During the Quake

During an earthquake, you may experience shaking that starts out gently and grows stronger or it may begin with a violent jolt - as though your house was hit by a truck.

Earthquakes give no warning and the majority of earthquakes last less than 30 seconds so you must be prepared to act quickly! Practicing what to do before an earthquake occurs makes reacting quickly and safely more likely during the confusion of an actual quake.

Duck, Cover & Hold On

Though media coverage tends to focus on dramatic footage of collapsed buildings, most buildings do not collapse. However, it doesn't take a major earthquake or building collapse to cause injuries or fatalities. Most injuries are caused by falling objects and debris.

"Duck, Cover and Hold!" is your best protection. As soon as the shaking starts, move quickly to the best cover that is available near you. The longer it takes and the farther you (try to) move to get to cover, the higher the risk of injury.

Interior walls remained intact. Exterior wall failed dumping debris around the building exterior.

Remain Calm

Rule Number 1 is to stay calm! If you are in a group, encourage others to do the same.

Tall, narrow furniture is unstable and likely to tip over during an earthquake. USGS Photo Library

Indoor Tips

  • Duck, Cover, and Hold! where you are.
    • Duck or drop down to your hands and knees. Strong shaking can make standing difficult or impossible.
    • Cover under stable, low, sturdy furniture, like a table or desk. It can deflect and protect from falling objects and debris. Hunching down on hands and knees makes a smaller target and protects the body core. If you have a hand free, use your arm to protect your head and neck as much as possible.
    • Hold on to it. Especially on hard surface floors, furniture can move during strong shaking, but it can still provide protection as long as you can stay beneath it. Be prepared to move with it until the shaking stops.
  • If there is no sturdy furniture available, duck down against an interior wall, bend your head close to your knees, with your arms and hands protecting your head and neck. Be sure you're not directly below heavy wall or ceiling mounted objects.
  • Do not wait to see if the shaking gets stronger. Take cover.
  • Avoid exterior walls.
  • Avoid tall, unstable, furniture, like bookshelves, file cabinets, or entertainment centers.
  • Avoid windows or at least turn your back toward them. During earthquakes, windows have shattered with enough force to damage wood and tile.
  • Do not try to run outside. Debris falling from building exteriors make the area outside of exits deadly.
  • Do not try to move to a different room or floor!
  • Do not take shelter in a doorway. Doorways do not provide protection from falling or flying objects. In modern buildings, doorways are no stronger than any other part of the structure.
  • Be prepared for electricity to fail, and alarms or sprinkler systems to go off.
Falling debris creates a danger zone near building exteriors. USGS Photo Library

Additional Tips for Specific Locations

  • Kitchens: Move away from the refrigerator, stove, and overhead cupboards. If possible, turn off burners. (Take time now to anchor appliances, and install security latches on cupboard doors to reduce hazards.)
  • High-rise buildings: If there is no desk or table nearby, move against an interior wall and protect your head with your arms. Do not use the elevators. Stay indoors. Glass windows can dislodge during the quake and sail for hundreds of feet.
  • Crowded store or other public places: Do not rush for exits. Move away from display shelves containing objects that could fall.
  • Stadium or theater: Stay in your seat, get below the level of the back of the seat, and protect your head with your arms. Do not try to leave until the shaking is over. Then leave in a calm, orderly manner. Avoid rushing toward exits.
  • Mobile homes: During earthquakes, in addition to falling debris, many mobile homes are knocked from their pedestals, rupturing utility connections and forcing pedestals up through the floors. The best option may be on top of a bed, couch, or other sturdy furniture while protecting your head from falling debris.
  • Outdoors:During an earthquake, the areas near building exteriors can be deadly. Many injuries occur when people trying to exit buildings are caught in a rain of falling glass, bricks and building parts. If outdoors:
    • Move clear of building exteriors.
    • Check for overhead hazards such as power lines or utility poles.
    • Kneel down and wait for the shaking to stop. Stay alert for other dangers that may require movement.
  • Operating motor vehicles: Pull clear of traffic as far as possible and stop. Set the parking brake. If possible, avoid stopping on or under overpasses or bridges. Also avoid stopping under other overhead hazards such as power lines, light posts, or traffic signals. Stay in your vehicle and keep seat belts fastened. When shaking stops, evaluate your surroundings and proceed with caution. Be alert for emergency vehicles.

Once the shaking stops, be prepared to take cover again, in the event of aftershocks. Drop, Cover, and Hold! is endorsed by emergency responders, emergency managers, legitimate rescue organizations, public safety advocates, and public service organizations. View the Drop, Cover, and Hold website for more information.

Persons With Disabilities

If you're in a wheelchair or have other mobility impairments, and can not drop, cover, and hold, bend down to protect yourself, if possible. Use pillows or your arms to protect your head and neck. View the Advice for People With Disabilities or Access and Functional Needs (PDF) for more information about safety and preparedness for people with disabilities or functional needs.