour's not knowing what had hit us. Now I know it was the wrongest thing to do.
The best strategy is to drop down to your knees, either under a sturdy table (or other furniture) that won't break and fall all over you or if you are physically not that agile, stay close to an inner wall away from flying debris from windows etc, protect your face and neck and hold that position until the earth stops shaking. It is a well documented fact that flying debris is responsible for a great many deaths in an earthquake.
Since that first earthquake I've felt two more. All three have been "minor" - around 5 on the richter scale. You never get used to an earthquake. The shock makes the blood drain from your face every time. But what happens after that is that you feel nervous for a day or two and then limp back to being blase about it. You forget - until the next one hits you.
After the Christchurch earthquake, the NZ government has decided on this massive effort - an earthquake drill on the 26th of September, 2012 at exactly 9:26 am so that New Zealanders are forced to think about, plan and strategise their movements before, during and after an earthquake.
There is much we can do.
We need, for example, an earthquake emergency kit to enable us to survive for at least three days without help. We need water stored in sturdy containers at home, at work and in the car in strategic locations. We need to chalk out escape routes, a meeting place for the family and much more.
Here are a couple of useful links if you'd like to find out more
Shakeout - NZ Earthquake Drill
Emergency survival kit