One of the most frightening and destructive phenomena of
nature is a severe earthquake and its terrible
Earthquakes strike suddenly, violently, and without warning
at any time of the day or night. If an earthquake occurs in a
populated area, it may cause many deaths and injuries and
extensive property damage.
Although there are no guarantees of safety during an
earthquake, identifying potential hazards ahead of time and
advance planning can save lives and significantly reduce
injuries and property damage.
What to Do Before
Earthquakes strike suddenly, violently and
without warning. Identifying potential hazards ahead of time
and advance planning can reduce the dangers of serious injury
or loss of life from an earthquake. Repairing deep plaster
cracks in ceilings and foundations, anchoring overhead lighting
fixtures to the ceiling, and following local seismic building
standards, will help reduce the impact of earthquakes.
Six Ways to Plan
- Check for Hazards in the Home
- Fasten shelves securely to walls.
- Place large or heavy objects on lower
- Store breakable items such as bottled foods,
glass, and china in low, closed cabinets with
- Hang heavy items such as pictures and mirrors
away from beds, couches, and anywhere people
- Brace overhead light fixtures.
- Repair defective electrical wiring and leaky
gas connections. These are potential fire
- Secure a water heater by strapping it to the
wall studs and bolting it to the floor.
- Repair any deep cracks in ceilings or
foundations. Get expert advice if there are signs
of structural defects.
- Store weed killers, pesticides, and flammable
products securely in closed cabinets with latches
and on bottom shelves.
- Identify Safe Places Indoors and Outdoors
- Under sturdy furniture such as a heavy desk or
- Against an inside wall.
- Away from where glass could shatter around
windows, mirrors, pictures, or where heavy
bookcases or other heavy furniture could fall
- In the open, away from buildings, trees,
telephone and electrical lines, overpasses, or
- Educate Yourself and Family Members
- Contact your local emergency management office
or American Red Cross chapter for more information
on earthquakes. Also read the "How-To Series" for
information on how to protect your property from
- Teach children how and when to call 9-1-1,
police, or fire department and which radio station
to tune to for emergency information.
- Teach all family members how and when to turn
off gas, electricity, and water.
- Have Disaster Supplies on Hand
- Flashlight and extra batteries.
- Portable battery-operated radio and extra
- First aid kit and manual.
- Emergency food and water.
- Nonelectric can opener.
- Essential medicines.
- Cash and credit cards.
- Sturdy shoes.
- Develop an Emergency Communication Plan
- In case family members are separated from one
another during an earthquake (a real possibility
during the day when adults are at work and children
are at school), develop a plan for reuniting after
- Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve
as the "family contact." After a disaster, it's
often easier to call long distance. Make sure
everyone in the family knows the name, address, and
phone number of the contact person.
- Help Your Community Get Ready
- Publish a special section in your local
newspaper with emergency information on
earthquakes. Localize the information by printing
the phone numbers of local emergency services
offices, the American Red Cross, and
- Conduct a week-long series on locating hazards
in the home.
Work with local emergency services and American Red
Cross officials to prepare special reports for
people with mobility impairments on what to do
during an earthquake.
- Provide tips on conducting earthquake drills in
- Interview representatives of the gas, electric,
and water companies about shutting off
- Work together in your community to apply your
knowledge to building codes, retrofitting programs,
hazard hunts, and neighborhood and family emergency
What to Do During an
Stay as safe as possible during an earthquake. Be aware that
some earthquakes are actually foreshocks and a larger
earthquake might occur. Minimize your movements to a few steps
to a nearby safe place and stay indoors until the shaking has
stopped and you are sure exiting is safe.
- DROP to the ground; take COVER by getting under a
sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and HOLD ON on
until the shaking stops. If there isn’t a table or desk
near you, cover your face and head with your arms and
crouch in an inside corner of the building.
- Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls,
and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or
Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake strikes.
Hold on and protect your head with a pillow, unless you are
under a heavy light fixture that could fall. In that case,
move to the nearest safe place.
- Use a doorway for shelter only if it is in close
proximity to you and if you know it is a strongly
supported, loadbearing doorway.
Stay inside until shaking stops and it is safe to go
outside. Research has shown that most injuries occur when
people inside buildings attempt to move to a different
location inside the building or try to leave.
Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler
systems or fire alarms may turn on.
- DO NOT use the elevators.
- Stay there.
- Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility
- Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops.
The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at
exits, and alongside exterior walls. Many of the 120
fatalities from the 1933 Long Beach earthquake occurred
when people ran outside of buildings only to be killed by
falling debris from collapsing walls. Ground movement
during an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or
injury. Most earthquake-related casualties result from
collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects.
If in a moving vehicle
- Stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the
vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees,
overpasses, and utility wires.
- Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped.
Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged
by the earthquake.
If trapped under debris
- Do not light a match.
- Do not move about or kick up dust.
- Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.
- Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. Use a
whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort.
Shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of
What to Do After an
- Expect aftershocks. These secondary shockwaves are
usually less violent than the main quake but can be strong
enough to do additional damage to weakened structures and
can occur in the first hours, days, weeks, or even months
after the quake.
- Listen to a battery-operated radio or television.
Listen for the latest emergency information.
- Use the telephone only for emergency calls.
- Open cabinets cautiously. Beware of objects that can
fall off shelves.
- Stay away from damaged areas. Stay away unless your
assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire,
or relief organizations. Return home only when authorities
say it is safe.
- Be aware of possible tsunamis if you live in coastal
areas. These are also known as seismic sea waves
(mistakenly called "tidal waves"). When local authorities
issue a tsunami warning, assume that a series of dangerous
waves is on the way. Stay away from the beach.
- Help injured or trapped persons. Remember to help your
neighbors who may require special assistance such as
infants, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Give
first aid where appropriate. Do not move seriously injured
persons unless they are in immediate danger of further
injury. Call for help.
- Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline or other
flammable liquids immediately. Leave the area if you smell
gas or fumes from other chemicals.
- Inspect the entire length of chimneys for damage.
Unnoticed damage could lead to a fire.
- Inspect utilities.
- Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear blowing
or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the
building. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you
can and call the gas company from a neighbor's home. If you
turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on
by a professional.
- Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks or
broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation,
turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit
breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse
box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for
- Check for sewage and water lines damage. If you suspect
sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call
a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water
company and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain
safe water by melting ice cubes.
Much of the info on this page was taken from FEMA's web site
which can be referenced at: