How to Survive an Earthquake

Four Methods:If you are in a VehicleIf you are in a BuildingIf you are OutdoorsPreparing for an Earthquake

Earthquakes are among the most destructive natural disasters. They occur mainly near the edges of tectonic plates, but they can happen just about anywhere. Earthquakes cannot be predicted, but your chances of survival are much better if you prepare in advance and you know what to do when an earthquake strikes.

Method 1
If you are in a Vehicle

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    Stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near, or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires. They can fall onto your vehicle.[1]
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    Stay seated in your car and wait until the earthquake is over.
    • Stay calm, metal will protect you and your family from most debris and falling objects.
    • The only exception to this is when you are in a garage or multi-level parking lot. When you are in a garage, get out of the car immediately, and crouch down next to the car. The metal will not protect you from the concrete that will fall on it. If you are in a multi-level parking garage, survival mainly comes down to luck. The best way to maximize your chances of survival is to do what you do in a garage - crouch next to the car.
    • Do not try to rush back to your home. Most major earthquakes have aftershocks, which should not be underestimated.
      • Aftershocks have the power to bring down buildings that were damaged in the main quake.
      • Aftershocks can range from very slight, to the power of the original earthquake itself. These secondary quakes can last for about ten seconds or longer and can be life-threatening. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing when they will happen, so there is no choice but to stay alert.
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    Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake.
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    Wait for city or municipal relief efforts. You shouldn't have to wait in your car for very long for relief efforts to arrive with food, water, and supplies.

Method 2
If you are in a Building

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    Steady yourself. Hold onto a solid object or get to the floor so that you do not fall. Try to hide under a piece of furniture.
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    Drop, cover, and hold. This is the national standard for earthquake safety in the United States. [2] The alternate advice is to get next to a sturdy piece of furniture so that if a wall falls, it will create a crawl space in which you can survive. This "triangle of life" method, however, is inconsistent with earthquake research and not recommended by the American Red Cross, Structural Engineers Association of Northern California, and Earthquake Country Alliance.
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    Cover your head and neck. Use your hands and arms to protect these vital areas from falling objects
    • Your upper body should also be covered because that is what is holding your neck which is holding your head.
    • If you have any respiratory disease, make sure that you cover your head with a t-shirt or bandana, until all the debris and dust has settled. Inhaled dirty air is not good for your lungs.
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    Do not move. If it is safe to do so, stay where you are for a minute or two, until you are sure the shaking has stopped.
    • Remember, aftershocks are possible at any time, and are likely after a big earthquake. Aftershocks can range from being felt by only a few people to knocking down entire cities. They can collapse weakened buildings, especially fragile structures like mobile homes.
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    Slowly and carefully leave the building. As in the case of fire, it is suggested that you and your family meet in an earthquake-safe location previously designated by your family, such as a nearby baseball diamond or park. Government help should be on the way soon.
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    Inspect your house for anything that might be in a dangerous condition. Glass fragments, the smell of gas, or damaged electrical appliances are examples of hazards.
    • Do not turn electrical devices on or off. Simply switching a light switch could create a spark, which in turn could electrocute you and start a fire. These fires can be more deadly because they are near electrical cords.
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    Check for damage around your building. You should check your house or the building you are in for fires or other forms of damage. If you need water to put out a fire, you can get some from a water heater, but be careful, as the water is hot. After you've dealt with any fires, run through the checklist below:
    • Stay away from structurally damaged areas. Wait until a police officer, a plumber, a firefighter, or relief worker inspects the area and pronounces it safe to enter.
    • Clean up dangerous spills. Gasoline can be fatal if it explodes or ignites. If you only have paper towels, use several layers of them because gasoline is poisonous and is very hard to wash off. Covering gasoline spills with some shovelfuls of sand is a good idea, but remember to mark the area by placing a sign that says 'Gasoline spill here'.
    • Do not drink water from the sink since it may be contaminated. The sewage will be damaged in major earthquakes, so do not flush the toilet. Instead, shut off the water system from the main valve (have a plumber do this job for you if you don't know where the main valve is). Make sure that you plug up drains from sinks and bathtubs to prevent any sewage back-flow.
    • Inspect the chimney for any damage before using your fireplace. Invisible damage in these places can lead to fire.
    • Inspect utilities.
      • Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can and call the gas company from your cell phone or from a neighbour's home. Remember, if you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.
      • Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice.
      • Check for sewage and water line damage. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water from bottled water or by melting and boiling ice cubes.
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    Open your cabinets cautiously. Items inside may fall on you if you open the doors quickly. As you inspect the damage, use caution with glass bottles, which may be cracked and leaking. Use extra caution with alcohol, acids, cleaners, or anything that is toxic to the human body.

Method 3
If you are Outdoors

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    Stay where you are, unless you are somewhere unsafe. Observe your surroundings, especially if you are in an urban area. Keep in mind that even earthquake-proof buildings have a chance of falling, so don't assume you are completely safe. Don't attempt to run or drive away from an earthquake - this only increases your risk of injury.
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    Move away from buildings, street lights, power lines, and anything else that could fall. Also make sure you are not near an open fault or sinkhole. People have died after falling into large holes which suddenly appeared at the time of the earthquake. These can appear anywhere, including on roads or in parks.
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    Seek shelter near a hill or in a wide open area. If you are near objects that could fall on you, head somewhere without overhead hazards. If you can, seek shelter in a place where you are protected from the weather, but make sure that you're not somewhere where rock and soil can fall on you when aftershocks occur. Do not seek shelter under a bridge, even a sturdy one. Some bridges can be earthquake-proof, but not completely safe as objects like signs or lights can still fall on to you.
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    Stay away from buildings, power lines, or anything large or heavy that can fall on you.Also, as in a blizzard, do not walk near power lines, fallen streetlamps, or rubble.
    • Beware of broken glass, as even a small piece can injure your foot. Wear heavy shoes to protect your feet.
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    Use caution when you decide to come out of your shelter. It is likely that there are other people near to you or near to your area. Things like a cell phone are handy for everyone, because if one person is injured, another can dial 911 for an ambulance.
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    Wait a moment or two after the first quake before moving to any other place. It is best to do this because aftershocks right after an earthquake are usually the strongest. If you eventually leave, observe the safety rules above and take care that debris does not fall on you.

Method 4
Preparing for an Earthquake

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    Have emergency supplies stockpiled. In the event of an emergency, many services like electricity and water that are often taken for granted may become unavailable. To ensure your survival, have clean food, water, and supplies ready to go at a moment's notice. Make sure that every member of your family knows where to locate these supplies in case they need to be grabbed quickly. In addition to sterile food and water, you will want to include the following in your emergency supplies:
    • Torch/Flashlight
    • First aid kit
    • Money
    • Simple clothing
    • Blankets
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    Have a survival plan for your home. You and anyone you live with should have a plan to quickly get to safety at a moment's notice. Every member of the house should know exactly what to do and where to go when an earthquake hits. They should know the 'safe' spots in your house - under sturdy tables and against interior walls, especially in corners. They should also know the 'danger' spots in the house - near windows and hanging objects, e.g. mirrors and paintings.
    • Conduct practice drills every 6 months or so to ensure you and your loved ones know exactly what to do in the event of an earthquake.
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    Learn first aid and CPR. If one of your family members is hurt in an earthquake, basic knowledge of first aid can be a life-saver. Take a basic first-aid course and become CPR-certified so that if the worst happens, you'll be ready to save lives.
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    Learn how to shut off the water, the electricity and the gas. Earthquakes can sever a house's pipes and/or damage electrical lines, creating situations that can easily become deadly. Be ready to turn off your house's utilities after an earthquake to preserve your safety.
    • When you turn off the gas after an earthquake or during a drill, DO NOT try to relight the gas pilot. This can cause the gas to leak and cause a fire. Call the utility company and ask them to do it for you.
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    Keep dangerous objects in a secure cabinet or on lower shelves. To minimize the risk of injury or damage in the event of an injury, keep any dangerous possessions, like breakable objects, heavy objects, flammable liquids and hazardous liquids, away from places where they are likely to fall or spill. Keep these things in safe, secure locations away from the designated safe zones in your house.


  • Lend a hand. If you have survived a major earthquake, volunteer to do whatever you can to help find survivors, get families and pets re-united, and clean up after the disaster.
  • Wear sturdy, closed-toed shoes to protect your feet from broken glass, fallen rubble, and other hazards.
  • Listen to the latest emergency information on a battery-operated radio. This is very useful if you need help.
  • Help the injured, especially the young and the elderly. They need special care, and there is no exception to this.
  • Perform earthquake drills at your home with your family so that you are ready. Remember that the best place to take shelter would be void spaces, or near heavy furniture.
  • Do not panic. Earthquakes do not last for a long time, generally a few seconds to a minute. The 1989 San Francisco earthquake[3][4] only lasted 15 seconds. Even though being in an earthquake for 15 seconds might seem an hour, it will eventually stop.
  • Dial emergency assistance for emergencies only. The authorities will know that there has been a major earthquake. If you can safely handle the situation yourself or wait for assistance, do so. The phone lines will most likely be tied up with calls from people who do need help.
  • If you are at a school, listen to what your teachers say. Generally, you should duck, seek cover under a desk, and protect your head and upper body.
  • If you hear of a tsunami warning, leave the beaches immediately. Thousands of people were drowned in the 2004 tsunami when people stared at the "empty ocean." Moments later, a powerful tsunami hit the shoreline, drowning thousands and destroying many buildings, and millions more were displaced.[5] See Survive a Tsunami for more details.
  • Generally, earthquakes that have a magnitude of less than 6.0 should be non-life-threatening. Bracing yourself to a wall or heavy furniture when these weaker earthquakes strike usually works.
  • Appoint a trusted relative out of the area as the point of contact in case of any major emergency. Remember that telephone lines are very likely to be tied up, so use the phone sparingly, especially during the first hour(s) after the quake.
  • If you are trapped, try to alert authorities to your presence. A whistle or a horn can help people to find you.


  • Beware of other hazards triggered by earthquakes. Earthquakes can trigger landslides and can cause tsunamis if you live near the ocean or sea. Beware of damage to buildings, highways, and other structures. Also, beware of fires following earthquakes. Volcanoes with snow on top of the snowline can cause mudflows, which are extremely deadly to people.
  • Being on the upper floor(s) of a building is more dangerous than being on the 1st floor. While you can get crushed by rubble from the upper floors if on the 1st floor, falling down onto the rubble is much worse. The basement isn't the best place to go either for the same reason, but the fact that you can get completely buried, especially if there is more than one sub-level.
  • Do not ignore warnings, even if they are false alarms. Assume that if a warning is issued, prepare immediately. Even though you may waste time in a false alarm, it would be 10 times worse if you didn't listen to it at all.
  • In 1886, an earthquake shook Charleston, South Carolina on 31 August at 21:50 (9:50 PM) [6][7]. The magnitude was 7.3, classified as major. The city was over 400 kilometres (250 mi) from the nearest earthquake fault. This shows that earthquakes do not happen just on fault lines.
  • Be prepared for the weather, as well. If a major earthquake strikes during bad weather, you will also have to keep warm. Include suitable gear in your emergency kit for surviving the weather, too. Include things that will keep you cool in hot weather too, if the weather says that the heat will soar to 32 °C (90 °F) or so.
  • Never flee outside a building when an earthquake strikes. Many people who attempt to flee a building are injured or killed by glass, debris, falling, cladding, and collapsing buildings and/or walls. Wait until the shaking has stopped to evacuate the building carefully.

Things You'll Need

Vital Items


  • 1.8 litre (2.0 US quarts) to 3.8 litre (1.0 US gal) of water per person, per day.
  • Food-canned or individually packaged. Consider infants, pets, and other special dietary requirements.
  • First Aid Kit-ample, and freshly stocked.
  • Critical medication and eyeglasses, contact cases and supplies
  • Can opener
  • Radio-portable battery operated, spare batteries
  • Flashlight-spare batteries and bulbs
  • Heavy shoes for every family member
  • Heavy gloves for every person cleaning debris
  • Knife-sharp, or razor blades
  • Clothes-complete change kept dry


  • Blankets
  • Fire Extinguisher-dry chemical, type ABC
  • Feminine supplies
  • Infant supplies (if you have an infant)*
  • Passports (good to have on hand in the event of a devastating, wide-scale national earthquake emergency)

Supply Kit for Automobiles

  • Non-perishable food-store in coffee cans
  • Boiled water
  • First aid kit and manual
  • Blanket
  • Flashlight-spare fresh batteries and bulb
  • Critical medication, extra eyeglasses
  • Tools-screwdriver, pliers, wire, knife
  • Short rubber hose
  • Feminine supplies
  • Sturdy shoes and gloves

Article Info

Categories: Earthquakes and Tsunamis | Disaster Preparedness