An earthquake is the sudden, quick shaking of the earth. It is caused by rock breaking and moving under the ground. Additional earthquakes, known as aftershocks, can occur for hours, days, or even months after an earthquake. These are usually smaller than the first earthquake. However, they could cause more damage to structures weakened by the first earthquake.

Earthquakes can also cause tsunamis. Tsunamis are a series of waves caused by a large and sudden disturbance of the sea.

Words to Know

All 50 states and 5 U.S. territories are at some risk for earthquakes. Earthquakes can happen at any time of the year and occur without warning. Scientists are working on a way to detect when an earthquake may happen.


  • Build an emergency kit.
  • Make a family communications plan.
  • Know the safe spots in every room—under a sturdy table or against an inside wall.
  • Secure household items.
  • Ask your family to hold earthquake drills—drop, cover, and hold on!


  • If you are inside: DROP to the ground. COVER yourself under a sturdy table or other heavy furniture. If there is nothing to get under, cover your head and neck with your arms and crouch near an inside wall. HOLD ON until the shaking stops.
  • If you are using a wheelchair or a walker with a seat: LOCK your wheels. COVER your head and neck with your arms, a pillow, a book, or whatever is available. HOLD ON and maintain your position with your head and neck covered until the shaking stops.
  • If you are in bed, stay there and cover your head and neck with a pillow.
  • STAY AWAY from windows, glass, lighting fixtures, or furniture that could fall, like bookcases.
  • STAY INSIDE! Do not use elevators!
  • If you are outside: Stay there. Move away from buildings, streetlights, and wires until the shaking stops. Be very careful before re-entering your home or other buildings. Be sure a parent or adult is with you.


  • Expect aftershocks. They are usually not as strong but can cause damage.
  • Do not enter a damaged building.
  • Open cabinets carefully. Objects might have moved and could fall on you.
  • Wear long pants, long sleeves, and shoes to protect your skin from getting scratched by broken objects.
  • Text, don’t talk. Unless there’s a life-threatening situation, send a text so that you don’t tie up phone lines needed by emergency workers. Plus, texting may work even if cell service is down.

Did you know?

The “Ring of Fire’ is the zone surrounding the Pacific Ocean where about 90% of the world’s earthquakes occur.

The Richter Scale measures the strength of an earthquake. It goes from 0.0 (none) to 10.0.

Explore Other Hazards

Last Updated: 10/02/2019