Check for injuries, attend to injuries if needed, and help ensure the safety of people around you.

Check for damage. If your building is badly damaged, you should leave it until it has been inspected by a safety professional.

If you smell or hear a gas leak, get everyone outside and open windows and doors. If you can do it safely, turn off the gas at the meter. Report the leak to the gas company and fire department. Do not use any electrical appliances because a tiny spark could ignite the gas.


If the power is out, unplug major appliances to prevent possible damage when the power is turned back on. If you see sparks, frayed wires, or smell hot insulation, turn off electricity at the main fuse box or breaker. If you will have to step in water to turn off the electricity, you should call a professional to turn it off for you.

Be prepared for aftershocks. Seek cover and hold on.

Protect your body from injuries by wearing long pants, shirt with long sleeves, thick shoes, and work gloves.

Treat wounds immediately with your First-Aid kit.

Use your radio for news and safety instructions.

Look for fires in your own home and the homes of your neighbors. Look out for downed power lines. Has anyone been injured? Is your house damaged enough to require it to be evacuated?


Consider your chimney as a threat to your life until you have assured yourself that it’s undamaged. Check for gas leaks, and if you smell gas, turn off the main gas valve to your house, which will extinguish all your pilot lights.

In case of a fire, try to put it out with your fire extinguisher or your bucket of sand. The most likely place for a fire is your wood stove if it has turned over. You have a few minutes to put the fire out. If the fire gets away from you, get everybody out of the house.

An earthquake might cause electric and telephone lines to snap. Even if you have no power, do not touch any downed power lines.

This is not the time to get in your car and try to drive around town looking at the damage. Roads will be clogged, making life tough for emergency vehicles. Stay where you are and turn on your portable radio. You’ll be given status reports and told what to do and what not to do. If you’re told to evacuate your neighborhood, do so. You will be told where to go. Do not decide on your own that you can tough it out where you are. Lock your house, unless it’s too damaged to do so, to protect against looters.

Aftershocks or a Foreshock?

Crustal earthquakes and subduction-zone earthquakes have many aftershocks, and they will cause a lot of alarm. In a large earthquake, aftershocks will continue for months and even years after the main event. Many of these will be felt, and some can cause damage to already weakened buildings. This is one of the reasons you might be asked to leave your house. Though still standing after the main earthquake, it could be so weakened that it might not survive a large aftershock. Warn your family members that there will be aftershocks.

However, there is always the possibility that the earthquake you just experienced is a foreshock to an even larger one. The great 1857 Earthquake on the San Andreas Fault of M 7.9 was preceded by a foreshock of about M 6 at Parkfield. The Denali Earthquake of M 7.9 in central Alaska on November 3, 2002, was preceded eleven days earlier by a foreshock of M 6.7. The Chinese have based their successful earthquake predictions on foreshocks—in some cases many foreshocks. Normal-fault earthquakes, occurring in crustal regions that are being extended or pulled apart, such as the Basin and Range of Nevada, southeast Oregon, and eastern California, are more likely to have foreshocks.

Psychological Issues

Children are especially traumatized by earthquakes. Familiar surroundings—everything that is supposed to stay put in their lives—suddenly move, are damaged, or become a threat. Children might have to leave home for an extended period of time. They will fear that the shaking and destruction will get worse, or will happen again and again.

Assuring the physical safety of your child is only the first step. Include the child in all your activities, keep talking, and encourage the child to talk out fears. It might be necessary for your child to sleep with you for a few days until things return, more or less, to normal. Plenty of reassurance and just being present will help in overcoming your child’s fears after an earthquake. Encourage the school to plan group activities that relate to psychological recovery from an earthquake.

Elderly or disabled persons also might feel a sense of helplessness and fear due to an earthquake. Some individuals of any age are prone to “disaster syndrome.” This illness might not come on immediately after the disaster, but it builds up over days and weeks, with evidence of the disaster everywhere and with the telling and retelling of the stories of the event. In severe cases, these people will need counseling and might need to leave the area until they have recovered.