Earthquake Safety Guide: Protect Yourself and Your Family From Shakes

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When the tectonic plates in the earth’s crust move, it creates seismic waves from the sudden release of energy – what we call an earthquake. Throughout the history of the Earth, tectonic plate movements created oceans and displaced continents, shaping the world we see today. Earthquakes occur all over the world, but they are more frequent and intense near fault lines. In the United States, 16 states are highest risk of natural earthquakes: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Even if you’ve never experienced an earthquake and living in a low risk stateBeing prepared can reduce the risk of injury to your family in other natural disasters – or if you visit areas more prone to earthquakes.

Before an earthquake …

An earthquake can happen at any time and usually happens without warning. By preparing yourself and your family before an earthquake strikes, you can minimize the risk of injury and damage to your home.

Create an earthquake plan

Have a earthquake preparedness plan and having a safety guide in place is one of the best things you can do to make sure your family is protected in the event of earthquake activity.

An earthquake preparedness plan can include:

  • Talk about earthquakes with your family. Fear of the unknown can cause people of all ages to freeze or run, which can be dangerous during an earthquake. Discuss what an earthquake is and what to do if there is one – and if you have kids, answer any questions they might have to help them prepare for it. the possibility of an earthquake.
  • Creation of an emergency kit. Make an emergency kit for your family (also think about your pets) and place it in a place accessible to everyone. If you have to leave, you can quickly pick up the kit on the way out.
  • Ask questions about emergency plans for an earthquake. Find out what the plan is for an earthquake at your job and at your child’s daycare or school. These plans can be used to help your children with evacuation and earthquake procedures – and can help families connect faster after a disaster.
  • Developing your house plan. Pick a safe place in every room of your home that your family can use in the event of an earthquake, such as against interior walls with nothing heavy near and far from windows, or under sturdy furniture.
  • Practice the plan. Now that you have a plan in place for home, school, and work, put it into practice. Have your children and other family members come to a designated location and drop off, take cover, and hold on.
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Earthquakes can cause severe structural damage to buildings.

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Protect your home

People aren’t the only ones at risk in an earthquake; houses can also be severely damaged. By strategically placing items and using safety equipment to secure items before a disaster, you can minimize damage to your home and reduce the risk of injury to your family.

  • Secure household appliances like water heaters and gas appliances to the wall. Bolt them to the uprights for added security.
  • Teach family members how to turn off gas and water valves.
  • Anchor any freestanding or heavy furniture to the wall studs to prevent them from tipping over.
  • Avoid hanging heavy objects such as mirrors or large works of art over places where people sit or sleep.
  • Use strong latches to secure cabinets and their contents.
  • Store fragile items and large or heavy items on the lower shelves.
  • Have a professional check your foundation, porches, decks, and other exterior items for safety. You may need to install anchors and other supports to strengthen the structure in the event of an earthquake.

During an earthquake …

With an earthquake preparedness plan in place, you and your family should be prepared in the event of a natural disaster. During an earthquake, however, the first priority is immediate safety. To start, get on your hands and knees so you don’t fall. Cover your body as much as possible under sturdy furniture and protect your head and neck. Hold on to your head or the furniture you have sheltered under until the earthquake stops. If your blanket moves, be prepared to move to a safer location.

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Whether you are indoors or outdoors can change the way you respond to an earthquake, as well as a number of other factors, such as whether you are near water or in a location overcrowded.

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Consider where you are

If you’ve been putting your earthquake preparedness plan into practice, you should have designated places to go in the event of an earthquake. But what if you are not in any of these places? If an earthquake occurs in another location, follow these safety tips:

  • Inside a crowded building. Avoid rushing for the doors, as others can too. Instead, take shelter from displays, windows, and falling items, using something to protect your head and neck from debris.
  • Outside. Stay away from potential hazards such as power lines, buildings, trees, and telephone poles. Stay in an open area and descend low, covering your head and neck, until the earthquake passes.
  • A moving vehicle. Move the car to a sidewalk or shoulder, trying to avoid potential hazards, including overpasses, bridges, and overhead cables. Stay in the car and pull the parking brake. When the shaking has stopped, drive slowly and watch out for cracks in the pavement, fallen poles or wires, and collapsed bridges or viaducts. If it is not safe to leave the car, stay there until help arrives.
  • Near the ocean. Walk, do not drive, away from water, being aware of debris and potential hazards. If you are having a severe earthquake, try to stand 100 feet above sea level or three kilometers inland in the event of a tsunami.
  • Sitting, unable to move on the ground. If you are seated, whether at an event or in a wheelchair, lock your wheels if necessary and remain seated. If you can’t take shelter under sturdy furniture, use what’s nearby to protect your head and neck from falling objects.
  • In a high-rise building. Avoid windows, interior walls and standing or sheltered near heavy objects and glass. Do not leave the building or use the elevators in the event of a power failure. Stay calm if you are trapped. Hit metal or other hard structural parts or objects nearby to get the attention of rescuers.

Prepare for the next earthquake

Although it may seem that earthquakes occur more frequently, we have only passed the long-term average of 16 major earthquakes a dozen times a year for the past 50 years.

There is still a lot to learn about earthquakes and, rather than focusing on predicting them, the United States Geological Survey more focused on improving the safety of structures and mitigation of damage from earthquake hazards. Most states in the United States are at some earthquake risk, and a few – like California and Alaska – see disaster quite frequently. No matter where you live or plan to visit, being prepared is the best defense.

For more information on earthquakes and available resources:


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