How to Survive an Earthquake: Everything You Need to Know
March 09, 2023
How to Survive an Earthquake: Everything You Need to Know


Where Do Earthquakes Occur in the United States?Earthquake HazardsBefore an Earthquake: How to Prepare Your Family for an EarthquakeDuring an Earthquake: What Should You Do When an Earthquake Hits?After an Earthquake: What You Should Do in the Aftermath of a Quake

The ground begins to violently shake, everything starts falling off of the walls, and you feel as though any minute the building might collapse beneath you—what do you do?

Whereas hurricanes and tornados might be on the predicted forecast, earthquakes are one type of natural disaster you simply can’t see coming. If you’re lucky, an early warning system might alert you between a few seconds to a little more than a minute before the quake hits.

Most people panic and begin frantically pacing, trying to remember what they learned back in school and whether it’s safer to stay indoors or go outside.

The American Red Cross stresses that earthquake preparedness is the best way to stay calm and collected during an otherwise chaotic and confusing time; remember, every second counts—making the wrong call could be a matter of life and death.

Here’s everything you need to know about how to prepare for an earthquake before, during, and after it strikes.

Where Do Earthquakes Occur in the United States?

When most people in the U.S. think of earthquake preparedness, the Pacific region comes to mind. However, the metropolitan citizens of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle aren’t the only ones who need to learn how to prepare for an earthquake and the hazards they entail.

A recent study by US Geological Survey (USGS) estimates roughly half of Americans are likely to face “potentially damaging ground shaking”.

While those living near the West Coast fault lines need to be extra prepared, it’s worth noting that the Central and Eastern states have experienced a sharp rise in earthquakes—mainly due to human activity, such as fracking and salt water disposal, explains the USGS.

earthquake map

Earthquake Hazards

The various dangers earthquakes present include:

  • Ground shaking: The effect of ground shaking can include damaged buildings, shifted by the shaking itself or moved when the ground beneath them settles to a different level. If groundwater and sand or soil mix during a strong earthquake, liquefaction occurs, which can cause a building to lean or sink.
  • Ground displacement: If a structure is built along a fault line, ground displacement could cause that structure to rip apart.
  • Flooding and/or tsunamis: Strong earthquakes may break dams or levees, which can cause water from the body of water to flood the area. If an earthquake occurs under the ocean, it can result in a tsunami (also known as a tidal wave).
  • Fire and/or gas leaks: If gas lines or power lines break during an earthquake, fire can erupt and spread quickly, especially in urban areas.

Before an Earthquake: How to Prepare Your Family for an Earthquake

  • Assess weak points in your home and make a plan to strengthen them

Secure your space and earthquake-proof your home by identifying hazards and securing moveable items. The shaking ground could move almost anything, even large or heavy furniture.

Push top-heavy pieces such as bookshelves away from beds or sofas, and relocate the heavier items onto lower shelves.

Hunt for hazardous, non-mounted items such as water heaters, televisions, and dressers and mount them to the wall to reduce risk of injury.

  • Create an earthquake safety plan with your family

It’s critical to create and practice an emergency plan with your family so that everyone knows what to do during a time of crisis.

Talk about ways each family member can act as a team by tackling key responsibilities; discussing earthquake preparedness in advance can help lessen fears, especially in young children.

  • Pick safe spaces in every room to take shelter in

Within your plan preparation, identify safe places in every room of your home. A safe place may be under a sturdy piece of furniture which can protect you from falling objects or against any interior wall away from windows, bookshelves, or tall furniture that could fall on you.

Practice the “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” technique with your children, and have an evacuation plan ready for when the shaking stops in case anyone gets separated from the group.

  • Learn earthquake emergency plans at your workplace, children’s school and/or daycare center

Disaster can strike at any moment, including while you’re at work and while your little ones are in class. Learn how to prepare for an earthquake in any environment, be it indoors or outdoors, at home, school, or the office.

It’s also wise to make a note of how you intend on communicating with each other and how to let loved ones know you’re safe; remember that cell phones may be unreliable if network coverage is out.

  • Prepare an emergency earthquake kit

Finally, one of the most important steps to earthquake preparedness is to gather an emergency supply of survival resources in the event a disaster strikes. Earthquakes usually last around one minute but if the damage is substantial enough, you could be stranded for a much longer period of time.

Your earthquake survival kit should therefore contain not only the first aid essentials, but also the necessary items needed to outlast 72 hours—the time in which most disaster scenarios are resolved.

In addition to medical equipment, your disaster supplies should include: food, water, flashlights, a first aid kit, a whistle, and a filtration mask in the event of dust, debris, or broken gas lines.

You should also consider stashing spare cash, extra medications, and a fire extinguisher in your emergency survival gear, just in case.

During an Earthquake: What Should You Do When an Earthquake Hits?

If you’re indoors when the quake hits:

what to do when an earthquake hits

  • Drop to the ground

As soon as the shaking begins, immediately drop to the ground. It’s imperative that you get to the ground before the earthquake knocks you there. Stop where you are and get onto your hands and knees; this position will allow you to stay more stable as you remain low and crawl to nearby coverage.

If you are in bed, stay there, curl up, hold on, and cover your head with a pillow; at night, hazards can be difficult to see and avoid, and the safer bet is to remain in bed.

  • Cover yourself

Cover your head and neck with one hand for protection against falling debris while you crawl to nearby safety.

If you have no sturdy structure to crawl under, crawl next to an interior wall away from any windows, glass, and anything that can fall such as light fixtures and furniture. Remain on your knees bent over to protect your vital organs.

  • Hold on

Hold onto your shelter and be prepared to move with it as it shifts. Do not get up and stay as still as possible while the shaking persists.

Most injuries sustained during earthquakes are not due to structural damage, but instead because of dangerous behavior, like attempting to move around and inadvertently falling and suffering sprains, fractures, or head injuries.

  • Remain inside

Do not run outside; you’ll increase the likelihood of falling and sustaining an injury or being hit by broken glass. Do not stand beneath a doorway, as this will not provide any protection against flying objects. Instead, remain where you are until the shaking stops. In many earthquake-prone areas, US building codes are designed to reduce the likelihood of structural failure; the “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” method is geared toward protecting you from falling debris and nonstructural hazards, while increasing your chances of being in a Survivable Void Space if the building actually does collapse.

Practicing and mastering these steps is the top priority in earthquake preparedness.

If you’re outdoors when the quake hits:

  • Do not go inside

If you’re not already indoors, don’t attempt to enter any type of building. One of the greatest earthquake dangers exists near the exterior of buildings, and attempting to run indoors could incur serious injuries.

  • Find a clear spot

Avoid tall buildings, power lines, trees, streetlights, or any fixture that could collapse. Lie there on the ground until the shaking ceases.

  • Pull over if you’re driving

If you’re driving, pull over to a clear location and stop, but avoid bridges, ramps, trees, and powerlines. Remain there until the shaking ends, but beware of landslides if you’re on an incline.

After an Earthquake: What You Should Do in the Aftermath of a Quake

  • Assess your situation

Check yourself for any injuries and apply first aid before trying to help others. Similar to oxygen masks on airplanes, you should first tend to yourself before attempting to save your child, or else you both could die. Be sure to wait until it is safe to stand up then get to a radio to listen for information.

  • Check for hazards

Look for and extinguish small fires—they’re the most common hazard following an earthquake. Shut off your power switch at the main breaker and unplug appliances to prevent fires from occurring once the power is restored in case your electrical wiring is damaged.

The smell of gas is an immediate red flag; if you detect a gaseous odor, get out of the house and move as far away as possible.

If you do need to evacuate your home, take the stairs—not the elevator—in case of power surges and black outs. Remember your emergency plan and only grab your earthquake survival kit; shelters won’t have room for much else.

  • Prepare for more damage

After the first shake, the damage may continue. Expect and prepare for aftershocks, and follow the “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” method each time an aftershock occurs.

A quake has the potential to trigger landslides and tsunamis, so be sure to consider these threats when learning how to prepare for earthquakes.

If you live next to a large body of water, move to higher ground as soon as it’s safe to do so; the tsunami waves can arrive in minutes. Go by foot, not car, since roads and bridges may be damaged.

  • Don’t return home until authorities deem it safe

When you do return, examine walls, floors, doors, staircases and windows to check for damage, and take any necessary pictures for insurance claims. Look for fallen power lines or broken gas lines and if you smell gas or hear a hissing noise, leave and call the fire department immediately.

Natural disasters can be terrifying, but learning how to prepare for an earthquake will make the experience much less scary.

Earthquake preparedness depends on a well-rehearsed plan and ready emergency supplies, so pick up the SEVENTY2 survival backpack to give yourself peace of mind during your next crisis.