What to do during an earthquake?

In the event of an earthquake, what to do depends largely on where you are. If you are inside, stay inside. If you are outside, stay outside. If you are driving, stay in your car. Here are some more tips for what do you do in an earthquake and after an earthquake to stay safe.

causes of an earthquake

What to Do if Your Are Inside During an Earthquake

The safest places inside a building or house during an earthquake are under tables or desks, and away from windows and large unsecured furniture. If you are inside during an earthquake, head to the safest spot that is closest to you and duck and cover. In the duck and cover position, you curl up into a ball and cover your head, neck, and face with your arms and hands. Although in a strong quake, you may need your hands to hold on to the table and stay under the table.

Avoid running past windows and large bookcases, cabinets, or other furniture that may fall over.

If you cannot get under a table or into a doorway, duck and cover in a corner of the room or building that is farthest away from windows and falling objects. Another safe option may be a doorway. Load-bearing doorways that are well constructed offer the greatest protection, but most doorways do tend to be away from windows and falling objects.  

What to Do If You Are Outside During and Earthquake

If you are outside, you need to look up and be conscious of what could fall on you. Head to the middle of a field, the street, or a parking lot if you can (watch for cars!) and away from buildings and power lines.

Do not go back into a building immediately following an earthquake. The building may be damaged and could still crumble. Ready.gov reports that, “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.” Wait until emergency crews have declared a building safe before entering.

While Driving

Even in strong earthquakes, most people never realize they drove through an earthquake. Usually, a driver only thinks the road is strangely bumpy. But if you do recognize that you are driving during an earthquake, stop the car in a safe open location away from trees, buildings, and power lines if possible and ride the quake out while inside your car. When you start to drive again, do so slowly and cautiously. Bridges may be damaged and stoplights may not be functioning.

What to Do After an Earthquake

Provide first aid to anyone that needs it.

Leave buildings that may have sustained damage.

Check on neighbors to see if they need help.Earthquake kits

Check your house for damage. Smell the air and listen for a gas leak and walk around the inside and perimeter of your home to take inventory of the damage. If you smell gas, open windows and doors and leave the building as quick as possible. Turn off the gas at the main valve outside. Call to report any gas leaks or significant damage that can be considered an emergency after you have left the building or house.

Locate your earthquake emergency kit, which you should have if you live in earthquake country. If the power is out and phones are down, chances are you will need some supplies.

Turn on the radio from your emergency disaster kit to listen for instructions and updates.

If you need shelter because your home is damaged, you can text “SHELTER” + “your zip code” to 4FEMA for assistance.


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After an Earthquake: What Not to Do

Do not use your phone, cell or land phone, if it’s not an emergency. In large earthquakes, phone lines and cell towers can become over loaded. Don’t use your phone unless you absolutely need to. This will allow emergency 911 calls to get through.

Don’t take the elevator. It may be damaged, or become damaged during the next aftershock.

Don’t open cabinets while standing directly under them. Things will fall on you. Instead, stand off to the side as you open cabinet doors.

Prepare for Aftershocks

If the earthquake was large enough to cause damage or had drivers pulling over, there will be aftershocks, and potentially lots of them. Aftershocks are smaller quakes that follow the main large quake. Aftershocks can occur immediately following the main quake and over a period of years. However, most of the aftershocks will happen within days to weeks following a large quake. The USGS states, “On average, for each magnitude 5 aftershock in a sequence, we will see 10 magnitude 4 aftershocks, 100 magnitude 3 aftershocks, 1000 magnitude 2 aftershocks, etc.”

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Because strong aftershocks can be expected after a large earthquake, you can take note of what fell or became damaged in the first quake to minimize damage in aftershocks. Also, keep your emergency kit stocked with food, water, batteries, and first aid supplies as power may be off sporadically in the coming weeks due to the aftershocks.  If you don't have survival kits for earthquakes, now is a good time to prepare.