Once the shaking starts you may have only seconds to protect yourself, so it's important to remain calm and act quickly. In most situations the safest thing you can do is: drop, cover, and hold on!
Your surroundings make a big difference in the risk level and response to an earthquake. Assess your day-to-day environment, and make a plan for what to do in case one happens while you're at home, at work, in the car, outside, etc.
Indoors, at home or at work: it's almost impossible to keep your balance during a powerful earthquake. If it is safe to do so, immediately drop down on to your hands and knees to prevent falling. Once you are in position, cover your head and neck with one arm and crawl towards anything nearby that can be used to shield you from falling debris, like a sturdy desk or table. If you're indoors and there's nothing nearby that can be used as a shelter, crawl to an interior wall (away from windows, shelves or heavy wall hangings) and brace yourself against the wall with your other hand, remaining in a crouched position with knees bent to protect your organs. Hold on to your shelter until shaking has fully stopped, and reassess your safety and position. Aftershocks are frequent, and your biggest priority immediately after an earthquake is to ensure you are in the safest location and are safe from as many hazards as possible.
Bathrooms and kitchens are the most dangerous rooms in most homes due to the quantity of glass, chemicals, and fragile items, but during an earthquake any room can present hazards. Be aware of which spaces in your home or office have these threats:
-Shelves or cabinets holding heavy or fragile items
-Unsecured tall furnishings, like wardrobes or entertainment centers
-Heavy art, mirrors, light fixtures, or wall hangings
-Chemicals or accelerants
-Gas lines, especially any that are inflexible and exposed
If you are close to these or other dangers, crawl towards a safer area in the building in case of aftershock. If you observe signs of a building collapse, fire, or gas leak, or if you are close to a tsunami zone, gather your emergency kit and prepare to evacuate immediately.
What about doorways? Getting under a doorway may be the first thing that comes to mind when an earthquake begins, but most doorways have no additional reinforcement and there is additional risk of being hit by a swinging door. Pick a sturdy desk or table instead.
At home, in bed: bed can be one of the safest places to be during an earthquake. Stay put, unless unsecured furniture or heavy wall/ceiling hangings are within falling distance of your bed (if that's currently the case, fix it!). Cover your head with pillows and make sure your body is fully covered with blankets. There may be broken glass from windows, frames, lightbulbs, etc., so be sure to have a pair of thick-soled tennis shoes within easy reach of your bed so you can leave the room with minimal injury.
Outdoors: if you are outside in a populated area, the major dangers are falling debris from buildings. It is important to avoid running, but it may not be safe to remain in place. Drop, cover your head with your hand, and get under and hold on to any available shelter (such as a park bench). If you are near an open space crawl towards it, staying away from streetlights, utility wires and buildings.
Debris can fall as far as 1.5 times the height of a building, so if you are in a busy downtown area with minimal open space it may be safest to move inside a building and seek cover once indoors.
Stores, restaurants, arenas, etc.: most people will panic during an earthquake, and following the herd may not be the best action to take. Do not immediately rush outside with the crowd, as many injuries come from falling debris and a large group of frightened people can result in trampling. If you assess that you are safer indoors, drop, cover and hold on. If you are in a restaurant, arena with seating, etc., you may be safest waiting beneath a table or seat.
If you are in a store without available cover, crawl towards an open area that is far from falling glass hazards (like wine or pasta sauce shelves). Avoid elevators, and before you leave carefully assess conditions outside.
Driving: in most situations if you are in a moving vehicle, signal, slow, pull over to the right, and remain in your car. If you are on a bridge, slow down and continue driving until you are well on the other side. Avoid stopping under trees, power lines, overpasses, bridges, and anything else that could fall on your vehicle.
If you are fueling at a gas station, do not get back in your car. Drop, cover, and crawl away from gasoline storage tanks.
Kids, anyone requiring special assistance, and pets: in most situations, you should wait until shaking stops before going to anyone else. If you are injured on your way to a family member, you won't be able to help them once the earthquake is over. Make sure that all family members including older children know what to do during a quake, and go to them once it's safe to do so. Take extra precaution in eliminating hazards in kid's rooms, especially anything that could fall on beds or cribs. All members of your family should memorize and have copies of your emergency plan.
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