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What Should I do During an Earthquake?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A serious earthquake can be a traumatic experience, and it is easy to forget safety measures in the chaos. Fortunately, most earthquake safety measures are common sense, but if you forget everything else, remember the Federal Emergency Management Agency's directions: drop, cover, and hold on. Also, be aware that the majority of earthquake fatalities happen after the earthquake, so remember that the danger does not end when the shaking does!

If you are indoors during an earthquake, move away from unsupported areas and windows. Try to get under a doorway or another area of the building which is held up by strong beams. Shelter under a table or desk only if it is very sturdy, because otherwise it may collapse on you. Do not rush for exits or elevators, because it is far safer to stay where you are. Protect your head by wrapping your arms around it and curling into a ball, and wait for the shaking to stop.

If you are outdoors during an earthquake, move to an area which is as open as possible. Avoid buildings, utility poles, and other objects which may fall during an earthquake and injure you. Protect your head and stay low to the ground until the shaking ends and it is safe to move. If you are in a motor vehicle, bring it to a stop as quickly as possible, avoiding bridges and overpasses.

After an earthquake, be aware that many buildings are destabilized, although they appear safe. If you are indoors, evacuate the building in an orderly fashion, and assist disabled or injured individuals. Once outdoors, move well away from the building so that if it collapses, you will not be injured by debris. Wait until public safety officials indicate that it is safe to be indoors. If you are by the ocean, be aware of the risk of a tsunami as a result of the earthquake, and consider moving to high ground.

Also be aware that an earthquake can rupture utility lines for gas, electricity, and water. Make sure to extinguish any open flames to prevent explosions, and be wary of potentially live electrical lines. Do not use bridges and overpasses until their structural soundness has been determined, and follow directions from police, medical, and fire personnel. Although a cause of danger may not be readily apparent to you, these professionals have training and special devices which they use to assess the situation.

If you live in an earthquake prone region, having an earthquake plan is an excellent idea. Make sure that all members of the family are aware of a centralized meeting place, as well as emergency phone numbers. Coordinate pet evacuation plans with your neighbors, and keep ample stocks of emergency food, water, medical, and sheltering supplies on hand. By planning ahead and remaining calm during an earthquake, you can greatly increase your chances of survival without injury.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon63734 — On Feb 03, 2010

this is shruti. well you should first check yourself for injuries etc., and after that, anyone else. Then, if you want to inform your family members, just tell them some precautions they can take during the tremors.

By bprepared — On Jun 01, 2008

Catastrophes like earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, violent crimes, and terrorism are so common and routine that many of us have become numb to the tragic news stories. Without a heightened awareness, focused concern, and effective planning, we have lost the edge that can save lives. Be safe. Be prepared. Plan ahead for the unexpected. How will you protect your family?

Part of the solution is rooted in common sense, but much more depends upon effectively applying learned survival skills. Citizens need a helpful reference tool--a "Swiss army knife" for handling today's threats.

James (Jay) Schaefer-Jones

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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