How to Survive an Earthquake

Having grown up in Japan, I’d say that I’m more accustomed to earthquakes than the tornadoes we recently saw down here in Dixie.  Still, some readers surely reside in quake country and know the feeling of waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of dishes trembling in cabinets and the house groaning on its foundations.  Preparing for an earthquake—as in having a stash of water, food, matches, batteries, and the like—is an entirely different story.  This post is all about surviving the earthquake’s rough ride itself.

  • If you’re indoors, stay there.  Duck under a sturdy desk or table and hold tight or position yourself under a doorway.  Your chances are also good in a hallway and against an inner wall.  Places to avoid include windows, fireplaces, and the kitchen (too many sharp edges in there).  In Japan, I saw many a report of people getting hurt by going outside their homes.  Debris, glass, and shingles can plummet down angled roofs, so it’s best to stay indoors.  Moreover, avoid moving downstairs, since you risk losing your balance and hurting yourself.
  • If you’re outside, get away from buildings, power lines, and anything else that might collapse.
  • If you’re driving, stop—but don’t slam the brakes and try to move away from traffic.  Also, avoid stopping under bridges or overpasses.  When the earthquake passes, watch out for glass and assorted debris on the road, especially under overpasses.
  • If you’re in the mountains, beware of landslides.  Admittedly, there’s not a whole lot you can do besides try to get to higher ground without getting hit by falling rocks, trees, and debris.

When the Quake Passes

  • Beware of aftershocks.  Don’t put yourself in any situation where you wouldn’t want to be caught if another quake started—because it might.  Aftershocks plagued Sendai and surrounding areas in Japan for weeks and continue to this day.
  • Recover.  Authorities and help may not be on the way immediately, so check for injuries yourself.  Don’t move someone who’s been gravely injured; you might worsen their injury or even cause another.
  • Shut off main the gas valve if you suspect a leak (watch for broken pipes and the telltale smell).  Don’t light matches, lighters, camp stoves, or electrical appliances until you’re certain there are no gas leaks.
  • Shut off the power at the control box if you see evidence of damage to the house wiring.
  • Avoid downed power lines, even if they’re not sparking (it doesn’t mean they’re not live).
  • Clean up spilled bleach, lye, gas, or other harmful or medical materials.
  • Avoid using a damaged chimney.
  • Open cabinets with care, since contents will likely have shifted.
  • Put on a pair of thick-soled shoes, if you can.  Broken glass can be hard to see even harder to get out once they’re under your skin.

Bio: Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and researcher for College Scholarships, where recently she’s been researching private elementary school loans as well as private high school student loans. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.


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  1. All very good advise. I live in earthquake country and you hit on everything we have always been taught since grade school. Our worst fear out here is if the “Big One” hits which we are very over due for a quake in the 7.5 range, we don’t want it to happen during nighttime hours. The reason the hallway is a good place is because either one wall or the other is a load bearing wall and is built stronger than most other interior walls in the house. Earthquake safety in the home is another important discussion. Make sure if you live in earthquake country that your house is prepared for an earthquake.

  2. I read an article with a disaster response member about the myth of getting under tables and against walls. apparently that is one of the worst things you can do. he said to crouch down beside the item like a bed, sofa, chair, etc because when things like walls, etc fall over they leave pockets and most likely you will be inside one of these pockets if that happens. he said to never stand in doorways and never ever go downstairs, alot of people are killed when the stairways collapse. can anyone else confirm this?

  3. Chris –
    What you read about (crouching down beside beds, sofas, chairs) etc., is called “The Triangle of Life”. The theory is that if you are crouched next to (in this example a bed) and the ceiling falls down on you, the bed’s height will “catch” part of the ceiling and the rest will fall diagonally to the floor, creating a “void” of debris and leaving you in a “triangle” between the two, safe and sound. This is a theory that I have read many con’s for from earthquake experts. There are countless websites regarding (and dedicated to) the Triangle of Life.

    Standing in a doorway is very tricky as well. This long taught theory was thought to be best after a photo surfaced of an unreinforced adobe home after an earthquake and the only thing left standing was the doorway. Doorways in modern homes do not have extra reinforcement in the doorway, making them no safer than standing uncovered anywhere else in the house. The USGS, The Red Cross and FEMA do not recommend doorways anymore either.
    While it wasn’t even in the top 20 of all earthquakes throughout US history,

    I was 9 when the Loma Prieta Quake hit and I lived in the Bay Area – it made quite the impression considering my parents had never even spoke to me about earthquakes. As an adult I live in earthquake country and have done tons of research about them. I usually don’t even enter a room until I know exactly where I am going if an earthquake hits. (Call me paranoid). I always have and will always head straight under the nearest, sturdiest table in the room, get under it and hold on for dear life. I don’t have enough faith in either the Triangle of Life theory or the outdated advice of doorways to trust them. I have instructed my children not to run for a doorway if a quake strikes in the middle of the night but to hide under their desks. They even have a robe/blanket at all times on or next to their desk chairs to cover with (incase a window shatters) should it occur. They also know to stay put and not move until my husband or I come to get them, even if the shaking stops.

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