Drop, cover, and hold on during earthquakes and aftershocks.

During earthquakes, drop to the floor, take cover under a sturdy desk or table, and hold on to it firmly. Be prepared to move with it until the shaking stops.

The area near the exterior walls of a building is the most dangerous place to be. Windows, facades and architectural details are often the first parts of the building to collapse. To stay away from this danger zone, stay inside if you are inside and outside if you are outside.


An enduring earthquake image of California is a collapsed adobe home with the door frame as the only standing part. From this came our belief that a doorway is the safest place to be during an earthquake. True—if you live in an old, unreinforced adobe house. In modern houses, doorways are no stronger than any other part of the house. You are safer under a table.

If you are...

Indoors: Drop, cover, and hold on. If you are not near a desk or table, drop to the floor against the interior wall and protect your head and neck with your arms. Avoid exterior walls, windows, hanging objects, mirrors, tall furniture, large appliances, and kitchen cabinets with heavy objects or glass. Do not go outside!

In bed: If you are in bed, hold on 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 has caused injury to those who have rolled to the floor or tried to get to doorways.

In a high-rise: Drop, cover, and hold on. Avoid windows and other hazards. Do not use elevators. Do not be surprised if sprinkler systems or fire alarms activate.

Outdoors: Move to a clear area if you can safely do so; avoid power lines, trees, signs, buildings, vehicles, and other hazards.

Driving: Pull over to the side of the road, stop, and set the parking brake. Avoid overpasses, bridges, power lines, signs and other hazards. Stay inside the vehicle until the shaking is over. If a power line falls on the car, stay inside until a trained person removes the wire.

In a stadium or theater: Stay at your seat and protect your head and neck with your arms. Don’t try to leave until the shaking is over. Then walk out slowly watching for anything that could fall in the aftershocks.

Near the shore: Drop, cover and hold on until the shaking stops. Estimate how long the shaking lasts. If severe shaking lasts 20 seconds or more, immediately evacuate to high ground as a tsunami might have been generated by the earthquake. Move inland 3 kilometers (2 miles) or to land that is at least 30 meters (100 feet) above sea level immediately. Don't wait for officials to issue a warning. Walk quickly, rather than drive, to avoid traffic, debris and other hazards.

Below a dam: Dams can fail during a major earthquake. Catastrophic failure is unlikely, but if you live downstream from a dam, you should know flood-zone information and have prepared an evacuation plan.

Plan NOW to respond after an earthquake.

Keep shoes and a working flashlight next to each bed.
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.

Identify the needs of 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. Learn who else in your neighborhood is trained in first aid and CPR.
Know the location of utility shutoffs and keep needed tools nearby. Make sure you know how to turn off the gas, water, and electricity to your home. Only turn off the gas if you smell or hear leaking gas.
Get training from your local fire department in how to properly use a fire extinguisher.

Install smoke alarms and test them monthly. Change the battery once a year, or when the alarm emits a "chirping" sound (low-battery signal).

Check with your city or county to see if there is a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) in your area. If not, ask how to start one.



Plan NOW to communicate and recover after an earthquake.

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.

Provide all family members with a list of important contact phone numbers.
Determine where you might live if your home cannot be occupied after an earthquake or other disaster.
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).

Have occasional earthquake “drills” to practice your plan. Share your plan with people who take care of your children, pets, or home.

You should be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least three days (72 hours) following an earthquake. The California Governor's Office of Emergency Services recommends the following items be included in your emergency earthquake kit:

Food. Enough for 72 hours, preferably one week.

Water. Enough so each person has a gallon a day for 72 hours, preferably one week. Store in airtight containers and replace every six months. Store disinfectants such as iodine tablets or chlorine bleach, eight drops per gallon, to purify water if necessary.

First Aid Kit. Make sure it's well stocked, especially with bandages and disinfectant.

Fire extinguishers. Your fire extinguisher should be suitable for all types of fires. Teach family members how to use it.

Flashlights with extra batteries. Keep flashlights besides your bed and in several other locations. DO NOT use matches or candles after an earthquake until you are certain there are no gas leaks.

Portable radio with extra batteries. Most telephones will be out of order or limited to emergency use. The radio will be your best source of information.

Extra blankets, clothing, shoes, and money. 

Alternate cooking sources. Store a barbecue or camping stove for outdoor camping. CAUTION: Ensure there are no gas leaks before you use any kind of fire as cooking source and do not use charcoal indoors.

Special items. Have at least a week's supply of medications and food for infants and those with special needs. Don't forget pet food.

Tools. Have an adjustable or pipe wrench for turning off gas and water. Know where your gas meter is located before an emergency occurs

A special note about children.

If earthquakes scare us because we feel out of control, think how much more true this must be for children, who already must depend on adults for so much of their lives. It is important to spend time with children in your care before the next earthquake to explain why earthquakes occur. Involve them in developing your disaster plan, prepare disaster supplies kits, and practice “drop, cover, and hold on.” Consider simulating post-earthquake conditions by going without electricity or tap water.

After the earthquake, remember that children will be under great stress. They may be frightened, their routine will probably be disrupted, and the aftershocks won’t let them forget the experience. Adults tend to leave their children in order to deal with the many demands of the emergency, but this can be devastating to children. Extra contact and support from parents in the early days will pay off later. Whenever possible, include them in the recovery process.

Personal disaster supplies kits.

Everyone should have personal disaster supplies kits. Keep them where you spend most of your time, so they can be reached even if your building is badly damaged. The kits will be useful for many emergencies.

Keep one kit in your home, another in your car, and a third kit at work. Backpacks or other small bags are best for your disaster supplies kits so you can take them with you if you evacuate. Include at least the following items:

  • Medications, prescription list, copies of medical cards, doctor's name and contact information

  • Medical consent forms for dependents

  • First aid kit and handbook

  • Examination gloves (non-latex)

  • Dust mask

  • Spare eyeglasses or contact lenses and cleaning solution

  • Bottled water

  • Whistle (to alert rescuers to your location)

  • Sturdy shoes

  • Emergency cash

  • Road maps

  • List of emergency out-of-area contact phone numbers

  • Snack foods, high in water and calories

  • Working flashlight with extra batteries and light bulbs, or light sticks

  • Personal hygiene supplies

  • Comfort items such as games, crayons, writing materials, teddy bears

  • Toiletries and special provisions you need for yourself and others in your family including elderly, disabled, small children, and animals.

  • Copies of personal identification (drivers license, work ID card, etc.)

  • Household disaster supplies kit

Electrical, water, transportation, and other vital systems can be disrupted for several days after a large earthquake.

Emergency response agencies and hospitals could be overwhelmed and unable to provide you with immediate assistance. Providing first aid and having supplies will save lives, will make life more comfortable, and will help you cope after the next earthquake.

In addition to your personal disaster supplies kits, store a household disaster supplies kit in an easily accessible location (in a large watertight container that can be easily moved), with a three-day to one-week supply of the following items:

  • Wrenches to turn off gas and water supplies

  • Work gloves and protective goggles

  • Heavy duty plastic bags for waste, and to serve as tarps, rain ponchos, and other uses

  • Portable radio with extra batteries

  • Additional flashlights or light sticks

  • Drinking water (minimum one gallon per person, per day)

  • Canned and packaged foods

  • Charcoal or gas grill for outdoor cooking and matches if needed

  • Cooking utensils, including a manual can opener

  • Pet food and pet restraints

  • Comfortable, warm clothing including extra socks

  • Blankets or sleeping bags, and perhaps even a tent

  • Copies of vital documents such as insurance policies

  • Use and replace perishable items like water, food, medications, first aid items, and batteries on a yearly basis.


After the earthquake, check for injuries and damage.

First take care of your own situation. Remember your emergency plans. Aftershocks may cause additional damage or items to fall, so get to a safe location. Take your disaster supplies kit.

If you are trapped by falling items or a collapse, protect your mouth, nose, and eyes from dust. If you are bleeding, put pressure on the wound and elevate the injured part. Signal for help with your emergency whistle, a cell phone, or knock loudly on solid pieces of the building, three times every few minutes. Rescue personnel will be listening for such sounds.

Once you are safe, help others and check for damage. Protect yourself by wearing sturdy shoes and work gloves, to avoid injury from broken glass and debris. Also wear a dust mask and eye protection.

Check for injuries:

Check your first aid kit or the front pages of your telephone book for detailed instructions on first aid measures.

  • If a person is bleeding, put direct pressure on the wound. Use clean gauze or cloth, if available.

  • If a person is not breathing, administer rescue breathing.

  • If a person has no pulse, begin CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

  • Do not move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of further injury.

  • Cover injured persons with blankets or additional clothing to keep them warm.

  • Get medical help for serious injuries.

  • Carefully check children or others needing special assistance.

Check for damage.

FIRE. If possible, put out small fires in your home or neighborhood immediately. Call for help, but don’t wait for the fire department.

GAS LEAKS. Shut off the main gas valve only if you suspect a leak because of broken pipes or the odor or sound of leaking natural gas. Don’t turn it back on yourself — wait for the gas company to check for leaks. The phone book has detailed information on this topic.

DAMAGED ELECTRICAL WIRING. Shut off power at the main breaker switch if there is any damage to your house wiring. Leave the power off until the damage is repaired.

BROKEN LIGHTS AND APPLIANCES. Unplug these as they could start fires when electricity is restored.

DOWNED POWER LINES. If you see downed power lines, consider them energized and stay well away from them. Keep others away from them also. Never touch downed power lines or any objects in contact with them.

FALLEN ITEMS. Beware of items tumbling off shelves when you open the doors of closets and cupboards.

SPILLS. Use extreme caution. Clean up any spilled medicines, drugs, or other non-toxic substances. Potentially harmful materials such as bleach, lye, garden chemicals, and gasoline or other petroleum products should be isolated or covered with an absorbent such as dirt or cat litter. When in doubt, leave your home.

DAMAGED MASONRY. Stay away from chimneys and walls made of brick or block. They may be weakened and could topple during aftershocks. Don’t use a fireplace with a damaged chimney. It could start a fire or let poisonous gases into your home.

When safe, continue to follow your disaster plan.

Once you have met your and your family's immediate needs after an earthquake, continue to follow the plan you prepared in advance.

Aftershocks will continue to happen for several weeks after major earthquakes. Some may be large enough to cause additional damage. Always be ready to drop, cover, and hold on.

Your recovery period can take several weeks to months or longer. Take the actions listed below to be safe and to minimize the long-term effects of the earthquake on your life.

The first days after the earthquake:

Use the information you put together in your disaster plan and the supplies you organized in your disaster kits. Until you are sure there are no gas leaks, do not use open flames (lighters, matches, candles, or grills) or operate any electrical or mechanical device that can create a spark (light switches, generators, motor vehicles, etc.).

Never use the following indoors

  • camp stove

  • gas lanterns or heaters

  • gas or charcoal grills

  • gas generators

These can release deadly carbon monoxide or be a fire hazard in aftershocks.

Be in communication

Turn on your portable or car radio for information and safety advisories.

Place all phones back on their cradles.

Call your out-of-area contact, tell them your status, then stay off the phone. Emergency responders need to use the phone lines for life-saving communications.

Check on the condition of your neighbors.

Food and water

If power is off, plan meals to use up refrigerated and frozen foods first. If you keep the door closed, food in your freezer may be good for a couple of days.

Listen to your radio for safety advisories.

If your water is off or unsafe, you can drink from water heaters, melted ice cubes, or canned vegetables. Avoid drinking water from swimming pools or spas.

Do not eat or drink anything from open containers that are near shattered glass.

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