Visitors from outside California may have the impression that big earthquakes happen here all the time. Well, that’s only partly correct. Earthquakes do happen all the time, but most shakers are measurable only by sophisticated equipment and remain unfelt by most residents. According to the California Office of Emergency Services, there are some things you can do to protect yourself during an earthquake.

Seismic activity is a common occurrence in California.

Seismic activity is a common occurrence in California. Photo © crystaleyemedia/123rf.

  • Drop! Cover! Hold on! California schoolchildren learn this early on through education programs. It means that if an earthquake begins, drop to the ground. Find cover under a sturdy desk or table, or stand in a corner or doorway. Hold on to something sturdy if the ground begins to pitch.
  • If you’re in a high-rise building, avoid elevators, windows, and outside areas.
  • If you’re outside, move to a clear area away from trees, buildings, overpasses, walls, and power lines—anything that could fall on you.
  • If you’re in a car, pull over to the side of the road. Make sure you’re not parked underneath a structure that could collapse.
  • If you’re inside a crowded place, do not rush to the exit. Instead, squat down and protect your head and neck with your hands and arms.

It’s important to stay as calm as possible after an earthquake; the ground may start shaking again. Aftershocks, usually smaller, often follow a sizeable earthquake and originate near the same location. A mild earthquake might cause anxiety, but it should not affect your travel plans aside from slight delays in public transportation and other inconveniences. A major earthquake—magnitude 4.5 and larger—is a different story, but these earthquakes are pretty uncommon (it’s more likely that you’ll win the state lottery than experience a major earthquake).

For more information on what to do before, during, and after an earthquake, visit the California Office of Emergency Services and the U.S. Geological Survey.


Excerpted from the Seventh Edition of Moon Northern California.