How to Survive an Earthquake

April 18, 2016 Updated: April 18, 2016

Recent earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador have killed hundreds of people and left massive destruction. Knowing what to do during a disaster may save your life.

Here are a few tips from the Red Cross and on surviving an earthquake:

What to Do If You Are Inside When an Earthquake Hits:

  • Stay where you are until the shaking stops and do not run outdoors. Stay inside until it is safe to exit.
  • Drop, cover and hold on, and move as little as possible.
  • It’s a common myth to believe that running to a doorway will protect you. Officials say this isn’t a good idea. Doorways are no stronger than other parts of a structure. They also don’t protect against falling debris and you may not be able to remain standing throughout the quake.
  • Cover your head and neck from falling or flying debris. Try to take cover under a strong desk or table to protect yourself from falling objects. Low furniture may also provide additional cover.
  •  If you are in bed, stay there, curl up, and hold on and protect your head and neck with a pillow. It’s best to remain on the bed, since hazards and debris are difficult to see and avoid in the dark. Moving around may lead to more injuries than staying in bed.
  • Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as light fixtures or furniture.
  • The Earthquake Country Alliance advises getting as low as possible to the floor. If you can’t get safely to the floor go to an inside corner of a room away from windows and objects that can fall on you.
  • If you are in a wheelchair or other mobility devices lock their wheels while protecting your head and neck with your arms, a pillow, a book, or whatever is available. You must remain seated until the shaking stops.
  • When leaving outdoors after the shaking stops use the stairs and don’t take the elevator, since there may be aftershocks, power failures, and other damage.

If You Are Outside When an Earthquake Occurs:

  • Look for a clear spot away from away from buildings, power lines, trees, and streetlights. Drop to the ground and remain there until the earthquake ends.
  • If you are in a moving vehicle, stop immediately and as safely as possible and remain in the vehicle. Don’t stop near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires. Continue driving only when the shaking stops, and avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that the earthquake may have damaged.

What to Do After an Earthquake Hits:

  • If a power line falls on your vehicle, wait for help and don’t get out.
  • If you are in a mountainous area or near unstable slopes or cliffs, be on the lookout for falling rocks and other debris. Keep in mind that landslides are often triggered by earthquakes.
  • Expect and prepare for potential aftershocks or tsunamis if you are in coastal areas. Each time you feel an aftershock, drop, cover, and hold on. They may occur minutes, days, weeks, and even months following an earthquake.
  • Check yourself for injuries and get first aid before helping injured or trapped persons.
  • If you are trapped, do not move about or kick up dust. Tap on a pipe or wall or use a whistle, if you have one, so that rescuers can locate you. If you have a cell phone with you, use it to call or text for help.
  • Once it is safe, listen to news reports via a battery operated radio, TV, social media, and cell phone text alerts for emergency information and instructions.
  • Put clothes that cover up your body, like long pants, long-sleeved shirts, sturdy shoes, and work gloves to protect against injury from broken objects.
  • Immediately clean up spilled medications, bleach, gasoline, or other flammable liquids.
  • When opening closet and cabinet doors do so carefully, as objects inside may have shifted.

Be Ready Before it Happens:

Don’t wait until a disaster happens. Make sure you know fire evacuation procedures and earthquake plans of all buildings you frequently stay in. Learn how to protect yourself before an emergency happens by going through the Red Cross Earthquake Safety Checklist and visiting websites like:, and If you are in a region that has a higher risk of earthquakes, you can sign up for The Earthquake Notification Service (ENS), a free service that sends you automated notification emails when earthquakes happen in your area, provided by the U.S. Geological Survey.