What to Do in an Earthquake

Mayor Newsom And Thousands Of San Franciscans ...
(Photo credit: mayorgavinnewsom)

I grew up in Sunny Southern California in Escondido, California (about 30 minutes inland from San Diego). When I was a kid we had fire drills right along with earthquake drills. We would all get under our desks and roll up into a ball and put our head in our hands. Ah, the memories.

According to the US Geological Survey, “Earthquakes pose a significant risk to 75 million Americans in 39 states.”1 if you live in an area prone to earthquakes or plan on visiting one, it would be beneficial for you to know what to do in case you find yourself in the midst of an earthquake. (For the record, Alaska, not California, is the most earthquake-prone state while North Dakota and Florida are the least.2) Scientists cannot predict when one will occur so you never know when this information will come in handy.

Back when I was a kid, we were told to get under a doorway. Many, many years ago homes in California were built with adobe bricks and wooden doorframes so it was common to see only the doorways still standing after a powerful earthquake. Consequently it was thought this was the safest place to be when an earthquake hit. As most homes are no longer built this way, this is no longer recommended. Doorways are not necessarily stronger than any other part of the house putting you in danger if you were to stand in one during a quake. So forget that advice! Instead, follow this advice from the US Geological Survey: Drop, Cover and Hold On.

  • Drop – This just means to get on the floor when you feel the ground shaking. Simple enough. (If you are in bed already, just stay there, hold on to the sides and cover your head with your pillow.)
  • Cover – If you are near a large desk or table, get underneath it. If not, place yourself against an interior wall and use your arms to cover your head and neck, the most vulnerable parts of your body. Try your best to stay away from windows, anything hanging on the walls and any large objects that could topple over on you. Also avoid exterior walls.
  • Hold On – This applies if you are under a desk or table. Grab one of the legs of the desk or table with one arm while using your other arm to cover your head and neck which should be tucked chin to chest.

Drop, Cover and Hold On looks a little differently if you are not inside a building. If you find yourself outdoors try to get out into the open if possible. Get as far as you can from buildings, trees, powerlines or anything else that could fall on you. Always assume fallen powerlines are live and avoid them. If you are driving pull over to the side of the road when it’s safe to do so and set your parking brake. Avoid bridges and overpasses. Don’t get out until the earthquake is over and you are sure no powerlines have fallen on your car. If you do have fallen powerlines on your car, wait until a trained professional can remove it for you.

Practice with your kids by showing them how to cover their head with their arms and tuck into a ball. Make it a fun game of becoming a roly poly. Be sure to also point out the safe places to go in the different rooms of the house. Maybe once a month have an earthquake drill to have everyone practice. Assign them a different room of the house each time to be in when the earthquake “strikes”.

Loma Prieta, California, Earthquake October 17...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you curious if what you just felt was an earthquake? You can check and report if you felt something at the US Geological Survey website. Sometimes they are undeniable, but other times you may be left wondering. You can also see a real time view of earthquakes as they are occurring around the world.

Do you have a plan if an earthquake happens where you live?


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