An earthquake is the sudden, rapid shaking of the earth, caused by the breaking and shifting of underground rock. Earthquakes can cause buildings to collapse and cause heavy items to fall, resulting in injuries and property damage.
- Happen anywhere. Higher risk areas include California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Mississippi Valley.
- Happen without warning.
- Cause fires and damage roads.
- Cause tsunamis, landslides and avalanches.
If an earthquake happens, protect yourself right away. Drop, Cover and Hold On!
- If you are in a vehicle, pull over and stop. Set your parking brake.
- If you are in bed, turn face down and cover your head and neck with a pillow.
- If you are outdoors, stay outdoors away from buildings.
- Do not get in a doorway.
- Do not run outside.
- Visit EarthquakeCountry.org/step5 for tips and videos on what to do in a variety of other situations.
Stay Safe During an Earthquake: Drop, Cover and Hold On!
Drop: Drop where you are, onto your hands and knees.
Cover: Cover your head and neck with your arms. If a sturdy table or desk is nearby, crawl underneath it for shelter. If no shelter is nearby, crawl next to an interior wall (away from windows). Crawl only if you can reach better cover without going through an area with more debris. Stay on your knees; bend over to protect vital organs,
Hold On. If you are under a table or desk, hold onto with one hand and be ready to move with it if it moves. If you can’t find a table or desk: hold on to your head and neck with both arms and hands. If seated and unable to drop to the floor: bend forward, cover your head with your arms, and hold on to your neck with both hands.
If using a wheelchair or a walker with a seat:
Lock: Make sure your wheels are locked. Remain seated until the shaking stops.
Cover: Protect your head and neck with your arms, a pillow, a book, or whatever is available.
Hold on: maintain your position with head and neck covered until shaking stops.
Prepare Before an Earthquake
The best time to prepare for any disaster is before it happens.
- Practice Drop, Cover, then Hold On with family and coworkers. Drop to your hands and knees. Cover your head and neck with your arms. Crawl under a sturdy table or desk if nearby. Hold on to any sturdy furniture until the shaking stops. If a table or desk is not close, crawl next to an interior wall.
- Secure items, such as bookcases, refrigerators, televisions and objects that hang on walls. Store heavy and breakable objects on low shelves.
- Create a family emergency communications plan that has an out-of-state contact. Plan where to meet if you get separated.
- Make a supply kit that includes enough food and water for at least three days, a flashlight, a fire extinguisher, and a whistle. Consider each person’s specific needs, including medication. Have extra batteries and charging devices for phones and other critical equipment. Do not forget the needs of pets and service animals.
- Consider obtaining an earthquake insurance policy. A standard homeowner’s insurance policy does not cover earthquake damage.
- Consider making improvements to your building to fix structural issues that could cause your building to collapse during an earthquake.
Keep Yourself Safe After an Earthquake
If an earthquake has just happened, there can be serious hazards such as damage to the building, leaking gas and water lines, or downed power lines.
- Expect aftershocks to follow the main shock of an earthquake.
- Check yourself to see if you are hurt and help others if you have training. Learn how to be the Help Until Help Arrives (Link to: https://community.fema.gov/until-help-arrives)
- If you are in a damaged building, go outside and quickly move away from the building.
- Do not enter damaged buildings.
- If you are trapped, protect your mouth, nose and eyes from dust. Send a text, bang on a pipe or wall, or use a whistle instead of shouting so that rescuers can locate you.
- If you are in an area that may experience tsunamis, go inland or to higher ground immediately after the shaking stops.
- Text messages may be more reliable than phone calls. Save phone calls for emergencies.
- Once you are safe, listen to local news reports via battery operated radio, TV, social media, and cell phone text alerts for emergency information and instructions. Be very careful during post-disaster clean-up of buildings and around debris. Do not attempt to remove heavy debris by yourself. Wear protective clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, work gloves, and sturdy, thick-soled shoes during clean-up.
- Register on the Red Cross “Safe and Well” website so people will know you are okay: SafeAndWell.org.
- Earthquake Information Sheet (PDF)
- How to Prepare for an Earthquake (PDF)
- Earthquake Playbook (PDF)
- Earthquake Preparedness: What Every Childcare Provider Should Know (PDF)
- When the Earth Shakes (Video)
- The Great ShakeOut (link)
- U.S. Geological Survey Earthquake Hazards Program (link)
- American Red Cross (link)
- Earthquake Country Alliance (link) Includes recommendations for people who use wheelchairs, walkers, or are unable to drop to the ground and get up again without assistance.
- National Science Foundation (link)
- National Institute of Standards and Technology (link)