Practice is the key to protecting yourself during an earthquake


If you’re inside a building and the ground beneath it begins to shake, what should you do? Stand in a doorway? Run outside?

If you said “yes” to one or both of these actions, you probably will be surprised by what you’re about to read. Extensive research on how people are injured or killed during an earthquake shows that neither standing in a doorway nor running outside is the recommended actions to take when the ground shakes.

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 windows and facades — are often the first parts to collapse. 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.

If standing in a doorway and running outside are not recommended actions, how do you protect yourself during an earthquake?

Emergency managers, safety experts, earthquake rescue teams and researchers agree 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 — or 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 Hawaii Island, earthquakes can impact the entire archipelago — 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 an opportunity to practice what to do when the next earthquake occurs. At 10:17 a.m. Oct. 17, the state will participate in a Great ShakeOut earthquake drill for the first time. The event began in California in 2008 but is now an annual worldwide drill, with more than 19 million people participating last year.

Information on how to participate in the 2013 Great Hawaii ShakeOut is posted at 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 driving a car — when it occurs. You’ll hear more about earthquake safety in the coming months. For now, visit the website and mark your calendars. Practice is the key to protecting ourselves during an earthquake, so the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory staff plan to practice “Drop! Cover! Hold on!” at 10:17 Oct. 17 — and hope you will, too.

Kilauea activity update

A lava lake within the Halemaumau Overlook vent produced nighttime glow visible from the Jaggar Museum overlook and via HVO’s webcam during the past week. The lava lake level dropped slightly over the past week, in concert with deflation of the summit.

On Kilauea’s east rift zone, breakouts from the Peace Day tube remain active on the coastal plain. A small ocean entry is active just east of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park boundary; a smaller ocean entry that was recently active within the park has not produced a visible plume for much of the last week and may be inactive. The Kahaualea 2 flow, fed from a spatter cone on the northeast edge of the Puu Oo crater, continues to advance slowly along the edge of the forest north of Puu Oo, burning vegetation and extends about 1.6 miles north of Puu Oo.

One earthquake was reported felt in the past week. At 3:01 a.m. Wednesday, a magnitude-3.8 earthquake occurred 2 miles southwest of Pahala at a depth of 23 miles.

Visit hvo.wr.usgs.gov for Volcano Awareness Month details and Kilauea, Mauna Loa and Hualalai activity updates, recent volcano photos, recent earthquakes and more; call 967-8862 for a Kilauea summary; email questions to askHVO@usgs.gov.

Volcano Watch is a weekly article and activity update written by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.