Earthquake Damage to a road abroad

Photo by Martin Luff

Across the world, more than 14,000 earthquakes occur every year. Although most of those earthquakes are magnitude two and below, a magnitude seven earthquake occurs at least once a month. Even more severe earthquakes of magnitude eight and higher occur once a year, and there is no telling when or where any of them will strike.

For that reason, it is incredibly important to always be ready for an earthquake when traveling abroad to an earthquake-prone area or if you live in an area that experiences earthquakes. Staying safe while traveling is easier said than done, however, as you do not have access to all the supplies stored at home. Instead, you have to take the steps to prepare for this sudden event and know just what to do when the ground starts shaking.

Staying Safe During an Earthquake

Since earthquakes can occur without warning, it is important to understand how to respond the second the ground starts shaking. Whether in a car, building, or simply outside, there are important steps to follow to reduce the risk of injury and make it to safety.


While in a building during an earthquake, the best thing to do is follow the drop, cover, and hold procedure. As you drop down to your hands and knees, look around for a safe place to find cover, such as a nearby table.

Cover your head and neck with one hand while crawling over to that item. Then, hold on to the table leg or other sturdy item while continuing to cover your head and neck.

Once the shaking stops, evacuate the building if it was damaged in any way. Remember to repeat the drop, cover, and hold process through all aftershocks as well.


If caught outdoors during an earthquake, do not attempt to run inside, as injuries often occur within doorways and near windows. Instead, move away from powerlines, buildings, and other hazards, ideally finding an open area to ride out the shaking. Drop down onto hands and knees and remain kneeling down covering the head, neck, and other vital areas until the shaking stops.


While in a rental car when an earthquake starts, bring the vehicle to a stop away from overpasses, powerlines, and other hazards. Remain in the car and buckled up safely until the earthquake comes to an end. Then, assess the vehicle and roadway for hazards before continuing on. Drive slowly and watch for areas of missing road or other problems caused by the shaking.

Public Transportation

While on a bus or train, the operator will stop the vehicle as soon as noticing the ground is shaking. You should remain in your seat and avoid exiting the vehicle until instructed. As long as the vehicle is not damaged and the path ahead looks clear, the operator will move the vehicle after the earthquake ends. Since aftershocks come soon after, they will get all passengers to a safe place where they can exit the vehicle and move to a safe area.

Map of Earthquakes in 2017

Earthquake Preparation Tips

Although people cannot usually anticipate when and where an earthquake will occur, there are still ways to prepare for them. In order to stay safe during an earthquake, it is important to have the right supplies and knowledge on hand. Here’s how to get prepared.

Understand Drop, Cover, and Hold

Experts all around agree that drop, cover, and hold is the best way to respond during an earthquake. By following this procedure, it is possible to reduce the risk of injury and death as the ground shakes beneath you.

To do so, simply:

  • Drop to your hands and knees as soon as the shaking starts
  • Cover your head and neck while crawling to a sturdy table or an interior wall
  • Hold on tight with one hand while staying alert to changes

If the item providing shelter shifts, move out of the way and under another table. No matter what, stay away from all windows and heavy furniture items that are not bolted down.

Identify Safe Areas to Find Cover

Making a habit of quickly scanning your environment for potential hazards can be extremely helpful in the event of an emergency. It’s helpful to know the kinds of furniture that can provide cover during an earthquake. Look for sturdy tables, desks, and other items that could shield from falling debris and other hazards. Also, note where the emergency exits are and become familiar with evacuation routes out of the building. If possible, look for potentially hazardous items that could fall during a quake. Bring it to the attention of the building owner whenever possible to inspire change and help the community at large stay safe.

Pack an Emergency Kit

Even if there is not enough room for a full-scale earthquake preparedness kit, a small emergency kit can get you through the tough times until help arrives. To create this kit, get a plastic tote that can fit in your luggage or use a small backpack. Consider filling it with:

  • Bandages
  • Gauze
  • Medical tape
  • Antiseptic
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Space blanket
  • Dust mask
  • Whistle to call for help
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Non-perishable food
  • Bottled water

Ideally, everyone should have three days of non-perishable food and several gallons of water on hand. That is not always reasonable while traveling abroad, however, so just fit as much as possible in the emergency kit.

Carry Travel Insurance

Before going abroad, pick up a travel insurance policy, which covers earthquakes as they are considered unpredictable events. Other types of natural disasters, such as hurricanes, do not qualify for coverage under many travel insurance policies if warning was given and not heeded.

After an earthquake occurs, this type of insurance handles all related expenses, including medical care at the local emergency department. The policy also covers any incidents that occur during noticeable aftershocks, which commonly continue for weeks afterward, if not longer.

They often offer a line to call, so they can provide guidance and support in getting to the right resources. Keeping this resource on hand makes it easier and less stressful in getting help or even going home after an earthquake.

Sign Up for STEP

Through the Bureau of Consular Affairs, sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP, to receive important emergency notifications and help during a disaster. This program is a free service that connects people with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for support. They will even reach out during an emergency and relay information to your family back home.

Keep Cash and Travel Documents

While out and about, always have cash and copies of your travel documents on hand at all times. With these resources, you can quickly evacuate the region, if necessary, without attempting to go back to your accommodations. Getting out of the region before aftershocks occur could mean the difference between life and death in an area seriously damaged by an earthquake.

Learn How to Signal for Help

Building collapse is a definite risk during an earthquake, especially in areas without seismic-resistant structures. If trapped in a building, you will need to signal your need for help in any way possible.

Some ways to lead rescuers to the location include:

  • Blow a series of three short blasts on a survival whistle, repeating until help arrives
  • Tap in threes on exposed plumbing pipes or other building materials that carry sound
  • Loudly yell that you are trapped and need help to get out
  • In the dark, shine a flashlight through any areas previously showing daylight
  • Flick a light on and off if electricity is still on and the switch is accessible
  • Use a cellphone to send a message to someone who can alert local rescuers

Continue going through the available methods until help arrives to assist in evacuating the building.

Also, if trapped, remember to cover your mouth and nose with clothing or a handkerchief to keep dust and debris away. Try to keep movement to a minimum and never light a match as gas lines could be leaking nearby. With these preventive measures, everyone can improve their chances of staying safe from harm during an earthquake of any magnitude.

By taking all the right preparation steps and following the guidelines in staying safe during an earthquake while traveling abroad, the risk of injury greatly decreases. Share this knowledge with family, friends, and other people who might be traveling abroad soon, which can go a long way in helping them stay safe from harm as well.

Article written by Greg Geilman. Greg Geilman is a Los Angeles native of over 40 years and owner of LA Homes.