As recent tremors across California remind us, it’s never too soon to prepare for an earthquake—especially if you live in the West. The simple steps you take now will help protect you and your household when the next round of shaking starts, and keep everyone safe in the event of aftershocks, an emergency, or a larger disaster.
1. Seek out a safe spot.
As part of your earthquake prep, examine each room of your home and figure out where to go when shaking starts. Contrary to popular belief, the safest place is not the nearest doorway, where you risk getting hit by a swinging door, breaking glass, or falling objects. It's better to move to an inside corner of the room, away from windows, light fixtures, shelves, and art or other hanging items that may shatter or fall. If possible, you want to take shelter under sturdy furniture, such as a solid wood or metal table, to protect yourself, according to Casey Brennan, director of community impact and public relations at AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah.
Do not move to another room or run outside: You’ll likely put yourself at greater risk. The area immediately next to any building is one of the most dangerous places to be because debris often falls off structures. Consider that some earthquakes are so powerful that you may not be able to walk or even crawl while it's happening. If you’re in bed, stay where you are, but roll over on your stomach and cover your head and neck with a pillow for protection.
Keep a bag secured to the underside of the bed containing hard-soled shoes, a flashlight with extra batteries, work gloves, and a whistle. (These utilitarian items may serve you well in other types of emergencies too.) If that sounds like overkill, consider that the most common injury resulting from the July 2019 Ridgecrest earthquake in Southern California was cut feet.
“The first thing to do after an earthquake is to put on shoes and clothes to be safe,” says Margaret Vinci, manager of earthquake programs at the Seismological Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
2. Practice “drop, cover, and hold on.”
This crucial safety precaution means exactly what it says: Drop to the ground on your hands and knees, wherever you are, and tuck your head in toward your legs. Cover your head and neck with one hand to help protect them from falling objects as you crawl to shelter, ideally under a sturdy piece of furniture. Hold on to the furniture with one hand while you cover your head and neck with the other.
The hazards aren’t over when the first wave of shaking stops. Aftershocks can come seconds, minutes, and days later. “Stay in your safe place until the shaking stops and you feel safe to move, but be aware of things that might fall after the shaking or with aftershocks,” Vinci says.
Practice the Drop, Cover, and Hold On drill with your family at least once a year. If you need a reminder, mark your calendar for the Great ShakeOut in October, when millions of people around the world participate in earthquake safety drills; visit Shakeout.org for details.
“The more you practice and know your safe places, the more your body will intuitively get you into the safe place before you even think about it,” Vinci says.