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Drop, Cover, and Hold On! - How to Stay Safe In an Earthquake

But I don’t live in California?


About 80% of the world’s earthquakes occur in a rim around the Pacific Ocean, called the “Ring of Fire”.  The entire West Coast of the United States, as well as parts of Alaska, lie within this Ring of Fire.

USGS Ring of Fire

Ring of Fire


However, all of the United States has at least some risk of an Earthquake.  There are large faults near Memphis, TN as well as near Charleston, SC which put states such as Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina and Tennessee at heightened risk. The states with the lowest risk from natural earthquakes are Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin.  The USGS estimates that over 75 million Americans in 39 States are at significant risk from Earthquakes.

USGS risk of earthquakes in the US

Risk of Earthquakes In The US 




Earthquake Facts & Myths


  • Earthquakes cause an estimated 8000 deaths each year.  People don’t die from the quakes themselves, but rather from falling buildings, fires, landslides, avalanches and tsunamis.

  • Earthquakes are generally very short lived, with the majority lasting less than one minute.  The longest recorded one lasted close to 10 minutes!

  • Despite common folklore, California won’t fall into the sea.  The two sides of the San Andreas fault are slowly slipping past each other, at about the rate of 2 inches per year.  This means that San Francisco and Los Angeles are moving toward each other, and will meet in about a million years.

  • Unlike hurricanes or tornadoes, there is no such thing as "earthquake weather." They happen equally in cold weather, hot weather, rainy weather, dry weather, etc. There is no way weather can affect the forces several miles beneath the surface of the earth where quakes originate.



    2010 Chile Earthquake - 8.8 magnitude



    • The massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Chile in 2010 moved the city of Concepción at least 10 feet to the West!

    • Earthquakes can set off volcanoes, such as the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption and the 2002 Mount Etna eruption.

    • Some scientists believe animals can “predict” Earthquakes because they are so sensitive to changes in the environment.

    • There are quakes on Earth’s moon, too.  Not surprisingly, these are called “Moonquakes” rather than “Earthquakes”.  They are generally weaker than Earthquakes.

    • The Richter scale is no longer commonly used to measure Earthquakes.  It has been replaced by the moment magnitude scale, which is a more accurate measure of the earthquake size.  Below are the scale classifications.


               Earthquake Magnitude Scale 


              Earthquake Effects

              Estimated Number
              Each Year

              2.5 or less

              Usually not felt, but can be recorded by seismograph.


              2.5 to 5.4

              Often felt, but only causes minor damage.


              5.5 to 6.0

              Slight damage to buildings and other structures.


              6.1 to 6.9

              May cause a lot of damage in very populated areas.


              7.0 to 7.9

              Major earthquake. Serious damage.


              8.0 or greater

              Great earthquake. Can totally destroy communities near the epicenter.

              One every 5 to 10 years




              What should you do if you find yourself in an Earthquake? 


              The United States Geological Survey offers the following advice:

              "YOU ARE SAFER PRACTICING THE “DROP, COVER, AND HOLD ON” maneuver under a sturdy piece of furniture like a strong desk or table. If indoors, stay there. Drop to the floor, make yourself small and get under a desk or table or stand in a corner. If outdoors, get into an open area away from trees, buildings, walls and power lines. If in a high-rise building, stay away from windows and outside walls, stay out of elevators, and get under a table. If driving, pull over to the side of the road and stop. Avoid overpasses and power lines. Stay inside your car until the shaking is over. If in a crowded public place, do not rush for the doors. Crouch and cover your head and neck with your hands and arms. You should practice the “DROP, COVER AND HOLD ON” method at work and at home at least twice a year…”

              Get more great tips from the USGS here Earthquake Facts & Earthquake Fantasy

              Here are a few more earthquake preparedness tips:

              • Climb under a heavy table in your house or apartment, and take a look around.  What might fall and injure you if the house were to begin shaking?  Secure those items to the wall, or move them to lower areas where they cannot fall on you.

              • Review your general disaster preparedness plan to be sure it’s up to date.  Do all members of the household know what to do in an earthquake?  Do all members know how to operate a fire extinguisher?  Do all members know how to find each other after the danger has passed?  Have you planned for special needs members of the household, such as seniors, the disabled, and pets? 

              • Is your emergency kit up to date?  If you were cut off from power and basic supplies, do you have enough food and water to last at least a couple of days?  Do you have other basic emergency equipment such as fire extinguishers, first aid kits, flashlights, and radios, and does everyone know where they are? 

              • Is your emergency contact information up to date and easy to find, in the event you were to become injured and first responders need to locate your family or loved ones? You should always carry "in case of emergency" or "ICE" information with you at all times.  



                  For More Information

                  Here is another great resource that shows how you can prepare your home for a possible earthquake Be Prepared: Household Earthquake Safety Tips and Helpful Home Modifications to Consider

                  There are emergency contact card templates available for free to download and print to carry in your purse or wallet.  

                  There are also professionally printed cards and tags available.

                  The organization sponsors Earthquake safety drills.  Check their website to sign up to participate!

                  A final thought, you should consider whether or not earthquake insurance is appropriate for you.  It is very important to know that earthquake coverage is NOT included in a standard homeowner’s insurance policy.  The coverage is costly and varies in many significant ways from other types of homeowner's coverage.  For example, the deductibles are often tens of thousands of dollars.  The personal property covered is usually a set limit, frequently not very high.  Everyone should consider their own personal situation, and discuss with an insurance agent whether or not earthquake insurance is appropriate.


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