What to do before, during, and after earthquakes

Earthquakes are happening in our county almost every day, and they will continue to happen regardless of your opinion about these natural disasters.

The problem with earthquake preparedness is that, somehow, such an issue is ignored by many, and it doesn’t seem to be a concern anymore. It always happens somewhere else.

Since natural disasters are the leading cause of property destruction in the United States, it would be wise not to ignore this calamity that can hit us at any time. It is wise to learn what to do before, during, and after a quake.

Just like many of the folks out there, you, too, probably believe that an earthquake is not something to be concerned about. In reality, that’s far from the truth, and every state in our country is at risk.

Earthquake facts

To avoid gaining a false sense of security, believing that you are safe from a quake and that it won’t happen to you, there are a few things you should learn about earthquakes.

An earthquake is described as a rapid shaking of the earth. The leading cause of the earth’s movement is the breaking and shifting of underground rocks caused by a release of the underground strain accumulated over decades and centuries.

Every earthquake has a similar pattern, and it starts with a mild shaking that may grow in strength over just a few seconds. In some cases, what is initially felt as a gentle shaking can become an extremely violent movement.

After the initial quake, there may be other earthquakes following, called aftershocks. These generally have a smaller intensity than the initial earth movement. However, there have been cases in which more significant aftershocks occurred.

The problem with earthquakes is that people believe only “big ones” can be dangerous. This is a wrong assumption since even mild tremors can turn household items into projectiles or cause buildings to collapse after damaging their foundations. Not to mention that the infrastructure can also be affected, and bridges and damns can collapse after the earth has stopped moving.

Another thing that we should acknowledge is that earthquakes can lead to other natural disasters such as wildfires caused by explosions, landslides, and tsunamis.

Where will the next one hit?

This is a question that is hard to answer since earthquakes occur in our country almost every day and all 50 states and five US territories are at risk. However, a national seismic risk map (find it here www.usgs.gov) can tell you if you live in a region prone to earthquakes.

As a quick recap, here are the regions with a higher risk for earthquakes:

  • The San Andreas Fault in California;
  • The New Madrid Fault Zone spanning areas in Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky;
  • The Cascadia Subduction Zone in western Oregon;
  • Certain areas on the East Coast, including the mid-Atlantic, coastal South Carolina, and New England;
  • Washington and Alaska.

While it’s somehow relatively easy to predict where earthquakes will hit following the data and national hazard map provided by our government, the “when?” is the question we don’t have an answer for.

We cannot predict earthquakes, and they can happen at any time without warning. Even more, the aftershock can sometimes occur for hours or days after the initial shaking of the earth, and there’s no telling when they will stop.

As said before, it’s better to learn what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones if you live in a seismic high-risk area. So, let’s look into it.

Before the earthquake

In terms of storing critical supplies, you are pretty much covered if you are a prepper. You probably already have water and food stored to survive for a year, you have medication to last you for a few months, and you have made preparations to keep your documents and valuables secured.

One thing you should do is secure all the items in your house that could move or fall, leading to injuries or damage. It should be a common practice to secure your bookshelves, mirrors, and light fixtures, but the same should be done for your water heater and other items that could become a hazard to your family members.

Make sure you also secure any items that hang over places where people sit or lie since these can move and cause injuries to those in beds, couches, or cribs.

Also, it would help if you prepared in advance to have a communication plan in place to reach all your family members when the quake strikes. We’ve discussed here at Survivopedia the need to have a communication plan ready since a disaster can strike at any time, and chances are you will not be together with your loved ones when it does.

Do regular maintenance on your home and make sure it will withstand any earth movement that may hit your area. If you have no idea how your house was built and how sturdy it is, it would be wise to consult a structural engineer and make a brief evaluation. You will figure out if there are areas that would need to be strengthened to withstand a quake.

If you are moving to a seismic high-risk area and plan to buy or rent a property, always check if the building follows the local building codes and is earthquake resistant.

Have an evacuation or bug-out plan ready at any time since you never know what can happen after an earthquake hits your area. As said before, a quake can lead to other natural disasters, and you may be forced to evacuate, so be ready to do so. For example, those living near the coast should always consider the possibility of tsunamis hitting their area. Therefore, they should have a tsunami evacuation plan ready.

To prevent any gas leaks, it would be wise to install an earthquake shut-off valve. In certain regions, these are legally required. Even if that’s not the case for your property, it’s still recommended to have one installed if you cannot shut off the gas line manually.

During an earthquake

How you act during an earthquake depends on where you are located and what you do when the quake hits. Here are a few scenarios you should consider:

If you are inside a building

  • You should know how to drop down, cover, and hold on. Once the ground starts to shake, drop down onto your hands and knees so that the quake doesn’t knock you down. You will need to cover your head and neck with your arms to protect yourself from falling debris.
  • If particular falling objects can harm you, the best thing you can do is seek cover under a sturdy table or desk.
  • If you can’t find any cover, you should move away from windows, anything with glass, and outside doors and walls. Move next to an interior wall for cover.
  • If you lack cover, use your arms to protect your neck or use whatever is available to create some protective layer, a book, a pillow, etc.
  • Stay under or next to your cover until the shaking stops. Do not make the mistake of trying to run outside since there’s no guarantee you can make it, especially if you have to get down a flight of stairs (one of the most dangerous places to be during a quake).
  • If you are in your bed, stay there and try to protect your head and neck with a pillow or blanket. Do not try to jump out of bed and run to safety since you will not move safely in the dark. Hazards are challenging to be seen and avoid at night, and your action will result in more injuries.
  • Those in a wheelchair or various mobility devices should lock their wheels. Once you secure the wheels, bend over and remain seated until the quake passes. Cover your head and protect your neck using whatever’s available.

If you are outside a building

  • When you are outdoors and a quake starts, you should move away from buildings and pretty much anything that can become a danger to your physical integrity if it falls or breaks apart. Don’t stay under utility wires or streetlights and move in the open. Cover your head with your hands and stay there until the shaking stops.
  • If you are in a pool, and the earth starts shaking, try to swim to the lateral side of the pool and get out since the water movement inside a collection can injure or even drown people. Once on the side of the pool, crawl on all four until you manage to get to a safe place. Do not stand up and try to run since you will lose your balance, slip, and end up injuring yourself.
  • If you are in a car driving down the road and you feel the earth starts to move, stop as quickly and safely as possible. You should avoid stopping under buildings, overpasses, utility wires, or trees. Do not get out of the car until the quake stops. Also, if you decide to continue your journey by car, you should drive carefully and avoid roads and bridges that the earthquake may have damaged.

What to do after an earthquake

First of all, if you’ve been through a rain of falling objects, you should check if you or those close to you are injured. The adrenaline rush may prevent you from seeing things clearly, and you have to make sure there are no disabled people that require first-aid.

If you have adequate training, you can assist with rescues and provide medical assistance to those around you.

If the quake stops and you are inside a building, look around to see if there’s any visible damage and find a clear path to get out of the building. You should go to an open space and stay as far away as possible from damaged structures. Most damaged buildings will fall during the aftershock.

Contact all family members if you are not together to make sure everyone is ok. Establish how to meet them based on your evacuation plan preparations.

If you are trapped, do not move around because you will kick up dust, and you will not be able to see or breathe properly. If you have your phone with you, use it to call for help. Do not start yelling since you will tire yourself. Please tap on a wall or pipe regularly so that the rescue team can locate you. In case you have a whistle with you, use it in short bursts.

Check the radio, local news reports on TV and social media for emergency information and instructions. This becomes imperative if you live near the coast, where tsunamis can become a real danger. If you know your area is prone to tsunamis, you have to move inland to higher ground.

If and when you get involved in the cleanup process, use extreme caution since working with and around debris can be dangerous. Always wear protective clothing and sturdy, thick-soled boots during cleanup.

Do not go inside a building for any reason unless it’s declared safe to do so. Even if you hear someone crying for help, you must be sure you won’t cause more harm if you start removing heavy debris. Make sure the structure’s integrity won’t be affected by your action before attempting to help them.


Earthquakes are hardly being discussed, even if such natural disasters can bring destruction and death. We still believe such calamities always happen somewhere else, even if our country has a long history of earthquakes.

If you are curious enough to research this topic more, you will discover some disturbing facts about earthquakes. I guarantee it will be enough to get you thinking about various disaster preparedness methods and how to keep your loved ones safe.

Written by

Bob Rodgers is an experienced prepper and he strives to teach people about emergency preparedness. He quit the corporate world and the rat race 6 years ago and now he dedicates all his time and effort to provide a self-sufficient life for his family. He loves the great outdoors and never misses a chance to go camping. For more preparedness related articles, you can visit him at Prepper’s Will

Latest comments
  • Tom Knight’s “Shake ,Shake,Shake (The Earthquake Song)” gives my approch.

  • I’ve been in a number of ‘major’ earthquakes.. each time the ‘recommendations’ change.. in 3rd world countries, everyone ran outside and as far away from the buildings as possible (my 2nd floor high school bathroom had a residual inch plus crack running diagnally across the main floor). When I came back to the US and ran outside during the first big one I experienced in Seattle, I was told to stay inside and shelter in a door way or under something sturdy.

    Then I moved to California where I experienced the Loma Prieta.. I was working on the ground floor in a century old 2 story building that had previously housed dormitories for a girls’ school in Atherton on the 2nd floor.. I sheltered in a very solid oak doorway as watched my co-workers race outside through a doorway that I knew had a rather precarious electric wire strung over it. Few people had ‘mobile’ phones.. all lines were down. My teenage son was at swim practice 17 miles south. There were no functioning traffic lights. People were driving ‘crazy’.. I carefully drove to my sister’s house in Palo Alo and checked that my nephew and his nanny and the house were ok. Then kept driving to Mountain View where I checked on my mother in her ground level condo.. Then kept driving down to the swim club. I was the last parent (coming by far the furthest) to pick up my son even with my quick stops..

    The kids had been in the pool training when the coach felt the quake start and saw the metal ‘roofing’ over the spectator stands buckling and swaying.. and yelled at the kids to swim to the other side of the pool.. which they did as best they could with the olympic sized pool waters surging back and forth, the lane lines snapping and whizzing past them. My son said when he was trying to lift himself out of the pool, the water disappeared under his feet and then surged back up and ‘spat’ him out of the pool. Everyone was safe.

    We made it home safely and eventually watched the horror of rescuers trying to get people out of crashed cars on the Bay Bridge to find survivors under collapsed freeways in Oakland .. MANY people who had stayed in their cars in Oakland were crushed The recommendation repeated over and over was to not stay in av ehicle, bed or get under anything, but to lay down BESIDE your bed, vehicle, desk. table, etc. no matter how strong you think it is. If the ceiling, the freeway, or anything heavy enough to collapse it.. does, you have a better chance avoiding serious injury beside it because even its collapsed bulk will most likely provide ‘just enough’ body space in its lee..

    Currently, I live some 50 miles from the Oregon Coast where the Cascadia Subduction Zone and its potential for a 9+ quake hitting the WA, OR, and NCA western and coastal regions is the anticipated BIG ONE.. and recently watched a video by the OR DOT on the dangers of the 100s of bridges that are on virtually every road in the state.. the video was specific to the I-5 bridge over the Colombia River from Portland, OR to Vancouver, WA. (with traffic of 142,000 vehicles each weekday) It is built on top of timber pilings in a sandy bottom on the kind prone to liquification (as was the Oakland Bay Bridge).. They project that the I-5 Bridge would basically completely collapse in sections (besides the sandy bottom, the projected tsunami from a 8+quake would still be deadly all the way up the river to and past Portland based on the damage the last Cascadia Zone Big One did to Japan in 1700 and our topography. per the multiple other reports I’ve read. the implicatiions of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, specifically the implications of the 1700 quake which they really just started paying attention to in the late 90s are fairly recent as science and govenrment infrastructure go.. let’s just say we could have put a real infrastructure bill to good use in the PNW.. OR DOT was intending to both educate and to raise awareness of the need to replace that bridge..

    what is not mentioned is the PDX International Airport is a very short way to the east of this bridge with main runways running parallel to the river behind rather low dikes that could quite possibly also liquify.. the major east/west railway also runs along the river and the railyard are also in a potential liquification zone..

    All in all, I’m rather relieved to be where I am.. just past the edge of the lighter, secondary high danger zone at the opposite end of the state.. with a few ‘zone’ pockets around me..but at lower than my moderate elevation… I might make it the 7 miles out to the Hwy, but I wouldn’t be going far from there with bridges and creeks in both directions.. The ‘realistic’ around here sure do not expect our area to be a priority and figure a minimum of 6 months.. dependimg on the season, much of the lower plains, creek bottoms, and areas along them would also tend to liquify especially in our rainy season…

    be safe… and as a VN vet friend says, ‘no reconn is a waste of time and effort’…

    • Our stories are similar. We lived in California when the Loma Prieta quake hit — in the South Bay, Monte Sereno, near Los Gatos.. On a normal day, my wife would have been in Berkely that afternoon visiting a customer. She would have driven that section of the freeway that collapsed. I would have been in Mountain View as I worked for Sun Microsystems. Our two-year-old son would have been in day care.

      As it happened, my wife and I had done some painting the previous weekend at a condo we owned in Foster City. I had left a partially used 5 gallon can of paint in my wife’s car. When my wife left her office to go to the customer site, she discovered that the can of paint had turned over and paint was leaking out of her trunk. Instead of going to the customer, she went home and picked up our son on the way.. Of course, she was furious with me. She wanted me home to clean up her car. That afternoon I had a presentation for our company president. I rushed through it and then left for home. So, by a stroke of luck, or the grace of God, we were all home when the quake hit.

      I was outside in the back with my son when the quake hit. I watched the wave undulate through the house. I watched a wall of water pour out of one side of our pool, then flow back into it, and then flow out the other side. We lost over a foot of water. My son was knocked down by the initial shaking. He got back up and was knocked down again. That’s when he started crying. I grabbed and held him until the shaking stopped.

      Then, we went inside looking for my wife. She was under the dining room table. Lots of stuff had fallen to the floor. The place was a mess but no one was hurt. After that, we hired a structural engineer, build shear walls and installed foundation bolts. We also installed a natural gas generator..

      About 10 years later, we bought a second home in Southern Oregon. At the time, I did not know about Cascadia. Here, we have a well, with solar, batteries, and a generator for backup. We have lots of food and supplies stored. We have propane for cooking and hot water. If our house survives, we could live here for several months without outside contact. Now, We are doing some work to reinforce the structure. One does what one can.

  • Our house is ICF construction and best in earthquake zones.