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Earthquakes

Earthquakes are sudden rolling or shaking events caused by movement under the Earth’s surface and usually last less than one minute. Earthquakes happen along cracks in the earth's surface called fault lines and can be felt over large areas. Earthquakes are unpredictable and can happen any time of year, anywhere in the United States. Earthquakes can happen anywhere and at anytime. They can happen without warning and can cause additional impact such as fires, damaged roads, landslides, etc. Although earthquakes are not frequent in the District of Columbia, it is still possible to experience an earthquake. The District of Columbia can also experience shaking from earthquakes occurring in nearby areas. 

Read more information on earthquake hazards. 

 

Before

Use the following tips to prepare your home, family, and pets for an earthquake:

  • Stay Informed through local radio, television or official social media accounts. Download the free HSEMA app or AlertDC to receive updates wherever you are.
  • Build or re-stock your Emergency Kit.
  • Make a Family Emergency Plan. Your family members may not all be in one place when an earthquake strikes. It is important to know how you will contact one another, how and where you will meet and what you will do in case of an emergency. Plan how to communicate with family members if you lose power.
  • Identify safe places such as under a sturdy piece of furniture or against an interior wall in your home or workplace that could protect you in an earthquake. When the shaking starts, drop to the ground and cover your head and neck with your arms. If a safer place is nearby, crawl to it and hold on. 
  • Practice how to “Drop, Cover, and Hold On!” To react quickly you must practice often. You may only have seconds to protect yourself in an earthquake.  
  • Consider participating in The Great Shakeout, the nation-wide earthquake drill. 
  • Before an earthquake occurs, secure items that could fall and cause injuries (e.g., bookshelves, mirrors, light fixtures). 
  • Before choosing your home or business, check if the building is earthquake resistant per local building codes. 

During

If you are inside a building:

  • Drop down onto your hands and knees so the earthquake doesn’t knock you down. 
  • Cover your head and neck with your arms to protect yourself from falling debris. 
  • Stay where you are until the shaking stops. Do not run outside. Do not get in a doorway as this does not provide protection from falling or flying objects, and you may not be able to remain standing. 
  • If you are in danger from falling objects, and you can move safely, crawl for additional cover under a sturdy desk or table. 
  • If there is low furniture or an interior wall or corner nearby and the path is clear, these options may also provide some additional cover. 
  • Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors, walls and anything else that could fall, such as light fixtures or furniture. 
  • Hold on to any sturdy covering so you can move with it until the shaking stops. Stay where you are until the shaking stops. 
  • Stay Informed through local radio, television or official social media accounts. Download the free HSEMA app or AlertDC to receive updates wherever you are. 

If getting safely to the floor to take cover won’t be possible:

Identify an inside corner of the room away from windows and objects that could fall on you. The Earthquake Country Alliance advises getting as low as possible to the floor.  Protect your head and neck with your arms, a pillow, a book, or whatever is available.  

Tips for People with Access and Functional Needs

If you use a wheelchair or other mobility device(s), you should lock the wheels and remain seated until the shaking stops. See EarthquakeCountry.org/disability for more recommendations and tips to ensure your safety in an earthquake.  

If you are in bed when you feel the shaking:

Stay there and cover your head and neck with a pillow. At night, hazards and debris are difficult to see and avoid; attempts to move in the dark result in more injuries than remaining in bed.

If you are outside when you feel the shaking:

Move away from buildings, streetlights and utility wires. Once in the open, “Drop, Cover, and Hold On.” Stay there until the shaking stops. This might not be possible if you are downtown or in the open in a city, so you may need to seek shelter inside a building to avoid falling debris. 

If you are in a moving vehicle when you feel the shaking:

Stop as quickly and safely as possible and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires. Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges or ramps that appear damaged. 

After

  • When the shaking stops, look around. If there is a clear path to safety, leave the building and go to an open space away from damaged areas. 
  • If you are trapped, do not move about or kick up dust. If you have a cell phone, use it to call or text for help. Tap on a pipe or wall or use a whistle, if you have one, so that rescuers can locate you. 
  • Be prepared to “Drop, Cover and Hold on” in the likely event of aftershocks. 
  • Communicate with family members and friends by using a cell phone, call, text, email or social media. If you have access to a computer, use an online registry such as the Red Cross website, “Safe and Well”. 
  • If you do not have access to technology, go to your pre-designated meeting place to reconnect with family members, or consider relaying information through friends, family or even your workplace. 
  • Stay Informed through local radio, television or official social media accounts. Download the free HSEMA app or AlertDC to receive updates wherever you are. 
  • Check on your neighbors. Help people who may require special assistance, such as infants, children, the elderly or people with disabilities or access and functional needs. 
  • Follow the official information given to you by the District officials to find the nearest available shelter in your area if going home is not an option. 

Additional Resources

Red Cross - Earthquakes
USGS - Earthquakes