Earthquake Preparedness

There will always be earthquakes in California. Be prepared

What causes earthquakes?

Although the earth feels solid as we walk along its surface, it is really only partly so. The earth is divided into three main layers - a hard outer crust, a soft middle layer, and a central core. The crust is broken into massive, irregular pieces called "plates", which have been moving very slowly over the earth's surface for billions of years, driven by energy forces deep within the earth. It is this movement that we often feel, and refer to as earthquakes.

California is earthquake country. Our region experiences earthquakes because of its location on the boundary between two plates of the earth's crust, the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate. The boundary between these two plates is located right in our own backyard, it is the San Andreas Fault. The Pacific Plate, to the west of the fault, is continually building up energy and releasing it. As this energy is released, the plate moves northwestward at a rate of approximately two inches per year. Parts of the San Andreas fault system adapt to this movement by constant "creeping and jolting motions", resulting in frequent, moderate, earth tremors. In other areas, the movement is not constant, and strain can build up for hundreds of years, producing great earthquakes when it is finally released.

The earthquake threat is by no means just a big city problem. A damaging earthquake can occur virtually anywhere in the state. Earthquakes cannot be prevented; however, damage, destruction, and loss of life can be significantly reduced if all of us sufficiently prepare ourselves, our homes, our workplaces, and communities for a major earthquake.

What happens during a major earthquake and how will I know it when it comes?

  • Everything shakes and rattles.
  • There could be a lot of noise.
  • Things might fall and break (such as ceiling tiles, bookcases, filing cabinets and other furniture).
  • The motion will be severe (if you are standing you might be thrown to the ground).
  • Most things stop functioning (lights, elevators, heating and air-conditioning and telephones).
  • Some exterior windows will probably break, causing shattered glass and strong drafts. There will be a mess. If there isn't a mess, then you haven't experienced the "BIG ONE."

How long can we expect an earthquake to last?

  • The shaking will last only a minute or two. But, there probably will be a number of aftershocks (over several days/weeks/months lasting a minute or two each).

What are the biggest dangers?

  • Falling objects (pictures, ceiling tiles, ceiling fixtures, file cabinets, bookcases, and things in cupboards).
  • Swinging doors and broken windows.
  • Fires (from natural gas lines, electrical short-circuits).

How can I prepare for an earthquake?

Preparedness for Your Home

  • Conduct an earthquake safety check of your house or apartment periodically.
  • Check chimneys, roofs, and wall foundations for stability. Make sure that your home is bolted to its foundation. Call a licensed contractor if there are any questions.
  • Learn how to shut off gas, water, and electricity in case the lines are damaged.
  • Secure bookcases, shelves, pictures, heavy furniture and equipment to walls or surface areas in order that they not fall on you or block access to exits. Secure your hot water heater to a wall -- it's a valuable source of stored water. Apply these principals at work too, as best you can.
  • Keep flammable or hazardous liquids such as paints, pest sprays, or cleaning products in cabinets or secured on lower shelves.
  • Develop a family earthquake plan and communication plan for those first hours after an earthquake.
  • Be sure that your loved ones know where to go and what to do if you or they are separated during an earthquake. See that they carry with them the names and telephone numbers of friends, neighbors, and an out-of-state contact.
  • If you have school-age children, become familiar with their school disaster plans. If you are at work when a quake occurs, be sure you are comfortable with your child care emergency plan.
  • Plan to be self sufficient for a minimum of 72 hours after an earthquake or other major disaster.
  • Store emergency food and water supplies and replace them annually.
  • Keep an emergency disaster supply kit readily accessible.
  • Renew prescriptions far enough in advance so that you always have a supply on hand.
  • Make sure that the gas tank in your car is always at least half full. Keep walking shoes, water, and supplies in your car.
  • Keep small bills and coins in your emergency kit, as banks may not be operating for some time after a quake.
  • Enroll in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and First Aid classes at your local American Red Cross chapter.

Preparedness for Apartment/Mobilehome Owners

  • A major earthquake can damage apartment complexes and mobile home parks, and can injure or kill residents.

Owners or managers should take the following steps:

  • Consult local building codes to ensure your building meets current seismic safety standards.
  • Develop an emergency plan for your building or mobile home park. This plan should include measures for storing water and food, obtaining first aid training, appointing floor area leaders, conducting drills, and other such activities.
  • Encourage mobile home residents to better secure their homes by leaving wheels on homes rather than removing them, installing structural support bracing systems and securing the coach's awnings. (A list of state certified bracing system is available from the State Department of Housing and Community Development.)
  • Provide tenants with information on how to secure furniture and other household items. Also provide them with information on what to do during, and after an earthquake.
  • Encourage tenants to develop individual family plans for shutting off damaged utilities, reuniting family members, and evacuation, if necessary.
  • Identify residents with special needs -- such as mobility impaired, non-English speaking, elderly, or hearing or sight impaired -- and make sure their needs are addressed in your emergency plans.
  • Organize teams that are responsible for first aid, search and rescue, communications and fire fighting. Compile a list of resources and skills available among your tenants.
  • Provide tenants with a white flag or some other distinguishable sign to post after an earthquake if someone in the apartment or mobile home has suffered serious injuries.
  • Practice earthquake drills in your complex or park.
  • Find out and inform your tenants where the nearest mass shelter area is located.
  • Organize a meeting at which a local emergency and disaster planner can provide information on earthquake preparedness.

Preparedness for Persons with Disabilities


  • Develop a "buddy" system with family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Plan how you will help each other in an emergency. If you live alone, you may wish to give your buddy a key for your home to a neighbor.
  • Make a list of your medications, allergies, special equipment, names, addresses, and telephone numbers of your doctor, pharmacy, family members, friends, and any other important information. Give a copy to each buddy, and keep a copy with you at all times.


  • Eliminate hazards in your home. Securely anchor medical equipment, heavy appliances, bookcases, hanging plants, and other items. Place heavy objects on low shelves. Move beds away from windows, check hallways, exits, doorways, and other areas and remove hazards and obstructions that may impede your safe exit after an earthquake. Install security night-lights to provide emergency lighting if power is interrupted.
  • Gather emergency supplies. Assemble a 72 hour emergency supply kit, which includes water, any special diet foods, sanitary aids, cooking and eating utensils, flashlight, radio, blankets, a change of clothing, and a whistle for signaling for assistance. Include a well-stocked first aid kit, with extra prescription medications and an extra pair of glasses. Store extra batteries for hearing aids, wheelchairs, and other battery-operated equipment. Keep a mini-survival kit in your car.

Special Tips

  • If you are deaf or hearing-impaired, keep a battery-operated television on hand, with fresh batteries, for receiving emergency information if power is out. Store flashlight, pencil, and pad for communicating. Arrange for hearing friends or coworkers to relay information broadcast by radio.
  • If you are blind or have impaired vision, keep extra canes in strategic areas around your home. Plan alternative evacuation routes from home and office. Store extra pet food and supplies for your guide dog.

What should I do during an earthquake?

Stay calm. PANIC KILLS

Duck, Cover, and Hold

  • When you feel an earthquake, DUCK under a desk or sturdy table or stand in a corner. Stay away from windows, bookcases, file cabinets, heavy mirrors, hanging plants, and other heavy objects that could fall. Watch out for falling plaster or ceiling tiles. Stay under COVER until the shaking stops. HOLD onto the desk or table. If it moves, move with it. Here are some additional tips for specific locations:
  • If you're in a HIGH-RISE BUILDING, and you are not near a desk or table, move against an interior wall, and protect your head with your arms. Do not use the elevators. Do not be surprised if the fire alarm or sprinkler systems activate.
  • If you're OUTDOORS, move to a clear area, away from trees, signs, buildings, or downed electrical wires and poles.
  • If you're on a SIDEWALK NEAR BUILDINGS, and there is no safe haven from overhead wires or other hazards, duck into a doorway to protect yourself from falling bricks, glass, plaster, and other debris.
  • If you're DRIVING, pull over to the side of the road and stop. Avoid overpasses, power lines, and other hazards. Stay inside the vehicle until the shaking is over.
  • If you're in a CROWDED STORE OR OTHER PUBLIC PLACE, do not rush for exits. Once the shaking stops, crowds trying to rush to the exits may be more dangerous than the earthquake itself. Move away from display shelves containing objects that could fall.
  • If you're in a WHEELCHAIR, stay in it. Move to cover, if possible, lock your wheels, and protect your head with your arms.
  • If you're in the KITCHEN, move away from the refrigerator, stove, and overhead cupboards. (Take time now to anchor appliances and install security latches on cupboard doors to reduce hazards.)
  • If you're in a STADIUM OR THEATER, stay in your seat and protect your head with your arms. Do not try to leave until the shaking is over. Then leave in a calm, orderly manner.
  • After an earthquake, be prepared for aftershocks. Plan where you will take cover

What should I do after the shaking stops?

If at work:

  • Check for injuries and administer emergency first aid if trained or summon medical assistance.
  • Do not attempt to move seriously injured persons unless they are in danger of further injury.
  • Report any fires, chemical hazards, gas leaks, or broken water lines to your building supervisor or emergency personnel.
  • Do not use telephone (even if they still work, they will be needed for emergency communications. Your building supervisor should keep you informed of what has happened and what you should do).
  • Do not return to your office until it has been checked for structural damage.
  • Alert supervisors to anything needing their attention.
  • Wear shoes in all areas near debris and broken glass.
  • Immediately clean up any spilled medicines, drugs, or potentially harmful materials (petroleum products, gasoline, and bleaches).
  • Building maintenance personnel should shut off main gas valve if you see, smell or hear leaking gas.
  • Building maintenance personnel should shut off main electrical service if there is damage to your building wiring.
  • Do not use flame producing devices/open flame appliances if gas leak is suspected.
  • Do not touch downed power lines or objects touched by them.

Remember that there will probably be pockets of damage rather than widespread devastation.

If I am at work, when can I go home?

  • You should not try to get home until local government authorities say it is safe, which will be when the worst fires are under control and the streets have been cleared. This may happen quickly, or it may take some time (perhaps 72 hours or more). Since you may not be able to get home to your family, you should have a family earthquake plan.
  • Proceed carefully in accordance with your building evacuation plan.

Once home.

  • At home see to the safety and welfare of your family and neighbors.
  • Implement your family emergency plan.
  • Check your chimney for cracks and damage.
  • Check your food supply.
  • Check your water supply.
  • Listen to the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) or local news station to keep informed on the general situation and for specific bulletins, preferably utilizing a battery-operated radio.
  • Do not go sight-seeing afterwards, especially in beach and waterfront areas.
  • Cooperate with Public Safety Officials.
  • Be prepared to experience aftershocks. (Usually smaller quakes, but can equal the main shock)

Where to learn more

Pre-earthquake information

This contact listing is not intended to be an exhaustive resource listing. For more information call the City of Concord Emergency Services Hotline at [insert number here].

Organization Email Phone
American Red Cross (Bay Area) (925) 603-7400
Association of Bay Area Governments (510) 464-7900
California Geological Survey (415) 904-7707
California Office of Emergency Services
(916) 845-8510
California Office of Emergency Services Coastal Region SearchView&Query=coastal%20region (510) 286-0895
California Seismic Safety Commission (916) 263-5506
Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (510) 451-0905
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (510) 627 7100
U.S. Geological Survey (916) 278-3000

Post-earthquake information

Demands on personnel responding to the emergency, along with damage to the telephone system, may severely limit the ability of lines to handle increased volume. Please limit your telephone use to obtaining emergency information for dissemination and for reporting emergencies.

County emergency services

County Phone
Alameda(925) 803-7800
Contra Costa(925) 228-5000
Marin(415) 499-6584
Napa(707) 253-4421
San Francisco(415) 558-2700
San Mateo(650) 522-7960
Santa Cruz(831) 454-4120
Solano(619) 525-4287
Sonoma(707) 565-1152
City of Concord CA