Prepare in a Year: October – Earthquake Preparedness

It’s time to Drop, Cover and Hold On! This month’s focus is what to do before, during and after an earthquake. The biggest safety concern and cause for harm during an earthquake are falling objects, whether that be buildings, objects or yourself. A magnitude 5 earthquake will cause unstable objects to fall down and windows to break. A magnitude 9 earthquake (the big one we are all concerned about) will result in significant damage to the roadways, power and access to supplies such as food and water. What can you do this month to prepare for an earthquake?

Before the Big One Hits

If you have been following along with our Prepare in a Year series, you have already accomplished many of these tasks. You have made a family emergency plan, established an out of area contact, know the location of your utilities and how to turn them off if necessary, have been storing water and food for three days and beyond, collected important documents and have essential items stored under your bed. All of these steps will help ensure your safety during an earthquake and help with recovery after.

Take time this month to perform a home hunt for hazards to identify and prevent potential hazards in your home. (December’s “Prepare in a Year” topic will go more in detail but you can get a head start now!)

  • Ensure large items like furniture, bookshelves and water heaters are properly secured so they will not fall.
  • Move or secure hanging pictures, mirrors and breakable items to prevent them falling and breaking.
  • Prevent injury from broken glass by moving your beds away from windows.
  • Consider purchasing a battery, solar powered or hand crank radio to be able to receive these alerts before, after and during an emergency.
  • Sign up for Pierce County ALERT at to receive emergency alerts.
  • Finally, practice what you would do during an earthquake at the various places you frequent, such as home, work, school, church, etc.

Don’t forget to participate in the Great Washington Shake Out on October 18that 10:18 a.m. Over 860,000 Washingtonians will drop, cover and hold on wherever they happen to be during this statewide drill. To participate in this event, click here for registration information.


During an Earthquake

The best method to prevent injury when an earthquake starts is to drop, cover and hold on.

DROP onto your hands and knees wherever you are. This position protects you from being knocked down and allows you to stay low and crawl to shelter nearby.

COVER your head and neck with one arm and hand. If a sturdy table or desk is nearby, crawl underneath it for shelter. If there is no nearby shelter, crawl next to an interior wall away from windows. Stay on your knees; bend over to protect vital organs.

HOLD ON until shaking stops. You want to move with your shelter as it shifts. If you do not have shelter, hold on to your head and neck with both arms and hands.


How to respond in specific situations

How you respond is dependent on where you are at when an earthquake occurs. The following are some general tips for what to do in these instances.

In bed: Do not get out of bed. You are less likely to get injured if you do not move. Cover your head and neck with a pillow and lie face down to protect your body from harm.

In a high-rise: Drop, Cover, and Hold On. Stay near interior walls. Do not use elevators. Do not be surprised if the sprinkler system or fire alarms activate.

In a store: Drop, Cover, and Hold On. Use items in your surroundings to help with protection like shopping carts, clothing racks and the first level of warehouse racks.

Outdoors: Stay outside. Move to a clear area and Drop, Cover, and Hold On. You are less likely to be hurt by falling objects if you stay away from them.

Driving: Pull over to the side of the road. Stop and set the parking brake. DO NOT stop under overpasses, bridges, power lines, signs and other hazards. Stay inside your car. If a power line falls on your car, stay inside until it is removed by trained personnel.

In a stadium or theater: Drop, Cover and Hold On either on the ground in front of your seat or leaning over as much as possible in your seat. When exiting the building, walk out slowly and keep an eye out for things that could fall during aftershocks.

Near the shore: Drop, Cover and Hold On. When the shaking subsides, do not run, but walk quickly inland or to higher ground for safety in case a tsunami occurs.


What you should not do during an earthquake

DO NOT run outside or to other rooms during shaking. Being anywhere near an outside building wall is dangerous as these are often the first parts of a building to collapse in an earthquake. Stay inside if you are inside. Stay outside if you are outside.

DO NOT stand in a doorway. Modern houses are no longer built in a way in which door frames are strong enough to withstand the effects of an earthquake. It is safer for you to seek shelter under a table.


After the shaking stops

Once the earthquake has stopped, expect aftershocks.

  • Be prepared to prevent further injuries by knowing how to extinguish small fires that may have started. Review last month’s post on fire safety for a refresher on how to extinguish small fires.
  • Clean up any household chemical spills and inspecting your home for damage.
  • Ensure you and your family are safe before assisting others nearby.

Not sure you know how to do all of this? West Pierce Fire & Rescue can teach you all of these skills through our FREE Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Training. You can register for upcoming classes in 2019 on the West Pierce CERT webpage.

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