Hazards: Earthquake

Earthquake icon

An earthquake is a sudden, rapid shaking of the earth caused by the breaking and shifting of rock beneath the earth’s surface. Earthquakes strike without warning and can occur at any time of the year, day or night.

Virginia is one of forty-­five states and territories in the United States at moderate to very high risk of earthquakes.

What to Do

If you are inside when the shaking starts:

  • Drop to the ground, take cover and hold on. Move as little as possible.
  • The best protection is to get under heavy furniture, such as a desk, table or bench.
    • Doorways are no stronger than any other part of the structure.
  • Stay away from windows to avoid being injured by shattered glass.
  • Stay indoors until the shaking stops and you are sure it is safe to exit.
    • If you must leave the building after the shaking stops, use stairs - not an elevator - in case there are aftershocks, power outages or other damage.
  • Be aware that fire alarms and sprinkler systems frequently go off in buildings during an earthquake, even if there is no fire.

If you are outside when the shaking starts:

  • Find a clear spot and drop to the ground until the shaking stops.
    • The greatest danger is due to falling debris – stay away from buildings, road overpasses, power lines, trees and streetlights.
  • If you are in a vehicle, pull over to a clear location and stop.
    • Avoid bridges, overpasses and power lines if possible.
    • Stay inside with your seatbelt fastened until the shaking stops.
    • Then, drive carefully, avoiding bridges and ramps that may have been damaged.
  • If a power line falls on your vehicle, do not get out. Contact and wait for emergency assistance.
  • If you are in a mountainous area or near unstable slopes or cliffs, be alert for falling rocks and other debris. Landslides are often triggered by earthquakes.

Expect Aftershocks

Smaller quakes (and sometimes larger ones) can often follow hours or days after the initial shake, causing further damage to weakened buildings and structures.

Related Information

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