Department of Emergency Management and Security

CONTACT INFORMATION: Open during regular business hours 8 a.m. - 4:30p.m., Monday - Friday
4890 Alliance Drive, Suite 2200, Fairfax, VA 22030
Seamus Mooney


What It Is

An earthquake is a shaking of the ground that can cause damage to buildings and infrastructure. Following an earthquake, fire is a significant risk due to gas leaks and water pressure failures.

Earthquake strength is described by the Richter Scale, which measures amplitude on a logarithmic basis – meaning that each whole number correlates to a 10-fold increase in earthquake amplitude, or a 30-fold increase in total energy released. Earthquakes below 5 on the Richter scale may be felt but rarely cause damage; earthquakes of 9 and up cause complete regional devastation.

For context, the 2011 Virginia earthquake rated 5.9 on the Richter Scale; the 1995 Northridge, California earthquake 6.7; the 2017 Mexico City earthquake 8.2; the 2011 Fukushima, Japan earthquake 9.1.

Virginia is one of 45 states or territories in the US at risk of earthquakes.

Earthquake PDF Thumbnail


Earthquake Hazard Annex

Click on the appropriate link below to download a PDF copy of the Earthquake Hazard Annex page from the Community Emergency Response Guide.

English (PDF) | Spanish (PDF) | Korean (PDF) | Arabic (PDF) | Mandarin (PDF) | Vietnamese (PDF)

Key Terms

  • An Aftershock is an earthquake of similar or lesser intensity that follows the main earthquake.
  • The Epicenter is the place on the earth’s surface directly above the point on the fault where the earthquake rupture began.
  • A Fault is the fracture along which the earth’s crust is displaced during an earthquake.
  • Magnitude is the amount of energy released during an earthquake.

What To Do

  • Sign up for Fairfax Alerts and have a battery or crank powered NOAA weather radio available.
  • Locate safe spots in each room under a sturdy table or against an inside wall.
  • Hold earthquake drills with your family members.
  • Understand how your home or structure will react, and consider hardening if there are areas of concern.
  • Refer to “Power Outage/ Blackout” and “Medical Emergency" hazard pages.

  • Drop, cover, and hold on. Drop to your hands and knees, if you can, protecting your head and neck.
  • Stay away from windows if you are indoors.
  • Stay indoors until the shaking stops or if you are sure it is safe.
  • If you are outside, find a clear spot away from tall buildings and drop to the ground until the shaking stops.
  • If you are in a vehicle, pull over to a clear location and stop.
  • Listen to official information.

  • Expect aftershocks (smaller earthquakes) for hours or days after the initial quake.
  • Avoid damaged areas.
  • Check your utilities (especially gas), and evacuate and call 911 if you smell gas.
  • Look for cracks in your foundation or drywall, as this may be a sign of structural damage. If you find damage, have the structure inspected before reoccupying it.
  • Check in with family and friends by texting or using social media.

  • The Great SouthEast Shakeout is an annual exercise held at 10:19 a.m. on October 19th. To learn more and register as a participant click here.
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