Habitat Ready: Disaster preparedness for homeowners

An earthquake is a sudden shaking of the ground caused by two chunks of earth’s crust sliding past one another. Although earthquakes are short-lived, usually not lasting more than a minute, they can leave behind incredible damage.

Earthquakes strike suddenly, violently and without warning, but identifying potential hazards and planning can reduce the threat of damage, injuries and loss of life.

Before an earthquake

  • Review your family preparedness plan.
  • Establish a family communications plan.
  • Assemble an earthquake kit.
  • Prepare your home:
    • Store breakable items in low, closed cabinets, and fasten shelves securely to walls.
    • Hang heavy items, such as pictures and mirrors, away from beds and couches.
    • Secure and brace overhead light fixtures.
    • Repair any deep cracks in walls, ceilings and foundations.
    • Store pesticides and flammable products in closed cabinets and on bottom shelves.
    • Repair defective electrical wiring, water or gas connections.
  • Identify safe places in each room of the house:
    • Under sturdy furniture, such as a heavy table or desk.
    • Against an inside wall or under a door frame.
    • Away from glass or where heavy furniture could fall over.
  • Locate safe places outdoors:
    • In the open, away from buildings, retaining walls, trees, overpasses, and power or telephone lines.

Additional considerations for COVID-19

  • Unless you live in a mandatory evacuation zone, it is recommended that you make a plan to shelter-in-place in your home, if it is safe to do so.
  • If you live in a mandatory evacuation zone, make a plan with friends or family to shelter with them where you will be safer and more comfortable.
  • Only evacuate to shelters if you are unable to shelter at home or with family or friends. Note that your regular shelter may not be open this year. Check with local authorities for the latest information about public shelters.
  • If you need to go to a disaster shelter, follow CDC recommendations for staying safe and healthy in a public disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During an earthquake

  • 1. If inside:
    • Drop down onto your hands and knees.
    • Take cover in a safe place and hold on.
    • If you are in bed, stay there and cover your head and neck with a pillow.
    • If you are in the kitchen, quickly try to turn off the stove, if possible.
    • Stay away from pictures, windows, light fixtures or anything that could fall and break.
  • 2. If outdoors:
    • Move into the open, away from buildings, street lights, poles and utility wires.
    • Get down low and stay there until the shaking stops.
  • 3. If in a moving vehicle:
    • Stop quickly, and stay in the vehicle.
    • Move to a clear area away from buildings, trees, utility wires and overpasses.
    • Once the shaking has stopped, proceed with caution, avoiding bridges or ramps that might have been damaged by the quake.
  • If you are in a mountainous area, keep in mind the possibility of landslides and debris flows.
  • Similarly, if you are on the coast, be aware that tsunamis are often associated with earthquakes.

After an earthquake

  • Be prepared for aftershocks. Although smaller than the main shock, aftershocks can cause additional damage and bring weakened structures down. Aftershocks can occur in the first hours, days, weeks or even months after the quake.
  • Listen to a radio or TV for updated information.
  • When the shaking stops, look around. If there is a clear path out, leave the building and head for an open area.
  • Avoid making phone calls except in serious emergencies.
  • Help injured or trapped people. Do not move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger of death or further injury. Call for help.
  • Stay out of damaged homes, and follow the directions of emergency officials.
  • Inspect your home:
    • Check for damage to the walls, roof, foundation, electrical
    • system and water lines.
    • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches or other flammable
    • liquids immediately.
    • Leave the house if you smell gas or chemical fumes.
    • Notify your insurance company if your home is damaged.
  • Do not return home until officials declare it is safe. If the house presents major structural damages or is partially destroyed, evacuate.

Additional considerations for COVID-19

  • You should continue to use preventive actions like washing your hands and wearing a face covering during clean up or when returning home.
  • It may take longer than usual to restore power and water if they are out. Take steps to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning if you use a generator.
  • If you are injured or ill, contact your medical provider for treatment recommendations. Keep wounds clean to prevent infection. Remember, accessing medical care may be more difficult than usual during the pandemic.
  • Dealing with disasters can cause stress and strong emotions, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is natural to feel anxiety, grief, and worry. Coping with these feelings and getting help when you need it will help you, your family and your community recover.
  • People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms. Additional information can be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration page.
  • When you check on neighbors and friends, be sure to follow social distancing recommendations (staying at least 6 feet, about two arms’ length, from others) and other CDC recommendations to protect yourself and others.
  • If you need to go to a disaster shelter, follow CDC recommendations for staying safe and healthy in a public disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • If you are sick and need medical attention, contact your healthcare provider for further care instructions and shelter-in-place, if possible. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1 and let the operator know if you have, or think you might have, COVID-19. If possible, put on a cloth face covering before help arrives. If staying at a shelter or public facility, alert shelter staff immediately so they can call a local hospital or clinic.

Additional resources

Emergency/preparedness information

Current earthquake information

Landslides and debris flows

Landslides and debris flows are caused by a number of factors, such as earthquakes, heavy rain, volcanic eruptions and poor land management. Because landslides and debris flows occur quickly and with little notice, it is essential to be prepared.

Learn more


A tsunami is a series of large ocean waves created by major earthquakes, underwater volcanic activity or landslides into the ocean. It may take a tsunami hours or mere minutes to reach shore, so it is important to be well-prepared and know how to respond quickly and effectively.

Learn more

You can help a family rebuild after a disaster

Families who partner with us rebuild their homes alongside volunteers, pay an affordable mortgage and are grateful for your help.