Safest Action During an Earthquake
A person’s immediate action when an earthquake begins makes a difference in safety. This evidence-based guidance emphasizes protective action for the local context.
When the earth shakes, is it safest to shelter inside or run out of the building? Knowing what to do, and why, can save lives. Photo: Carlos Cabrera, Risk Management Solutions.
In the unnerving seconds when earthquake shaking begins, a person's action may spell the difference between safety and suffering. But what to do? There is no simple answer.
Messages range from “Drop, Cover and Hold On” to its opposite, "run out of the building." In some regions, people are taught to "go to a safe zone in the building." And instructions persist in local folklore, such as "take 7 steps from danger."
Little data exist on why or when to recommend one protective action over another. The safest action may depend on the intensity of shaking, building type, a person’s location in the building, and access to exits. If the building collapses rapidly--as can happen with poor construction--people may not have an option to act.
Our aim was to understand the conditions in which a particular protective action saves the most lives. We drew from available research, data from past earthquakes, and the judgment of experts in several fields.
We assembled an international team of earth scientists, social scientists, engineers and leaders who are responsible for safety messages. Sixty-nine professionals from 22 countries contributed experiences and critiques. The team also completed a survey about actions practiced in their countries. In parallel, we surveyed the general public in India, Peru and Turkey about what messages they hear and would follow.
The result: evidence-based recommendations. A major theme is the need to help the public develop situational awareness to understand the safest options, rather than present a one-size-fits-all message. We devised a local process, and local factors to consider, when developing protective actions messages. We also developed a workbook that contains planning worksheets and a survey tool. Click the links at left to download.
In 2016, we began a pilot program in Haiti. A diverse and representative messaging committee was formed in Anse-a-Veau, on the southern peninsula, where ongoing swarms of small earthquakes have left everyone anxious and confused. The committee created simple, easy-to-understand messages about how to stay safe in common situations. Thanks to a home-grown outreach effort, people in Anse-a-Veau have learned the safest actions to take in their environment.
Protective Actions Guidance and Research Papers:
Guidance on Developing Messages for Protective Actions to Take During Earthquake Shaking:
Background Papers and Supplementary Technical Information. Includes:
Messages used to train people about earthquake response
Human behavior during earthquakes
How people are killed and severely injured by building damage
Behavior of different building types in earthquakes
Seismology considerations such as intensity of shaking
Protective Actions Implementation Workbook:
Protective Actions Implementation Workbook (editable forms only): Download Protective Actions Editable Forms
More about Protective Actions: