What to do after an earthquake

When the shaking stops


  • Expect aftershocks. Each time you feel one, drop, cover, and hold on. Aftershocks frequently occur minutes, days, weeks, and even months following an earthquake.
  • Check yourself for injuries and get first aid if necessary before helping injured or trapped persons.
  • Put on long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes, and work gloves to protect yourself from injury by broken objects.
  • Look quickly for damage in and around the building. Do NOT get outside quickly after an earthquake. While it’s frightening to stay in a building immediately after an earthquake, it is much safer than immediately going outside, unless the building is showing obvious signs of distress. 
  • When you eventually do evacuate, take your wallet, coat, bag, etc, and your getaway kit or ‘go bag’ if you have one. You are more vulnerable if you leave these personal items behind.
  • Use the stairs, not an elevator to leave the building and move to the nearest safe outdoor assembly area in your neighbourhood.
  • Listen to a portable, battery-operated radio for updated emergency information and instructions. If the electricity is out, this may be your main source of information. Local civil defence emergency management officials will provide the most appropriate advice for your particular situation.
  • Check the telephones in your home or workplace. If a phone was knocked off its cradle during the shaking of the earthquake, hang it up. Allow 10 seconds or more for the line to reset. If the phone lines are undamaged, you should get a dial tone. Use a telephone or cell phone only to make a brief call to your Household Emergency Plan contact and to report life-threatening emergencies. Telephone lines and cellular equipment are frequently overwhelmed in disaster situations and need to be clear for emergency calls to get through. Cellular telephone equipment is subject to damage by quakes and cell phones may not be able to get a signal, but regular land lines may work.
  • Look for and extinguish small fires. Fire is the most common hazard following earthquakes.
  • Clean up spilled medications, bleach, or flammable liquids immediately.
  • Open closet and cabinet doors cautiously. Contents may have shifted during the shaking and could fall, creating further damage or injury.
  • Help people who require special assistance – infants, elderly people, those without transportation, families who may need additional help in an emergency situation, people with disabilities and the people who care for them.
  • Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines, and stay out of damaged areas. Hazards caused by earthquakes are often difficult to see, and you could be easily injured.

Animals: Pets and livestock

  • Keep all your animals under your direct control.
  • Pets may become disoriented, particularly if the disaster has affected scent markers that normally allow them to find their way home. Pets may be able to escape from your house, and fencing may be broken.
  • Be aware of hazards at ground level, such as debris and spilled chemicals. Be aware also that the behaviour of pets may change dramatically after an earthquake. They may become more aggressive or defensive. Take measures to protect the animals from hazards, and to protect other people from animals also.
  • The behaviour of livestock may change dramatically after a disruption. Be aware of their well-being and ensure they are secure, have food, water and are safe.
  • Stay out of damaged buildings. Damaged buildings may be destroyed by aftershocks following the main quake.

If you were away from home during the earthquake, return only when authorities say it is safe. When you return home:

  • Be alert for and observe official warnings.
  • Use extreme caution. Check for damage outside your home or critical buildings. Then, if the structures appear safe to enter, check for damage inside. Building damage may have occurred where you least expect it. Carefully watch every step you take. Get out of the building if you think it is in danger of collapsing. Do not smoke; smoking in confined areas can cause fires.
  • Examine walls, floors, doors, staircases, and windows.
  • Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and get everyone out quickly. Turn off the gas, using the outside main valve if you can, and call the gas company from a neighbour’s home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.
  • Look for damage to the electrical system. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell burning insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice.
  • Check for damage to sewage/effluent and water lines. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are
  • damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water from undamaged water heaters or by melting ice cubes.
  • Watch for loose plaster, wall cladding, and ceilings that could fall.

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