The San Francisco Bay Area is underlain by a complex web of active faults and most people in the area live less than 10 miles from a fault that can have a damaging earthquake. A 2008 UCERF2 report calculates a 63% probability that the Bay Area will suffer a magnitude 6.7 earthquake or larger in the next 30 years. This is well within most of our lifespans.

If you live in an earthquake prone region like the western United States, Alaska, Hawaii, South Carolina, and the central and northeastern parts of the nation, it is very likely that the next large earthquake will affect you: either directly, by damaging your home, neighborhood, or workplace, or indirectly, by damaging services like electricity, water, sewer, and infrastructure that may limit access in and out of your region. Fire and police departments will be dealing with the most serious situations and may be unable to respond quickly to issues in your community. You might be left to fend for yourself until there is help.

Before an earthquake

Preparing before earthquake strikes will give you confidence that you and your family will stay safe when earthquake hits. The following steps contain a basic set of recommended actions to get prepared at home or in the workplace.

Step 1: Make a plan

Plan to be safe by creating a disaster plan and deciding how you will communicate and what each person will do before, during and after an emergency. Have occasional earthquake “drills” to practice your plan.

This plan will also be useful for other emergencies.

  • Plan NOW to be safe during an earthquake:

    • Practice “drop, cover, and hold on” frequently with everyone in your family. (See “During an earthquake” section below)
      • By planning and practicing what to do, you can condition yourself and your family to react correctly when an emergency occurs.
    • Identify safe spots in every room you can easily reach in just a few steps, such as under sturdy desks and tables.
    • Install smoke alarms and test them monthly.
      • Change the battery once a year, or when the alarm emits a “chirping” sound (low-battery signal).
    • Evaluate your home for safety; including ensuring your home can withstand a serious earthquake or other emergency. See step 3 below.
    • Make sure children, house guests and childcare providers know your safety procedures.
  • Plan NOW to respond after an earthquake:

    • Learn how to shutoff Water, Gas and Electricity to your home in an emergency. See this article for help.
    • Prepare an emergency evacuation plan for your home.
      • Each room should have at least 2 ways to escape in case one is blocked.
      • For easy planning, download National Fire Protection Agency’s escape planning grid and draw a map, with escape routes of your home. This is a great way to get children involved in fire safety in a non-threatening way.
      • If you are in a multistoried house, make sure your rooms have escape ladder Escape plan
      • If you live in an apartment, know the locations of emergency exits, fire alarms, and fire extinguishers.
        • If you are trapped in a highrise, if possible, hang a white sheet outside your door so firemen can find you. Multistory escape plan
    • Make sure you have a plan for traveling between work and home, and other commonly visited locations.
      • Use this FEMA supplied commuter emergency plan [pdf]to list your normal and some alternative routes you can use to get to your destinations.
      • Keep a copy of this plan in your wallet or another safe place where you can access it in the event of a disaster.
    • Store a fire extinguisher where you can easily get to it or attach it to a wall.
      • Learn how to use fire extinguishers before they are needed.
      • You should keep a fire extinguisher in high-risk areas such as the kitchen and workshop.
    • Teach everyone in your household to use emergency whistles and/or to knock three times repeatedly if trapped. Rescuers searching collapsed buildings will be listening for sounds.
    • Plan for household members and neighbors with special requirements or situations, such as use of a wheelchair, walking aids, special diets, or medication.
    • Take a Red Cross first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training course.

      • Important: Learn who else in your neighborhood is trained in first aid and CPR and make sure you can contact them in a hurry.
    • Work with your neighbors to identify who has skills and resources that will be useful in an emergency, and who may need special attention (children, elderly, disabled, etc).

    • Check with your city or county to see if there is a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) in your area.

  1. Plan NOW to communicate and recover after an earthquake:
    • Have a land line phone that does not require power.
    • Select a safe place outside of your home to meet your family or housemates after the shaking stops.
    • Designate an out-of-area contact person who can be called by everyone in the household to relay information.
      • During an emergency , completing local telephone calls may be difficult, it may be easier to telephone someone out of the area.
      • Unless you are in immediate danger, send a text. Texts often have an easier time getting through during emergencies, and you don’t want to tie up phone lines needed by emergency responders (like 911).
    • Use this FEMA parent plan to provide all family members with a list of important contact phone numbers.
    • Use this FEMA provided child plan to note important contact numbers, meeting points and other important details needed for children.
    • Determine where you might live if your home cannot be occupied after an earthquake or other disaster. (See XYZ for a list of urban shelters you can build in an emergency)
    • Know about the earthquake plan developed by your children’s school or day care.
      • Keep your children’s school emergency release card current.
    • Keep copies of essential documents, such as identification, insurance policies, and financial records, in a secure, waterproof container, and keep with your disaster supplies kits.
      • Include a household inventory (a list and photos or video of your belongings).

Step 2: Organize Disaster Supplies

Prepare and maintain an emergency preparedness kit with enough supplies on hand to be self-sufficient for at least 3 days, and preferably up to one week. See this article for a list of urban disaster supplies that can be used in any kind of emergency.

Place a sturdy pair of shoes and a working flashlight in a bag and tie it to one of your bed legs.

Step 3: Secure your home by identifying hazards and securing movable items.

Take the Earthquake Home Health Quiz to see if your home needs retrofitting. See ABAG for more information and how to work with contractors.

Always store flammable material safely away from ignition sources like water heaters, furnaces and stoves. Go outside to see if your street number is clearly visible from the road. If not, paint it on the curb or install house numbers to ensure that responding emergency personnel can find your home.

  1. Move heavy or large items, such as potted plants or large speakers to the floor or low shelves.
  2. Move things that can fall on you away from where you spend a lot of time (bed, couch, desk, etc.).
  3. Move heavy or unstable objects away from doors and escape routes.
  4. Examine all natural gas appliances (water heaters, dryers, stoves, ovens, furnaces) to see if they are anchored to the floor or walls, and have flexible pipe connections.
  5. Know where your main water valve is so that you can shut it off if you have a water leak.
  6. Secure a water heater to wall studs with two metal straps. Water Heater Straps
  7. Secure refrigerator and other major appliances to wall studs using earthquake appliance straps.
  8. Secure cabinet doors using child-proof latches, hook and eye latches, or positive catch latches designed for boats. This prevents the doors from opening during earthquakes, allowing glassware and dishes to crash to the floor.
  9. Secure top-heavy furniture such as bookcases and filing cabinets to wall studs using flexible fasteners such as nylon straps. This allow tall objects to sway without falling over, reducing the strain on the studs.
  10. Hang mirrors and pictures on closed hooks so that they can’t bounce off the walls. Pictures and mirrors can also be secured at their corners with earthquake putty.
  11. Secure (or brace) electronic items such as computers and TVs with flexible nylon straps and buckles for easy removal and relocation.
  12. Prevent small objects from falling by using museum putty or wax.
  13. Install latches on kitchen cabinets.
  14. Use flexible connections where gas lines meet appliances (such as water heaters, ovens, and clothes dryers).
  15. Secure overhead light fixtures.
  16. Secure free-standing wood stoves or fireplace inserts.
  17. Check if your house is earthquake safe or if it needs to be retrofitted for earthquake safety.

During an Earthquake

When an earthquake strikes, Drop, Cover, and Hold On!

Drop, Cover, Hold On

  1. DROP down onto your hands and knees.
  2. COVER your head and neck (and your entire body if possible) under a sturdy table/desk.
      • DON’T run to another room to find a table. Immediately protect yourself and be patient
    • If there is no shelter nearby, then you should get down near an interior wall (or next to a low-lying furniture that won’t fall on you), and cover your head and neck with your arms and hands.
    • Don’t run downstairs or rush outside while the building is shaking or while there is danger of falling and hurting yourself or being hit by falling glass or debris.
    • DO NOT get in a doorway!! In modern houses and buildings, doorways will not protect you. Find a table, people!
    • Avoid exterior walls, windows, hanging objects, mirrors, tall furniture, large appliances, and kitchen cabinets with heavy objects or glass.
  3. HOLD on to your shelter (or to your head and neck) until the shaking stops.
    • Be prepared to move with your shelter if the shaking shifts it around.
  • IF YOU ARE IN BED, stay in bed and cover your head with pillow.
  • IF YOU ARE OUTSIDE, GET INTO THE OPEN, away from buildings, power lines, chimneys, and anything else that might fall on you.
  • IF YOU ARE DRIVING, STOP, but carefully.
    • Switch on the hazard lights.
    • Move your car as far out of traffic as possible.
    • Do not stop on or under a bridge or overpass or under trees, light posts, power lines, or signs.
    • Stay inside your car until the shaking stops.
    • When you resume driving, watch for breaks in the pavement, fallen rocks, and bumps in the road.
  • IF YOU ARE ON OR NEAR A STEEP HILLSIDE, WATCH OUT FOR LANDSLIDES, falling rock, trees, and other debris that could be loosened by earthquakes.
  • IF YOU ARE IN A HIGH-RISE BUILDING, and you are not near a desk or table, move against an interior wall, and protect your head with your arms. Do not use the elevators.
  • IF YOU ARE OUTDOORS, move to a clear area, away from trees, signs, buildings, or downed electrical wires and poles.
  • IF YOU ARE ON A SIDEWALK NEAR BUILDINGS, duck into a doorway to protect yourself from falling bricks, glass, plaster, and other debris.
  • IF YOU ARE IN A CROWDED STORE, do not rush for exits. Move away from display shelves containing objects that could fall.
  • IF YOU ARE IN A WHEELCHAIR, stay in it. Move to cover, if possible, lock your wheels, and protect your head with your arms.
  • IF YOU ARE IN THE KITCHEN, move away from the refrigerator, stove, and overhead cupboards.
  • IF YOU ARE IN A STADIUM/THEATER, stay in your 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.
  • If you are near the ocean, DROP, COVER, AND HOLD ON.
    • Watch for falling objects until the earthquake is over.
    • MOVE TO HIGHER GROUND or inland away from the coast immediately.
      • Go on foot if possible.
    • If you notice a sudden drop or rise in water level or hear a loud noise coming from the water, a tsunami may be coming.
    • The first waves may reach the coast within minutes after the ground shaking stops.
    • The first wave is almost never the largest. Later waves may be spaced tens of minutes apart and can continue arriving for many hours.
    • STAY AWAY FROM THE COAST. Do not return to the shore after the first wave. Waves may continue to arrive for hours.
    • LISTEN TO A RADIO FOR AN “ALL CLEAR” before returning to the shore.


Be prepared for AFTERSHOCKS, and plan where you will take cover when they occur. Aftershocks can occur in the first hours, days, weeks, or even months after the quake. Be prepared to Drop, Cover, & Hold again. DO NOT believe the “triangle of life” allegation. This concept has been discredited by leading experts.

residents are urged to store supplies of food and water that will last at least 72 hours.

After an Earthquake

Here are some general guidelines on what to do after an earthquake. Remember, aftershocks may occur, so be prepared to Drop, Cover, & Hold. After an earthquake, be prepared to –

  • Check for injuries to your family and your surrounding neighbors.
    • Do not attempt to move seriously injured persons unless they are in danger of further injury.
  • Check for fires or fire hazards.
  • If indoors, check the structural integrity of the building.
    • If any part of the structure appears to be unsafe, evacuate the building until a more detailed inspection can be made.
    • Buildings that are damaged by the main shock could receive additional damage from aftershocks.
  • Wear shoes in all areas near debris or broken glass.
  • Do not touch downed power lines or objects touched by the downed wires.
  • Immediately clean up spilled medicines, drugs, and other potentially harmful materials.
    • Use extreme caution when cleaning up spilt chemicals, they may have mixed with other chemicals during shaking and could cause harmful effects.
    • Open windows to provide ventilation.
    • If you begin to feel any effects from the material that you are handling, stop what your doing and seek medical help.
  • Check for damaged utilities.
    • Inspect for leaking gas lines by smell only; do not use candles, matches, or other open flames.
    • If you smell gas, open all windows and doors so gas can escape.
    • Shut off the main valve at your gas meter, leave the house immediately, and notify authorities of the leak.
    • Do not re-enter the house until repairs have been made and the dwelling has been declared safe.
    • If water pipes are broken, shut off the main valve which brings water into the house.
    • If the house is properly wired, internal trouble with the electricity is very unlikely.
    • If there is a short circuit, turn off the electricity at the meter box.
  • If water is off, emergency water may be obtained from:
    • melted ice cubes,
    • from canned vegetables,
    • from toilet tanks (if no blueing or sanitizing chemicals have been added),
    • from swimming pools and spas,
    • from water heaters (strain this water through a clean handkerchief first).
  • Check to see that sewage lines are intact before permitting continued flushing of toilets.
  • Do not eat or drink anything from open containers near shattered glass. Liquids can be strained through a clean handkerchief or cloth if the danger of glass contamination exists.
  • If power is off, check your freezer and plan meals to use up foods which will spoil quickly.
  • Use outdoor charcoal or propane broilers for emergency cooking.
    • Do not bring these items indoors. The accumulation of fumes from their use can be deadly.
  • Do not use your telephone except for genuine emergency calls.
  • If you have a chimney, check its entire length for cracks and damage, particularly in the attic and at the roof line.
    • Unnoticed damage could lead to a fire or collapse in aftershocks.
    • The initial check should be made from a distance. Approach chimneys with caution.
  • Check closets and storage shelf areas.
    • Open closet and cupboard doors carefully and watch for objects falling from shelves.
  • Do not spread rumors. They often do great harm following disasters.
  • Tune-in to local radio stations for information and danger reports.
  • Do not go sightseeing.
    • Do not use your vehicle unless there is a genuine emergency.
    • Keep the streets clear for emergency vehicles.
  • Be prepared for additional aftershocks.
    • Although most of these are smaller than the main shock, some may be strong enough to cause additional damage.
  • Respond to requests for help from police, fire fighting, civil defense, and relief organizations, but do not go into damaged areas unless your help has been requested.
    • Cooperate fully with public-safety officials.
    • In some areas, you may be arrested for getting in the way of disaster operations.
  • Information concerning the welfare of separated family members will be handled by the American Red Cross.
    • Do not call or go to the police or fire department for this information.
    • If you have an emergency communications plan in place, use it instead.

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