Earthquake Tips-Environmental Health & Safety - Carnegie Mellon University

Earthquake Tips 

As we recently learned, earthquakes can strike suddenly and without warning.  Because they are so rare in our area, the August earthquake caused many of us a great deal of confusion.  Should we evacuate the building or should we stay inside?  If we stay inside, should we go to the basement or duck under our desks?  Or should we not do anything?  The following tips may be helpful should you ever find yourself in an earthquake again.

  • Establish a family plan and be sure everyone knows and understands it. A good starting point for a family emergency plan can be found at However, this is a general plan and is only meant to be a guide. You will need to be more specific for earthquake planning.
  • BEFORE an earthquake occurs, select "safe places" in your home and at work. This could be under a desk or table, or against a sturdy interior wall away from windows.
  • Remember: Drop, Cover, and Hold. Drop to the floor at the first indication of an earthquake, take cover under something sturdy, and hold on until the shaking stops. The elderly, or those with impaired mobility, should remain where they are and brace themselves against the vibration. If you are vacationing in a coastal area, move to higher ground as soon as it is feasible. Tsunamis are often generated by earthquakes.
  • Stay away from windows.
  • Remain indoors until the shaking stops. Leaving the building while the quake is in progress could expose you to falling debris, and studies show that people who move more than 5 feet are the most likely to be injured.
  • Once outside, move quickly away from buildings, trees, or power lines, to avoid being struck by falling material.
  • If you are in a vehicle, pull over into a clear location, stop, and remain in your car with the seatbelt fastened until the shaking stops.
  • Expect aftershocks. If they occur, react the same way you would for the original earthquake.
  • Be alert for fires or leaking gas.
  • Clean up spilled medications, flammable liquids, or other dangerous materials before they cause secondary problems.
  • Open closet and cabinet doors cautiously. The contents may have shifted and could fall, causing injury or additional damage.
  • Do not re-enter damaged buildings until you are sure they have been declared safe. Aftershocks could cause additional damage and expose you to more danger if you are inside.

Some myths and facts about earthquakes:

MYTH:  During an earthquake you should get into a doorway for protection.

FACT:  Most doorways are no stronger than any other parts of the structure, and the door could swing and injure you.  It is better to get under a sturdy piece of furniture.


MYTH:  In an earthquake, large cracks will appear in the earth where people can fall in.

FACT:  Small cracks may form, but they will not be so large that you may fall in.  Shifts in the height of the surface are more likely than large cracks.


MYTH:  My pet will know when an earthquake is coming, which will give me plenty of warning.

FACT:  Animals do seem to be able to sense the first low-frequency waves of an earthquake, but it will usually only be seconds before you feel the shaking.  Animals are not reliable early warning sensors.


MYTH:  It's a cool day, so an earthquake won't occur.

FACT:  Earthquakes are not temperature-sensitive, and no scientific correlation between earthquakes and weather has been found.


MYTH:  Scientists can now predict earthquakes.

FACT:  Scientists have not yet discovered a way to predict earthquakes with any degree of accuracy.  They can calculate the probability of an earthquake occurring in a given area within the next several years, but that is not the same as predicting.  Scientists have calculated that there is a 60% chance of an earthquake in southern California within the next 30 years, for instance, but that is as close as they can get right now.

For more information on protecting yourself in an earthquake, go to