What to Do During an Earthquake

Depending on where you live, you may know a considerable amount about earthquakes or you may know nothing about them. As demonstrated in recent years, though, earthquakes can occur anywhere without any warning, so it is worth understanding how to prepare for an earthquake and how to stay safe during and after an earthquake no matter where you call home.


To protect your family and your home in the event of an earthquake, there are a few preparatory measures you can take. Most of these take little to no time to check off of your list, and even if you are lucky enough never to experience an earthquake, taking these precautionary measures can make your home a little safer for everyday use.

  • Keep a stocked emergency kit in your home. Check out Ready.gov for a list of items to include in your kit.
  • Anchor heavy furniture, like bookshelves and media centers, to the wall.
  • Store heavy or fragile items on low shelves or in low cabinets whenever possible.
  • Have your home routinely checked for structural damage, like wall, ceiling, or foundation cracks or roof damage.
  • Regularly check the condition of electrical wiring and gas and water lines throughout your home. If an area needs attention, address it immediately!
  • Be aware of the locations of the main shutoff valves for water and gas, as well as your main circuit breaker.
  • Be sure each member of your family knows what to do during an earthquake at home or elsewhere. Each family member should be able to locate the safe spots in your home.

Keeping your home safe and functioning properly is no guarantee that it will withstand the strongest earthquake, but being proactive and taking just a few precautionary steps can increase the chances that your family will know how to react and keep your home as safe as possible.

Experiencing an earthquake indoors

As explained on Ready.gov, your best defense in an earthquake is to "drop, cover, and hold on."

  • Drop to the ground as soon as you're aware of the earthquake.
  • Take cover quickly and carefully under a sturdy piece of furniture, like a table or desk. If you can't locate a table or desk, move to a corner of the room that is away from windows, heavy wall hangings, light fixtures or unsecured furniture. Duck your head and protect your face and head with your arms.
  • Hold on to your shelter until the shaking stops. Exit the building as soon as it is safe to do so after the earthquake has stopped.

Contrary to what you may have heard in the past, doorways are not necessarily the best place to be during an earthquake. Doorways may only offer protection if they are load-bearing, and unless you're familiar with the construction of your home or the building you're in during an earthquake, opt to find shelter under a sturdy piece of furniture instead of a doorway.

If, after taking every precaution, you find yourself trapped after an earthquake, stay calm. People around you should also stay put until the shaking stops and after that, most likely, people will begin searching for those injured or trapped. Try to stay as still as possible to avoid worsening your position or causing a further collapse of materials. Try tapping on a nearby pipe or other material that will resonate. Remember that after a building collapse, there will likely be a great deal of dust and debris, so keep your mouth covered with a piece of clothing and yell for help only when that is your only option.

Experiencing an earthquake outdoors

Earthquakes can strike at any moment, so if you are caught outside during an earthquake, you'll be safest if you stay there and quickly move to an open area as far away as possible from buildings, structures, utility poles, utility lines and streetlights.

If you are traveling in your car at the start of an earthquake, drive to an open space free of buildings, trees, overpasses, underpasses and utility wires. As soon as it's safe to do so, park your car and stay inside until the earthquake is over. If you can safely drive away after the earthquake, do so with caution since roads and bridges may have been damaged.

Earthquake aftermath

Your work isn't quite over when the shaking stops. When it is safe to do so, and if you're able, take the following steps to continue to ensure your safety and the safety of the people around you.

  • Help anyone injured or trapped to exit the building and find help. If someone has a severe injury or you're unsure of how badly someone may be hurt, call for help, if possible, before rendering first aid or trying to move him or her.
  • Steer clear of buildings or areas that appear unstable.
  • Use caution during clean-up. Be alert and leave the building immediately if you smell a gas leak or notice sparks or frayed electrical wires and call for help. Be aware that pieces of debris may be sharp, so cover your feet, hands and arms as much as possible.
  • Be prepared for aftershocks and tsunamis. Even after earthquakes are over, secondary quakes may follow within minutes or months. If you live in a coastal area near the earthquake site, you may be placed under a tsunami warning following an earthquake. Stay away from beaches and expect dangerous waves.

Knowing how to react during an earthquake is valuable information that can save lives and keep you and your family calm should you ever experience an earthquake. Be sure your family becomes familiar with these safety procedures, especially if you live in an area prone to earthquakes. For more information on earthquake preparedness and aid after an earthquake visit the Earthquakes page on Ready.gov or the American Red Cross. You can also access more information about preparing for or dealing with an earthquake by contacting a Military OneSource consultant at 1-800-342-9647 or by visiting the Disaster Resources page on our website.


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