What Should You Do Before, During, and After an Earthquake?
This article was reviewed by a Caltech scientist.
It is impossible to predict when and where an earthquake will strike. Nonetheless, you can take steps before, during, and after a quake to help yourself stay safe and recover quickly.
Before an earthquake
Make sure you and your household are earthquake-ready:
Secure heavy furniture and appliances – More than half of the injuries associated with the 1994 Northridge earthquake were caused by toppling objects. One way to protect yourself is to look around your home or workplace and make sure heavy furniture, such as bookcases and beds, as well as appliances, such as water heaters and televisions, are safely secured to the wall using straps, closed hooks, or wall studs. Large, heavy, or unstable items should be placed on low shelves, close to the floor, and away from doors and escape routes.
Identify safe spots – Know where you can take cover in every room, for example under a sturdy table or desk. Conduct regular drills on how to drop, cover, and hold on.
Have a plan – Make sure everyone in your household knows how to access disaster supplies, and whom to call and where to meet if an earthquake strikes when you are apart.
Gather supplies – Have ample water and an emergency kit ready in your home, as well as smaller go-bags in your car, workplace, and any other places you might be when an earthquake hits. Your emergency supplies should be tailored for your specific needs, but common items include water, a first-aid kit, sturdy shoes, a portable radio, snacks, and emergency cash. FEMA and The Earthquake Country Alliance provide detailed checklists of items to include in an emergency kit.
During an earthquake
The safest steps to take in the middle of an earthquake depend on where you are:
Indoors – Get under a desk or table, cover your head and neck with one arm or hand, and use your other arm or hand to hang on (drop, cover, and hold on). If no shelter is available, move into a hallway or against an inside wall. If you use a wheelchair or walker with a seat, make sure your wheels are locked and remain seated until the shaking subsides. Stay away from windows, fireplaces, and heavy furniture or appliances, and do not use elevators. If you are in bed when an earthquake starts, do not get out of bed. Instead, lie face down to protect vital organs, and cover your head and neck with a pillow.
Outdoors – Quickly find an open space away from buildings, power lines, and anything else that can topple on you. If you are driving, safely pull over and stop, and stay in your car until the shaking stops. Do not stop under bridges, overpasses, trees, or anything else that can strike your vehicle. If you are in a mountainous area, watch out for falling rocks and landslides, and if you are near the ocean during a severe earthquake, be mindful of tsunamis.
After an earthquake
After the shaking subsides, assess your wellbeing and that of those around you. Stay alert to new or continuing hazards.
Conduct a safety check – Once you are in a safe place, check yourself and others for injuries, and call for help if needed. Look around to make sure you are not in danger from other hazards caused by the quake, such as gas leaks or fire. Wear boots or sturdy shoes to protect your feet from broken glass and debris.
Get help, if needed – If you are trapped, cover your mouth, nose, and eyes against dust. Send a text and make noise to alert rescuers to your location.
Stay connected – If you have access to a battery-operated radio (perhaps in your car) or television, update yourself on the latest emergency information. Let friends and family know you are safe, but, if possible, minimize calls to help protect internet and telephone connectivity. You can also register on the American Red Cross "Safe and Well" website to let people know you are safe.
What not to do
Avoid running to other rooms while the ground is still shaking.
Do not seek shelter in doorways. They offer no protection against falling or flying objects.
After a quake, do not use matches or lighters near stoves or barbecues until you are sure there are no gas leaks. If the gas is turned off, do not turn it back on by yourself; let the gas company do it.
Do not call 911 unless you are experiencing a true emergency.