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Quake, Rattle, and Roll: What to do During an Earthquake

Broken Road

Stay safe by learning what to do during an earthquake, whether you're indoors, outdoors, or on the road.


When an earthquake or other disaster occurs, many people hesitate, trying to remember what they are supposed to do. Responding quickly and automatically may help protect you from injury. If you are indoors during an earthquake, the most important thing you can do is ‘Drop, Cover, and Hold On’!

Drop under a sturdy desk or table and hold on to one leg of the table or desk. Protect your eyes by keeping your head down. Don’t be surprised if you move along with your cover, and don’t let go! Practice these actions so that they become an automatic response.

If you have to move to find cover when the earthquake begins, move only a few steps to the nearest safe place. It is very dangerous to leave a building during an earthquake because objects can fall on you. Many fatalities occur when people run outside of buildings during the quake, only to be killed by falling debris from collapsing walls, fire escapes, and balconies. In U.S. buildings, you are safer to stay where you are.

Stay away from windows. Windows can shatter with such force that you might get hurt even if you are several feet away.

If you are in bed, hold on to the bedframe and stay there, protecting your head with a pillow. You are less likely to be injured staying where you are. Broken glass on the floor may cause injury to those who have rolled to the floor or tried to get to doorways.

In a high-rise building, expect the fire alarms and sprinklers to go off during a quake. Earthquakes frequently cause fire alarm and fire sprinkler systems to go off even if there is no fire. Check for and extinguish small fires, and use the stairs to evacuate.

Practice ‘Drop, Cover, and Hold- on’ at least twice a year. Frequent practice will help reinforce safe behavior.



Being outdoors during an earthquake presents a unique set of problems. Trees, power lines, poles, street signs, debris from damaged buildings, and other overhead items may fall during earthquakes.

If you're outside in an earthquake, stay outside. Find a clear spot away from buildings, trees, streetlights, and power lines. Crouch down and cover your head until the shaking stops.

If you are in a coastal area, move to higher ground when the shaking stops. Tsunamis are often created by earthquakes.

If you are in a mountainous area or near unstable slopes or cliffs, watch for falling rocks and other debris that could be loosened by the earthquake. Landslides are common after earthquakes.



If you are in a vehicle, pull over to a clear location and stop. Stay there with your seatbelt fastened until the shaking has ended. Parking your car will help reduce your risk of being overturned, and a hard-topped vehicle will help protect you from flying or falling objects.

Once the shaking has stopped, proceed with caution. Avoid bridges or ramps that might have been damaged by the quake. Do not drive through flooded roads or bridges—the road beneath the water might be severely damaged or even washed away.

12 thoughts on “Quake, Rattle, and Roll: What to do During an Earthquake”

  • Greg

    I have read from rescue experts that hiding under an object (desk) is a bad idea. There is a triangle zone next to an object that is safer. Next to the desk or bed is safer than under because if something really heavy falls on the desk, the desk will fall on you and crush you, while next to the desk there is a safer non-crushed zone. (Think the Cypress freeway that collapsed during Loma Prieta and the cars crushed by the freeway, but next to the cars was a space not crushed.)

    • beprepared

      Hey Greg, thanks for your comment. Are you referring to the Triangle of Life method? It is supported by some and seems to work in the event of a pancake-type collapse, which isn't what happens with most buildings during an earthquake. It's more common that a structure will move laterally (back and forth) dislodging objects. Drop, Cover, and Hold-on is meant to protect you from falling objects (like picture frames, objects on shelves, or ceiling tiles) and glass from breaking windows. Of course you should cover under sturdy objects like dining room tables rather than card tables. We don't recommend hiding under a bed. Ultimately the method you use is up to you; Drop, Cover, and Hold-on is the method that we think is most effective.

  • Allyson

    Living in Northern CA, we teach our children what to do in the event of an earthquake. I have boys that are in bunk beds. They are quite sturdy (made out of solid wood), but have wondered whether it was a good idea to teach them to seek shelter under the bottom bunk, or if they should move away to a 'triangle of safety' position. There is no other sturdy table in their room currently for them to get to easily.

    • beprepared

      Allyson, that's a tough decision to make. If an earthquake hits while you're in bed, the recommendation is to stay in bed, hold on tight to the underside of the headboard or edge of the bed, and cover your head with a pillow if you can. One of the problems with the 'triangle of safety' position is that you're more exposed to moving objects and debris on the floor (like broken glass) than you would be by staying in bed. The Red Cross, Southern California Earthquake Center, the USGS, and many other professional organizations all support Drop, Cover, and Hold-On. From the research I've done, none of these organizations support the Triangle of Life method.

  • Melanie

    From our experience her ein Christchurch, any of the bigger night time earthquakes we have our children stay in bed then we go to them. The key is to make sure BEFORE that there aren;t frames and clutter above the head space of where children sleep. Also to bracket wardrobes and even chests of drawers as these easily tip when the ground is rolling. Be careful if you use mattresses on the floor for extra sleep space because anything can fall on them. It is comforting to know that when there are aftershocks are earthquakes that things are already secure and risk is minimised. After the first big quakes we actually slept with our little ones under the dining table for a week as it was easier than getting up and down to check on them and felt safer. Re Triangle of life - this is now what I use with the children in our home - only cos we have assessed the building and know how things move and fall. We still stop, drop and hold - but don't go underneath unless it is a magnitude 6 or so then not much point unless you are right by the table as more likely to get injured trying to get to the table.

  • Melanie

    @ Allyson: Top bunk is safer- if the roof comes down they will get sandwiched underneath. Nothing likely to fall on them other than the roof. So I would brace the bunks to the wall, teach them to hold on then move to interior wall space as soon as movement stops. real things to worry about are things like bricks and masonry outside falling through walls - or at least that is how it was for us here in CHristchurch

  • Marlie

    What if you are in a 2-story building that is sure to topple?? We don't live in the US and I think what would happen here would be more like what happened in Haiti. Would you suggest running for the nearest exit? I feel like all of those suggestions are well and good for the US where buildings there have to meet code but here, there is no code and it would be a sure disaster.

    • beprepared

      Hi Marlie. Yikes! Sure to topple eh? If you tell me what country you're in, I'll do some specific research. I'm going to an emergency preparedness conference this weekend and can (and will) speak with some earthquake experts. Drop, Cover, and Hold-on is recommended for earthquakes in the US and I think in general the practice is reliable. However, I don't want to recommend anything specific until I can get more info.

      For some general to-dos: Assuming you're a US citizen, I would call the US consulate or Embassy and find out what they recommend and what disaster plans and resources they have. If you're not a US citizen, then I would check with your country's consulate or embassy. I would also find out what your host company or organization plans to do in the event of an earthquake. I would contact the emergency management organization of the country you're living in. Most countries, even in developing nations like Honduras, have an established emergency management organization with extensive plans.

      Let me know what country you're in and I'll do some research!

  • Jessie

    Alot of goods comments folks! Sitting here 80 miles from the active Yellowstone cauldura reminds me of something I saw many years ago on VT public television.(yes,they have earthquakes in VT) One of the best things to have is an earthquake kit next to or under your bed consisiting of a shoe box with an old pair of sneakers and a flashlight. Many injuries post earthquake are from people cutting there feet from glass and debris.

  • Fahrul

    Widely reported the 5.7 quake proabbly got more attention outside Ok then in. Some walls rattled, the dogs went crazy, and Sheetrock screws popped out. No one ran screaming into the street..

  • Desert Fox

    The blanket suggestion to stay in bed and put a pillow on your head is quite irresponsible. The ceiling could fall on top of you and voila - The frame of any object is sturdier than the body itself, i.e. the legs of a table are stronger than the middle part, therefore will hold more weight...glass and other debris will reach you even if you are under it. A closet is sturdier than the room. Of course, the actual earthquake's strength will dictate survival and it's always best to prepare for the worst.

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