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How to survive an earthquake (Earthquake Preparedness)

how to survive an earthquake

Earthquakes strike fast and with little warning.

Although minor tremors can occur practically anywhere in the world, major tremors (the ones you should worry about) occur along natural fault lines in the earth’s crust.

This means whilst we aren’t able to predict when an earthquake will hit, we are able to predict where they’re most likely to happen.

Knowing how to survive an earthquake is critical if you live in some of these known hotspot areas, but more on this later.

Ways to survive an earthquake

If you’re indoors

how to survive an earthquake

Stay inside. When everything is shaking violently and things are falling/breaking, it may not seem like the right thing to do.

The thing is, you’re much more likely to come to harm by trying to leave the building once the earthquake has already started.

Think about it, there will be so much falling debris, some may be large enough to severely injure you, not to mention it’s pretty hard to walk during an earthquake.

Instead, position yourself so that if there is falling debris, it’s not going to hit you.

So, the advice is to drop, find cover and hold on!


First things first, get onto all fours – it’s much easier to move around during an earthquake like this, also it naturally protects your vital organs from falling debris.


As quick as possible, cover your head and neck to protect your soft spots from falling debris.

If you’re at particular risk from falling debris (think double story housing), crawl under something structurally sound, such as a firm table.

If there’s no such shelter, move towards interior walls – whatever you do stay away from windows and exterior walls, they are the most dangerous part of a building during an earthquake!

Also, make sure to stay away from tall furniture or objects hanging up on the walls.

Hold on

If you are underneath a table, it’s best to hold onto it so you can move with it if it shifts. If there’s absolutely no shelter, hold onto your head and neck until the shaking stops.

What if I’m in a highrise building when an earthquake hits?

survive an earthquake

First things first, if the earthquake is strong enough you can expect the sprinkler systems and fire alarms to go off.

Make sure to stay away from the lifts, it’s you’re close to a bed, it’s best to get underneath it.

Alternatively, you can pull the mattress up over yourself for protection (if there’s no space under the bed).

Once underneath, lie down on your stomach so to protect your vital organs from any impacts.

If you are outdoors

If you get a safe moment to do so, get away from tall buildings and move to a clear area, away from trees, bridges and powerlines.

Make sure not to seek shelter underneath bridges as they can become a hazard during an earthquake.

If you find yourself on a hillside, run to the top as quick as possible.

Earthquakes are known to cause massive landslides from time to time and you don’t want to be on the receiving end of one of them.

If you’re by the beach, drop, cover and hold on.

Initially, beaches are pretty safe, however large earthquakes are known to cause tsunamis.

If a shaking lasts approximately more than 20 seconds, don’t wait for an alarm. Get to ground that’s at least 100 ft (30 m) above sea level or 2 mi (3.2 km) from the shore!

I recommend you to read our disaster guide: How to survive a tsunami.

If by chance you’re below a dam, you need to be prepared for a catastrophic flooding scenario incase the dam wall breaks.

If this happens it’s best to get as high up onto the side of the valley.

If you’re in a vehicle

how to survive an earthquake

If you’re driving when an earthquake strikes, pull over immediately.

Make sure to avoid the usual, bridges, trees, powerlines or any tall structure that has the potential to fall over.

Once you’ve pulled over, pull the handbrake up.

Try your best tp crouch down, below the level of your seat. This way if anything falls onto the vehicle you’ll likely be protected.

If power lines fall onto your vehicle, stay inside until first responders are able to assist you.

It becomes dangerous once you exit the vehicle as tis creates a bridge between you and the ground. This will allow electricity to pass through and will likely kill you.

If you absolutely must exit the vehicle or no help is coming, jump as far as you can out of the car.

Make sure that no part of you is simultaneously touching both the car and the ground.

Read this article to learn more about what to do incase power lines do fall onto your car.

Earthquake Survival Kit

Earthquakes strike suddenly, briefly and without warning. So relying on your earthquake survival kit during the disaster is needless to say, impractical.

You should be more concerned with the after effects of an earthquake.

Depending on your location, you may need to evacuate to escape the clutches of a potential tsunami.

This is where your earthquake survival kit really comes in handy. Knowing this is a big part of knowing how to survive an earthquake and its after effects.


12 Mountain House food servings, 24 Packets of Datrex water, 1 Sawyer Mini, 4 Cyalume SnapLights, 1 LED lantern, 1 fully stocked First Aid Kit, bath wipes, 2 emergency blankets, 1 portable stove, 2 bowls and utensils, 1 MoraKniv knife, 1 Ferrocerium rod, 2 InstaFire tinder, and 2 whistles.

Read more about the earthquake survival kit.

What to do after an earthquake?

Once the tremors eventually stop, you’ll need to leave the building or damaged outdoor area as quick as possible and find a open space somewhere outside.

Sometimes this is not possible if you’re trapped inside a building:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a piece of your clothing. There will be lots of dangerous particles floating around in the air, and you don’t want to breathe those in.
  • If you have a phone, use it. Just keep in mind that after a disaster, text messages may get through easier than phone calls.
  • Avoid making sparks or using a lighter, earthquakes often cause gas leaks.
  • Tap on pipes or walls to help the emergency services find you, use the SOS signal.
  • If you are covered with debris, try not to move around too much (unless your life is threatened). Wait for emergency services to come and help you.

If you happen to be surviving an earthquake outside, stay there. Do not venture into any buildings, they are now unstable, high risk locations.

Be aware that water systems may be contaminated as they sewer systems may have been damaged in the earthquake.

Always remember, earthquakes often have aftershocks, they might be less violent, but they are still dangerous. Be prepared for them

During an aftershock phase, all the advice above holds.

What does an earthquake feel like?

This all depends on how far away from the epicenter of the earthquake you are.

In most cases, however, being at the epicenter of an earthquake feels like a massive jolt, followed by anything from a few seconds, to several minutes of violent shaking. It will be hard to stand up.

Watch this youtube video below to get a better idea of what an earthquake would be like.

How are earthquakes measured?

Earthquakes are measured and recorded by a  seismographic network.

Each one of these seismic stations in the network measures the movement if the ground at that particular site.

The enormous slip of rock over another in an earthquake creates a massive amount energy that makes the ground vibrate.

It’s this vibration that pushes the adjoining piece of ground and forces it to vibrate.

Thus, the energy created travels out from the earthquake hypocenter in wave like forms.

There are different ways to measure an earthquake:

  • Magnitude is the most commonly used method of measurement. The magnitude method measures earthquakes at the epicenter and is the same number no matter where you are or how severe the shaking is.
  • The Richter scale is fairly outdated method for measuring an earthquake. It is no longer used by the USGS for large teleseismic earthquakes. The Richter scale method measures the largest amplitude on the recording, but many other methods measure different parts of the earthquake
  • Intensity is a measure of the shaking and overall damage caused by the immediate earthquake, these values change depending on the location.

Earthquake Zones Map

earthquake zones map

Learning about earthquake hotspots is fundamental for preparation, and ultimately it’ll help you in your journey to knowing how to survive an earthquake.

World’s deadliest earthquakes

RankingLocationYearEstimated death tollEarthquake magnitudeAdditional information
1Shaanxi, China1556830,0008More than 97 counties in China were affected by the earthquake. A 520-mile wide area devastated. In some counties it’s estimated that up to 60% of the population died. Such catastrophic losses are attributed to loess cave settlements, which collapsed as a result of the earthquake.
2Port-au-Prince, Haiti2010316,0007Death toll here is still disputed. The figure represented here was adopted by the NGDC of the NOAA (for consistency with other earthquakes); this is the figure reported by the Haitian government. Some sources suggest a lower figure of 220,000. In the latter case, this event would actually fall into 7th place in the above rankings.
3Antakya, Turkey115260,0007.5Antioch (ancient ruins which lie close to the modern city Antakya) and surrounding areas suffered severe damage. Apamea was also destroyed and Beirut suffered severe damage. A local tsunami was triggered causing immense damage to the coast of Lebanon.
4Antakya, Turkey525250,0007Severe damage was done to the area of the Byzantine Empire. The earthquake caused severe damage to countless buildings. However, severe damage was also caused by massive fires in the aftermath combined with violent wind.
5Tangshan, China1976242,7697.5Reported that the earthquake risk had been greatly underestimated meaning pretty much all buildings and structures were designed and built without seismic considerations. Estimated that up to 85% of buildings collapsed. Tangshan therefore largely comprised of unreinforced brick buildings which resulted in a large death toll upon their disintergration.
6Gyzndzha, Azerbaijan1139230,000UnknownOften termed the Ganja earthquake. Not much is documented on the specific details of this event.
7Sumatra, Indonesia2004227,8999.1An earthquake in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sumatra resulted in a series of massive tsunamis (ranging 15 to 30 metres in height). Victims across 14 countries in the regions, with Indonesia ultimately being the hardest-hit, followed by Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. There was absolutely no tsunami warning system in place.
8Damghan, Iran856200,0007.9It’S estimated that the extent of the damage area was 220 miles long. It’s also hypothesised that the ancient city of Šahr-e Qumis was so badly damaged that it was completely abandoned after the earthquake.
9Gansu, China1920200,0008.3Vast damage occurred across 7 provinces and regions. In some cities almost all of the buildings collapsed, or were buried by fast flowing landslides. It was reported than many more deaths occurred due to cold exposure: fear from aftershocks meant survivors tried to rely only on temporary shelters not suited for the ice cold winter.
10Dvin, Armenia893150,000UnknownCity of Dvin was destroyed, with the collapse of most major buildings, defensive walls and palaces; estimated that only 100 buildings were left standing. With its city defences completely ruined, Dvin was taken over and turned into a military base by Muhammad ibn Abi’l-Saj, the Sajid emir of Azerbaijan.
11Tokyo, Japan1923142,8077.9More than half of brick buildings, and 10% of reinforced structures laid in ruin. The earthquake caused a tsunami with a height up to 12m. Aggressive fires broke out; combined with a large tornado, which spread quickly.

How to Survive an Earthquake Infographic

how to survive an earthquake

How to survive and earthquake survival guide will be updated on a regular basis.

Further Reading:

10 Solar Powered Survival Gear Items

How to collect and purify water in the wild

How to survive underground

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