Earthquake Preparation Planning

Advance earthquake preparation can save lives. One of the most frightening and destructive natural disasters is a severe earthquake.

Earthquakes strike suddenly, violently, and without warning at any time of the day or night. If an earthquake occurs in a populated area, it may cause many deaths and injuries and extensive property damage.

Although there are no guarantees of safety during an earthquake, identifying potential hazards ahead of time and advance earthquake preparedness can save lives and significantly reduce injuries and property damage.


  • Because you don’t know where you will be when an earthquake occurs, prepare Earthquake Survival Kits for your home, workplace, and car.
  • Keep an Emergency Weather Radio with you so you can listen for emergency updates and news reports.
  • If you don't have earthquake insurance, get a free quote, (it may not be as expensive as you think) purchase coverage to reduce the hardship of loosing your property.


Make sure you have water stored, at least 1 gallon of water per person per day (don't forget your pets) and be prepared for a minimum 72-hour period.


Keep at least a 72 hour supply of non-perishable food per person, on hand that can be rotated into your diet and replenished on a regular basis. Have a sufficient supply of canned foods, freeze-dried foods, dehydrated foods, powdered milk, and canned juices.


In the event of an earthquake, you may be instructed to shut off the utility services at your home. Teach responsible members of your family how to turn off the gas, electricity, and water at valves and main switches. Consult your local utilities if you need more information.

*NOTE: Do not shut off gas unless an emergency exists. If gas does have to be turned off, a professional must restore your service.


You can identify potential dangers in your home by conducting an earthquake hazard hunt. Foresight and common sense are all that is needed as you go from room to room and imagine what would happen in an earthquake.

Some possible hazards are:

  • Tall, heavy furniture that could topple, such as bookcases, china cabinets, or modular wall units.
  • Water heaters that could be pulled away from pipes and rupture.
  • Appliances that could move enough to rupture gas or electrical lines.
  • Hanging plants in heavy pots that could swing free of hooks.
  • Heavy picture frames or mirrors over a bed.
  • Latches on kitchen or other cabinets that will not hold the door closed during shaking.
  • Breakables or heavy objects that are kept on high or open shelves.
  • A masonry chimney that could crumble and fall through an unsupported roof.
  • Flammable liquids, like painting or cleaning products, that would be safer in a garage or outside shed.

Take earthquake preparation steps to correct these hazards — secure or relocate heavy items as appropriate.

STEP 2: WHAT TO DO DURING                                            Go to Top ^

If you are indoors:

  • Drop, Cover, and Hold — Take cover under a sturdy desk, table, or bench, or against an inside wall, and hold on. If there is no desk or table near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.
  • Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures and furniture.
  • If you are in bed when the earthquake strikes, stay there. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place.
  • Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Most injuries during earthquakes occur when people are hit by falling objects while entering or leaving buildings.
  • Be aware that electricity may go out or that sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.
  • Do not use elevators.

Earthquake Preparation If You Are Outdoors:

  • Stay there.
  • Move away from buildings, trees, streetlights, and utility wires.

If you are in a moving car:

  • Stop as quickly as safety permits, pull to the side of the road, and stay in the car.
  • Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires.
  • Do not attempt to drive across bridges or overpasses that have been damaged.
  • Proceed cautiously after the earthquake has stopped, watching for road and bridge damage.

If you are trapped under debris:

  • Do not light a match.
  • Do not move about or kick up dust.
  • Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.
  • Tap on a pipe or wall so that rescuers can find you. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort — shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.

STEP 3: WHAT TO DO AFTER                                               Go to Top ^

When the Ground Stops Shaking -

Earthquake Preparation includes being prepared for aftershocks. These secondary earthquakes are usually less violent than the main quake, but they can be strong enough to cause additional damage and weaken buildings. Stay away from damage areas unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire, or relief organizations.

Be aware of possible tsunamis if you live in a coastal area. Tsunamis are also known as seismic sea waves. When local authorities issue a tsunami warning, assume that a series of dangerous waves is on the way. Move inland to higher ground as quickly as possible.

Check for Injuries:

Earthquake Survival - If anyone has stopped breathing, give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Stop any bleeding injury by applying direct pressure to the wound. Do not move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Cover injured persons with blankets to keep them warm.

*Consider taking a First Aid Course to aid yourself and others in Earthquake Preparedness.

Check for Hazards:

  • If possible, put out small fires. If not, leave your home immediately, notify the fire department if possible, and alert your neighbors.
  • Use a battery-powered flashlight to inspect your home. Turn the flashlight on outside, before entering, because the battery may produce a spark that could ignite leaking gas, if present.
  • Check gas, electrical, and water lines, and check appliances for damage. If you smell gas or see a broken line, shut off the main valve from the outside. Do not switch on the electricity again until the power company has first checked your home. Remember, if gas is turned off, a professional must restore service. Do not search for gas leaks with a lighted match. *Caution: Do not use electrical switches or appliances if gas leaks are suspected, because sparks can ignite gas from broken lines.
  • Switch off electrical power if there is damage to your house electrical wiring. If the situation is unsafe, leave your home and seek help.
  • Check the building for cracks and damage, particularly around chimneys and masonry walls. Leave immediately if it looks like the building might collapse. Use fireplaces only if the chimney has no damage and no cracks.
  • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, and gasoline and other flammable liquids.
  • Check to see that water and sewage lines are intact before using the toilet. Plug bathtub and sink drains to prevent sewage backup.

Earthquake Preparation - If You Have To Evacuate

Post a message in clear view that states where you can be found. Take your earthquake survival kit, and your emergency radio. List reunion points in case of separation. Such points may be the homes of neighbors, friends, or relatives; schools; or community centers.

Need Even More Information?

Earthquake Preparation Information and Guides:

Emergency Numbers: A printable earthquake guide with cards for your emergency numbers.

Printable Earthquake Guide: Add to your earthquake survival kits.

USGS Web Site: For continuously updated earthquake information

*Much of the information and materials used here were developed by FEMA, you may visit the web site here

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Photo Credit: Andrea Booher/FEMA News Photo