Top 5 Tips for Earthquake Safety

If you live in an earthquake-prone area, it's good to be aware of certain safety measures. See more pictures of natural disasters.
If you live in an earthquake-prone area, it's good to be aware of certain safety measures. See more pictures of natural disasters.

Anyone who's been through a sizeable earthquake will probably tell you it's one of the most terrifying experiences a person can have. It's an uncontrollable situation -- the earth is shaking, the ground beneath you is buckling, the walls and buildings around you are crumbling, and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it. Other than crouching for cover, saying a prayer and hoping for the best, how can you improve your chances for survival in a major earthquake?

As it turns out, quite a bit. We've put together a list of five tips -- starting with how to put together a personal earthquake kit -- that will help you make good decisions in case of a big-time seismic event. Keep reading to find out what essentials you'll want to have on hand when disastrous tremors strike.

Be Prepared

If you live in an earthquake-prone area (Californians, we're looking at you), you really need to have a fully stocked earthquake kit in your home. Yes, this is a long list, but all of it is absolutely essential. Don't cut any corners on this one.

  • A first aid kit that contains pain relievers, allergy medication, disinfectants, gauze, gloves, bandages and a thermometer
  • Personal hygiene items such as toilet paper, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, hand sanitizer, bags (large garbage bags or lawn bags and gallon-size storage bags) and bleach
  • A three-day supply of bottled water -- you should have one gallon per person, per day. Change this supply every six months.
  • A supply of canned and prepackaged dry food; restock this food every year, and don't forget a can opener!
  • A prescription organizer for each family member taking prescription medications filled with a one- or two-week supply of meds
  • Copies of everyone's personal IDs and photos of children and pets who don't have IDs
  • One flashlight per person, a portable radio, a fire extinguisher and batteries
  • Food and water for pets
  • Dust masks and sturdy shoes
  • A wrench or other tool to turn off gas and water
  • Duct tape
  • Blankets
  • Cash or travelers' checks

Next up, the importance of the "duck and cover" rule.

Duck and Cover

People who live in places with high seismic activity should scope things out at home and work to figure out where to go during an earthquake. When you're looking for a safe spot -- or if you happen to be in an unfamiliar building when an earthquake strikes -- here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Duck and cover: It's the most basic rule of earthquake safety. Get under a table or other solid piece of furniture and hold on until the shaking stops.
  • Stay against an inside wall, away from windows. Doorways aren't always the most secure option.
  • If you're in bed, use a pillow to protect your head and neck -- unless you're under a heavy light fixture. In that case, move to the nearest safe place.
  • Don't go outside until the shaking is done.
  • Don't use elevators.

Keep reading to find out what to do if you're outside when things start shaking.

Drop to the Ground

If you're outside during an earthquake, stay there and drop to the ground -- as far away as possible from any objects that could potentially fall on top of you. Most earthquake deaths and injuries aren't caused by the shaking of the earth itself; it's almost always falling debris, glass and collapsing walls that do the most damage. So make sure to stay away from exterior building walls, trees and power lines. Don't try to move until after you're sure the shaking has ceased. When you do get up, look around and be very careful of where you step. Watch for downed power lines, broken glass or other dangers in your path.

Stay in the Car

If you're driving during an earthquake, slow down and then stop as soon as you can find a safe place. This means away from any potentially unstable areas, like underpasses, bridges, ramps, power lines, large buildings and trees. Stay in the car, no matter how tempting it might be to run. Engage the parking brake, turn on your flashers and turn off the ignition. Once you're sure the immediate danger has passed, go ahead and drive away, but be careful to avoid underpasses, bridges and ramps.

Don't Shout for Help

If you find yourself trapped after an earthquake, try to move as little as possible. You don't want to kick up dust or risk disturbing any debris or heavy objects that could fall on you. Cover your mouth with whatever you can find, and try not to shout for help -- you could inhale dangerous dust. It's better to tap on something, like a pipe, to signal for help. Don't light a match, even if you happen to have one, because there's a high probability of gas leaks after earthquakes.

Continue to the next page to find out more about earthquake safety.


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Related Articles


  • "What to Do After an Earthquake." Feb. 24, 2010. (Accessed Aug. 5, 2010)
  • "What to Do Before an Earthquake." Feb. 24, 2010. (Accessed Aug. 5, 2010)
  • FEMA. Gov. "What to Do During an Earthquake." March 3, 2010. (Accessed Aug. 5, 2010)
  • "Make Your Own Preparedness Kit." San Francisco Chronicle. /ready.dtl
  • "Earthquake Safety Tips." (Accessed Aug. 5, 2010)
  • Silverman, Jacob. "How to Survive an Earthquake." April 14, 2009. (Accessed Aug. 5, 2010)
  • U.S. Geological Survey. "Largest Earthquakes in the World Since 1900." (Accessed Aug. 5, 2010)
  • Watkins, Tom. "Haiti's Survival Stories No Shock to Experts." (Accessed Aug. 5, 2010)