If you said “yes” to one or both of these actions, you’ll likely be surprised by what you’re about to read. Extensive research on how people are injured or killed during an earthquake show that standing in a doorway and running outside are NOT the recommended actions to take when the ground shakes. Let us explain.
In modern buildings, doorways are no stronger than any other part of the structure, so they are not necessarily the safest place to be. Worse, they provide little, if any, protection from flying debris or falling objects, the most likely causes of earthquake injuries.
Trying to run outside during an earthquake is more dangerous than staying inside a building. This is because, with the ground moving up-and-down or sideways, you could easily lose your balance and fall, risking serious injury. Also, the exterior walls of a building—with their windows and facades—are often the first parts to collapse, which means that you’d be running toward peril, rather than escaping from it.
There are only two exceptions: If you’re in an unreinforced adobe (mud-brick) building or older wood-frame house, standing in a doorway could offer a measure of protection during an earthquake. If you’re in a country with poorly engineered construction, or if you’re on the ground floor of an unreinforced adobe building that has a heavy ceiling, moving quickly to an outdoor open space could be your best option.
So, if standing in a doorway and running outside are not recommended actions (excluding the exceptions noted above), how do you protect yourself during an earthquake?
Emergency managers, safety experts, earthquake rescue teams, and researchers all agree that the best action you can take to reduce your risk of injury or death during an earthquake is “Drop! Cover! Hold on!”
To keep from falling or being knocked down by the shaking, drop to the ground on your hands and knees. This position will still allow you to move if necessary.
Protect as much of your body as possible, especially your head and neck, by taking cover under a sturdy table or desk. If safe cover is not nearby, drop down next to an interior wall and cover your head and neck with your arms.
Then, hold on to your cover (table or desk)—or on to your head and neck if not under cover—until the shaking stops. If your cover shifts during the shaking, hold on and move with it.
Hawaii experiences thousands of earthquakes every year. Most are too small to feel, but a few are large enough to cause damage. While seismic hazards are higher for the Island of Hawai‘i, earthquakes can impact all of the Hawaiian islands—as happened in 2006, when a magnitude-6.7 earthquake caused damage on several islands. Consequently, residents throughout the State of Hawaii should know how to protect themselves when the ground shakes.
As with any learned behavior, practice makes perfect. This fall, you’ll have the perfect opportunity to practice what to do when the next earthquake occurs.
On October 17, 2013, at 10:17 a.m., the State of Hawaii will participate in a Great ShakeOut earthquake drill for the first time. ShakeOut began in California in 2008 but is now an annual worldwide drill, with more than 19 million people participating last year.
Information on how you can participate in the 2013 Great Hawaii ShakeOut is posted at http://shakeout.org/hawaii/, which also provides recommended earthquake safety actions for individuals, families, schools, and businesses, including a guide for people with disabilities. Through these resources, you can learn what to do during an earthquake no matter where you are—indoors or outdoors; at home, school, or work; at the beach; or drivinga car—when it occurs.
You’ll hear more about earthquake safety in the coming months. For now, we encourage you to visit the Great Hawaii ShakeOut website and to mark your calendars for this important drill.
Practice is the key to protecting ourselves during an earthquake, so we (USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory staff) plan to practice “Drop! Cover! Hold on!” at 10:17 on 10/17—and hope you will, too.