WHAT TO EXPECT
The Big One
Our region is expecting a major earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone fault. It will last several minutes. There are other faults in the region that are less likely to rupture.
What Will It Feel Like?
The way you experience an earthquake depends on the depth and magnitude of the quake, your location, the type of soil under your feet, and the type of building you’re in. Visit PDX Ready to learn more about the earthquake risks in the places you live, work, go to school, and spend a lot of time.
DURING THE SHAKING
Know What to Do
An earthquake might start slowly or suddenly. It might last seconds or minutes. Make sure you know what to do when you feel shaking, and practice it frequently.
Studies show that most earthquake injuries in the United States are caused by falling objects or people falling down during the shaking. Reduce your chance of injury: drop, cover, and hold on.
- Drop where you are onto your hands and knees. This position protects you from being knocked down and allows you to stay low and crawl to shelter (if possible).
- Cover your head and neck with one arm and hand.
- If a sturdy table or desk is nearby, crawl underneath it for shelter.
- If no shelter is nearby, crawl next to an interior wall (away from windows and other things than can fall).
- Stay on your knees; bend over to protect vital organs.
- Hold on until the shaking stops.
- Hold on to the shelter with one hand; be ready to move with your shelter if it shifts.
- If there's nothing to shelter under, hold on to your head and neck with both arms and hands.
It's important to think about what you will do to protect yourself wherever you are when the earth begins to shake. What if you are driving, in a theater, in bed, at the beach, etc.? Keep reading to find more advice about what to do in specific situations.
You may need to adapt the "drop, cover, and hold on" method.
- If you're in a recliner or bed: Cover your head and neck with your arms or a pillow until the shaking stops.
- If you use a cane: Drop, cover, and hold on or sit on a chair, bed, etc. and cover your head and neck with both hands. Keep your cane near you so it can be used when the shaking stops.
- If you use a walker or wheelchair: Lock your wheels (if applicable). If using a walker, carefully get as low as possible. Bend over and cover your head/neck with your arms, a book, or a pillow. Then hold on until shaking stops.
- If you have difficulty hearing: Before an earthquake, identify and test multiple ways to receive warnings and evacuation information.
- If you have difficulty seeing: Earthquakes can cause items to fall and furniture to shift. Regular sound clues may not be available afterwards. Move with caution.
- If you have developmental/cognitive/intellectual disabilities: If you have difficulty understanding, remembering, or learning, keep a simple list of what to do and important information with you and in your kits. Practice your plan in advance. If you use communication supports, include these in your planning.
More info can be found on the Additional Needs page.
Drop, cover, and hold on. Avoid exterior walls, windows, hanging objects, mirrors, tall furniture, large appliances, and kitchen cabinets with heavy objects or glass. However, do not try to move more than 5-7 feet before getting on the ground.
Do not go outside during shaking! The area near the exterior walls of a building is the most dangerous place to be. Windows, facades and architectural details are often the first parts of the building to break away.
- If seated and unable to drop to the floor: bend forward, cover your head with your arms, and hold on to your neck with both hands.
- In bed: Do not get out of bed. Lie face down to protect vital organs, and cover your head and neck with a pillow (keeping your arms as close to your head as possible) while you hold on to your head and neck with both hands until shaking stops. You are less likely to be injured by fallen and broken objects by staying where you are.
- In a high-rise building: Drop, cover, and hold on. Avoid windows and other hazards. Do not use elevators. Do not be surprised if sprinkler systems or fire alarms activate.
- In a classroom: Drop, cover, and hold on. Laboratories or other settings may require special considerations to ensure safety. Students should also be taught what to do at home or other locations.
- In a store: Drop, cover, and hold on. Get next to a shopping cart, beneath a clothing rack, or within the first level of warehouse racks - this may provide extra protection.
- In a stadium or theater: Drop to the ground in front of your seat or lean over as much as possible, then cover your head with your arms (as much as possible), and hold on to your neck with both hands until the shaking stops. Then walk out slowly, watching for anything that could fall during aftershocks.
Move to a clear area if you can safely do so. Avoid power lines, trees, signs, buildings, vehicles, and other hazards. Then drop, cover, and hold on. This protects you from objects that may move sideways, even if nothing is directly above you.
- Driving: Pull over to the side of the road, stop, and set the parking brake. If you can, avoid overpasses, bridges, power lines, signs, and other hazards. Stay inside the vehicle until the shaking stops. Then, proceed carefully by avoiding fallen debris, cracked or shifted payment, and emergency vehicles. If a power line falls on the car, stay inside until a trained person removes the wire.
- Near the ocean: Follow instructions above for your particular location. As soon as shaking reduces so that you can stand, walk quickly to high ground or inland. A tsunami will likely arrive soon. Don’t wait for officials to issue a warning. Walk (rather than drive) to avoid traffic, debris, and other hazards.
- Below a dam: Follow instructions above for your particular location. Dams can fail during a major earthquake. Catastrophic failure is unlikely, but if you live downstream from a dam, you should know flood-zone information and have an evacuation plan for getting to high ground.
We have studies years of research about how people are injured or killed during earthquakes. And we have considered the experiences of U.S. and international search and rescue teams. In most cases, these four actions are not recommended during earthquakes:
- Do not run outside.
- Do not go to other rooms.
- Do not stand in a doorway.
- Do not get into the “triangle of life.”
In most cases, the safest thing to do is to drop, cover, and hold on.
Once you're in a safe place, take slow, deep breaths. Keeping your breath steady will help you think more clearly and make safe choices for yourself and those around you. Stay where you are until the shaking stops. Once it does stop, exit the building and help others around you. Large earthquakes usually produce large aftershocks, so be ready.
You're far more likely to remain calm and make good choices during an earthquake if you've practiced. Practice at home, work, school, or wherever you spend a lot of time. Encourage your friends and family to practice as well. Don't skip this very important part of earthquake preparedness.
Earthquake Early Warning
Humans can't predict when an earthquake will happen. But the ShakeAlert early warning system can send alerts to most smartphones if an earthquake of a certain size has been detected and ground shaking is headed your way. If you get a ShakeAlert warning, drop - cover - and hold on immediately!
- Local authorities send out emergency alerts through several notification systems, including the PublicAlerts system. Sign up now. These alerts can provide vital information during a disaster.
- Starting on March 11, 2021, in Oregon you may also receive an alert on your smartphone before an earthquake reaches you. If a large earthquake occurs, ShakeAlert will send a message that may give you time to take protective action before strong shaking starts. Download these frequently asked questions and share them with others. This system will go live in Washington State in May 2021.
- Download the QuakeAlertUSA app on your smartphone.
- Follow USGS on Twitter @USGS_ShakeAlert.
Mobile phones that have Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) turned on are able to receive ShakeAlert messages. This setting may already be turned on in your mobile phone setting, but please take the time to check.
- Tap “Settings” and then “Notifications.”
- Scroll to the bottom of the screen.
- Under “Government Alerts” tap “Emergency Alerts” and “Public Safety Alerts” to turn them on or off.
- If emergency alerts are turned on, the circle will be on the right-hand side of the switch. No further action is needed.
- If emergency alerts are turned off, the circle will be on the left-hand side of the switch. You will need to tap the switch to put it in the “on” position.
- Watch this video demonstration.
Newer Android Phones:
- The exact location of the options to turn on Wireless Emergency Alerts may vary. Use the search function in “Settings” to find “Emergency Alerts” or “Public Safety Messages."
- If you can’t find “Emergency Alerts” by searching “Settings,” it may be within your Messaging app, instead.
- Make sure all alerts are turned on (i.e. “Extreme Threats”, “Severe Threats”, and “Public Safety Messages”). If alerts are turned on, the circle will be on the right-hand side of the switch. No further action is needed.
- If alerts are turned off, the circle will be on the left-hand side of the switch. You will need to tap the switch to put it in the “on” position.
- Watch this video demonstration.
- Refer to your mobile phone carrier and/or mobile phone manufacturer’s website for additional information.
All Wireless Emergency Alerts behave the same. The mobile phone vibrates and makes a loud, distinctive sound, and a message pops up in a text window. Some mobile phones with text-to-voice capability may read out the message text.
A real (non-test) alert will say:
- English: Earthquake Detected! Drop, Cover, Hold On. Protect Yourself. -USGS ShakeAlert
- Spanish: Terremoto detectado! Agachese, cubrase, sujetese. Protejase. -USGS ShakeAlert
BEFORE THE SHAKING
Prepare Yourself and Your Home
FEMA's comprehensive Earthquake Safety at Home guide explains how you can “Prepare, Protect, Survive, Respond, Recover and Repair” from an earthquake. It explains how to secure heavy objects and furniture, retrofit a home, assess the safety of your home before reoccupying it, and deal with post-earthquake recovery and repair so you can resume regular activities as quickly as possible.
Do a Hazard Hunt
Earthquake shaking can move almost anything, even large or heavy items. Imagine your home or workplace being picked up and shaken sideways. What would fall? What would be thrown around? How could you prevent it? FEMA's Hazard Hunt will help you identify items that make your home unsafe. California's Earthquake Country Alliance provides detailed information about how to secure your space. Secure at least one item every weekend until you get everything done. Start with what you can do for free, like moving items to safer places. You may need to ask others for help or to borrow tools. Perhaps you can help them secure their items in return, or help others in your community.
Learn to Safely Turn Off Utilities
It's important to know how to safely turn off utilities. Broken gas lines can lead to fire. Broken sewer lines can contaminate the clean water in your pipes. Downed power lines can spark electric fires.
- If you detect a strong natural gas odor, it’s always safest to leave the area on foot and then call NW Natural at 800-882-3377. DO NOT turn off your natural gas unless you smell gas, hear gas blowing, or see other signs of a leak. ONLY turn off your gas if it is safe to do so. Watch this video to learn how to find your gas meter and turn it off. If you turn off your gas, DO NOT turn it back on yourself. Leave it off and contact NW Natural. Appliances and natural gas lines will need to be checked for possible damage before service can be safely restored. If you have an earthquake shut-off valve installed and it has closed you will need to contact a qualified, licensed contractor to reset the valve and relight your natural gas appliances.
- One of the most valuable resources after an earthquake is water. We need it to drink, cook, and clean. Protect the water in your home’s pipes by shutting off the water supply at the street level. Watch this video to learn how to find your water meter and turn it off. Visit the Regional Water Providers Consortium website to learn how to store water, treat water, and access water from your hot water heater.
Retrofit Your Home
Most wood-frame buildings won’t collapse during an earthquake. But some may shake off their foundations. If you live or work in a building that was built before 1996, it’s a good idea to bolt it to its foundation. This is called a retrofit, and it makes the building much safer. If you own your home, you can do this work yourself or hire someone to do it for you. FEMA's Earthquake Safety at Home guide provides useful guidance.
If you rent your home, talk to your landlord about your concerns. And talk to others who own the other buildings you spend time in (your workplace, your religious organization, your grocery store, etc.). Remind them that retrofitting is investment in your physical safety, the building itself, your community, and the long-term future of our region.
Buy Earthquake Insurance
Most homeowner, mobile home, condominium, and renter insurance policies do not cover earthquake damage - or damage from liquefaction or landslides, which can result from an earthquake. Earthquake insurance must be purchased separately. Since many homeowners’ biggest investment is their home, earthquake insurance may help protect that investment. If you own a home in Oregon, read these Earthquake Insurance Tips.
AFTER THE SHAKING
Before Entering a Building
After an earthquake, it may be very unsafe to enter buildings. Once the major aftershocks have ended, we will need to inspect our buildings. Use these resources to learn more about post-earthquake building safety.