What Is an Earthquake?

An earthquake is the sudden, rapid shaking of the earth, caused by the breaking and shifting of underground rock. Earthquakes can cause buildings to collapse and cause heavy items to fall, resulting in injuries and property damage. They happen anywhere and at any time. Earthquakes can:

  • Happen without warning;
  • Cause fires and damage roads; and
  • Cause tsunamis, landslides, and avalanches.

Before an Earthquake: Preparedness Tips

  • Encourage your family, friends and co-workers to practice DROP, COVER and HOLD ON or LOCK, COVER and HOLD ON (for wheelchair or walker users) drills at home and at work.
  • Create a family and a workplace emergency plan that includes how they will contact or reconnect with you if separated. Make sure that there is also an out-of-state contact too. Find more information on making plans for emergencies and disasters.
  • Remind your family, friends and co-workers to be prepared by knowing their evacuation routes.
  • Make a disaster supply kit that includes enough food, water and medications that could last for at least 10 days. View more information on keeping supplies for emergencies and disasters.
  • Secure televisions, monitors, bookcases or other items that hang on walls. Store heavy and breakable items on low shelves.
  • Inspect the inside and outside of your home, dwelling or property for items that could be damaged or fall and cause injury. Secure these identified items with braces, bolts, straps and other materials available at disaster preparedness outlets.
  • Get involved – enroll in First Aid, CPR and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) trainings in your community. Find more information on how to get involved
  • If you own a home, consider obtaining an earthquake insurance policy. Standard homeowner’s insurance does not cover earthquake damage.
  • If you are a property owner, consider a retrofit of your building to correct structural issues that make it vulnerable to collapse during an earthquake.

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Staying Safe: During an Earthquake

If you are indoors

  • If you are INDOORS, stay there.
  • If able to do so, DROP, COVER and HOLD ON or LOCK, COVER and HOLD ON for wheelchair or walker users.
  • If there is a sturdy table or desk available, get under it and HOLD ON until the shaking stops.
  • Do not run outside or inside your home, since debris may fall and injure you.

If you are in bed

  • If you are in BED, stay there.
  • COVER your head and neck with a pillow or blanket.

If you are in a vehicle

  • If you are in a VEHICLE, pull over and stop in a safe area away from buildings, trees, overpasses, underpasses or utility wires.
  • Make sure to set the parking brake so that the vehicle does not move during the shaking.
  • Stay inside your vehicle until the shaking subsides.

If you are in a high-rise or public building

  • DROP, COVER and HOLD ON if able to do so or LOCK, COVER and HOLD ON or for wheelchair or walker users, or protect your head and neck area as best as possible.
  • Expect fire alarms and sprinklers to be activated.
  • Do not use elevators.
  • When the shaking subsides, move to the designated zones or areas for evacuation and evaluate your next safe action.
  • Do not run outside or inside a building, since debris may fall and injure you.

If you are in a Sports Stadium or Theater

  • If you are in a SPORTS STADIUM OR THEATER, stay at your seat, or if able to do so safely, DROP to floor between the rows, COVER by protecting your head and neck with your arms and HOLD ON if possible.
  • Do not attempt to leave until the shaking stops.
  • Then, follow the instructions from the sports stadium or theater staff or officials. Walk carefully, watching for anything that could fall or injure you if there are aftershocks.

If you are Outdoors

  • If you are OUTDOORS, stay there.
  • Move away from wires, buildings and anything else that could fall and hurt you, but only if you can safely do so. Otherwise, stay where you are and DROP, COVER and HOLD ON if able to do so or LOCK, COVER and HOLD ON for wheelchair or walker users or protect your head and neck area as best as possible.

If you are near the shore

  • If you are NEAR THE SHORE, if able to do so, DROP, COVER and HOLD ON until the shaking subsides.
  • If severe shaking lasts 20 seconds or more, immediately move to higher ground as a tsunami might have been generated by the earthquake.
  • It is recommended to move inland two miles or to land that is 100 feet above sea level immediately.
  • Do not wait for officials to issue a warning. Move quickly, and avoid debris and other hazards.

If you are near slopes, cliffs or mountains

  • If you are NEAR SLOPES, CLIFFS OR MOUNTAINS, be alert for falling rocks and landslides.

Quick Tip: Doorway Earthquake Myth

During an earthquake, if you are indoors, do not get into a doorway. You may be injured by falling debris caused by the earthquake.

Staying Safe: After an Earthquake

  • Expect aftershocks to follow a large earthquake.
  • Check yourself for injury and aid others (if you have training to do so).
  • If you’re in a damaged building, when instructed and safe to do so, go outside and move away from the building to the designated safe zones or areas.
  • Don’t enter damaged buildings.
  • Save phone calls for emergencies.
  • If you are in an area that may experience tsunamis, go inland or to higher ground immediately after the shaking stops.
  • Once safe, monitor local news reports via radio, television, social media, and cell phone text alerts for emergency information and instructions.
  • Use extreme caution during post-disaster clean-up of buildings and around debris. Don’t attempt to remove heavy debris by yourself. Wear protective clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, work gloves, and sturdy, thick-soled shoes during clean-up.

Quick Tip: What to Do if You are Trapped After an Earthquake

If you are trapped, cover your mouth to keep debris out of your lungs and airways. Send a text, bang on a pipe or wall, or use a whistle instead of shouting so that first responders and rescuers can locate you.

Resource Videos

Preparing an earthquake emergency kit

Preparando un botiquín de emergencia para temblores

Earthquake simulation along the San Andreas Fault

Earthquake Safety Video – Mobility Disabilities

Los Angeles County residents and business owners, including persons with disabilities and others with access and functional needs may call 211 LA County for emergency preparedness information and other referral services. The toll-free 2-1-1 number is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 211 LA County services can also be accessed online by visiting

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