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Some Common Natural Hazards
A house cracked and broken from earthquake damage

Earthquakes are sudden rolling or shaking events caused by movement under the earth’s surface. Earthquakes happen along cracks in the earth's surface, called fault lines, and can be felt over large areas, although they usually last less than one minute. Earthquakes cannot be predicted — although scientists are working on it!

All 50 states and 5 U.S. territories are at some risk for earthquakes.  Earthquakes can happen at any time of the year.

Before An Earthquake

  • Look around places where you spend time.  Identify safe places such as under a sturdy piece of furniture or against an interior wall in your home, office or school so that when the shaking starts, you Drop to the ground, Cover your head and neck with your arms, and if a safer place is nearby, crawl to it and Hold On. 
  • Practice how to “Drop, Cover, and Hold On!”
    • To react quickly you must practice often. You may only have seconds to protect yourself in an earthquake.
  • Before an earthquake occurs, secure items that could fall and cause injuries (e.g., bookshelves, mirrors, light fixtures).
  • Store critical supplies (e.g., water, medication) and documents.
  • Plan how you will communicate with family members, including multiple methods by making a family emergency communication plan.
  • When choosing your home or business, check if the building is earthquake resistant per local building codes. 

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During An Earthquake

If you are inside a building:

  • Stay where you are until the shaking stops. Do not run outside. Do not get in a doorway as this does not provide protection from falling or flying objects, and you may not be able to remain standing.
  • Drop down onto your hands and knees so the earthquake doesn’t knock you down. Drop to the ground (before the earthquake drops you!)
  • Cover your head and neck with your arms to protect yourself from falling debris.
    • If you are in danger from falling objects, and you can move safely, crawl for additional cover under a sturdy desk or table.
    • If there is low furniture or an interior wall or corner nearby, and the path is clear, these may also provide some additional cover.
    • Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as light fixtures or furniture.
  • Hold on to any sturdy covering so you can move with it until the shaking stops. Stay where you are until the shaking stops.

If getting safely to the floor to take cover won’t be possible:

  • Identify an inside corner of the room away from windows and objects that could fall on you.  The Earthquake Country Alliance advises getting as low as possible to the floor. People who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices should lock their wheels and remain seated until the shaking stops. Protect your head and neck with your arms, a pillow, a book, or whatever is available.

If you are in bed when you feel the shaking:

  • If you are in bed: Stay there and Cover your head and neck with a pillow. At night, hazards and debris are difficult to see and avoid; attempts to move in the dark result in more injuries than remaining in bed.

If you are outside when you feel the shaking:

  • If you are outdoors when the shaking starts, move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires. Once in the open, “Drop, Cover, and Hold On.” Stay there until the shaking stops. This might not be possible in a city, so you may need to duck inside a building to avoid falling debris.

If you are in a moving vehicle when you feel the shaking:

  • If you are in a moving vehicle, stop as quickly and safely as possible and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires. Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that the earthquake may have damaged.

After an Earthquake

  • When the shaking stops, look around. If there is a clear path to safety, leave the building and go to an open space away from damaged areas.
  • If you are trapped, do not move about or kick up dust.
  • If you have a cell phone with you, use it to call or text for help.
  • Tap on a pipe or wall or use a whistle, if you have one, so that rescuers can locate you.
  • Once safe, monitor local news reports via battery operated radio, TV, social media, and cell phone text alerts for emergency information and instructions.
  • Be prepared to “Drop, Cover, and Hold on” in the likely event of aftershocks.

Listen to Local Officials

Learn about the emergency plans that have been established in your area by your state and local government. In any emergency, always listen to the instructions given by local emergency management officials.



Find additional information on how to plan and prepare for an earthquake and learn about available resources by visiting the following websites:


If you require more information about any of these topics, the following resources may be helpful.

View of tsunami waves hitting a shoreline.

Tsunamis (pronounced soo-ná-mees), also known as seismic sea waves (mistakenly called “tidal waves”), are a series of enormous waves created by an underwater disturbance such as an earthquake, landslide, volcanic eruption, or meteorite. A tsunami can move hundreds of miles per hour in the open ocean and smash into land with waves as high as 100 feet or more.

From the area where the tsunami originates, waves travel outward in all directions. Once the wave approaches the shore, it builds in height. The topography of the coastline and the ocean floor will influence the size of the wave. There may be more than one wave and the succeeding one may be larger than the one before. That is why a small tsunami at one beach can be a giant wave a few miles away.

All tsunamis are potentially dangerous, even though they may not damage every coastline they strike. A tsunami can strike anywhere along most of the U.S. coastline. The most destructive tsunamis have occurred along the coasts of California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii.

Earthquake-induced movement of the ocean floor most often generates tsunamis. If a major earthquake or landslide occurs close to shore, the first wave in a series could reach the beach in a few minutes, even before a warning is issued. Areas are at greater risk if they are less than 25 feet above sea level and within a mile of the shoreline. Drowning is the most common cause of death associated with a tsunami. Tsunami waves and the receding water are very destructive to structures in the run-up zone. Other hazards include flooding, contamination of drinking water, and fires from gas lines or ruptured tanks.

Wreckage after a tsunamiBefore a Tsunami

The following are things you can do to protect yourself, your family and your property from the effects of a tsunami:

  • To begin preparing, you should build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
    • Talk to everyone in your household about what to do if a tsunami occurs. Create and practice an evacuation plan for your family. Familiarity may save your life. Be able to follow your escape route at night and during inclement weather. You should be able to reach your safe location on foot within 15 minutes. Practicing your plan makes the appropriate response more of a reaction, requiring less thinking during an actual emergency.
    • If the school evacuation plan requires you to pick your children up from school or from another location. Be aware telephone lines during a tsunami watch or warning may be overloaded and routes to and from schools may be jammed.
    • Knowing your community's warning systems and disaster plans, including evacuation routes.
  • Know the height of your street above sea level and the distance of your street from the coast or other high-risk waters. Evacuation orders may be based on these numbers.
  • If you are a tourist, familiarize yourself with local tsunami evacuation protocols. You may be able to safely evacuate to the third floor and higher in reinforced concrete hotel structures.
  • If an earthquake occurs and you are in a coastal area, turn on your radio to learn if there is a tsunami warning.
Know the Terms

Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a tsunami hazard:


A tsunami warning is issued when a tsunami with the potential to generate widespread inundation is imminent or expected. Warnings alert the public that dangerous coastal flooding accompanied by powerful cur­rents is possible and may continue for several hours after initial arrival. Warnings alert emergency management officials to take action for the entire tsunami hazard zone. Appropriate actions to be taken by local officials may include the evacuation of low-lying coastal areas, and the repositioning of ships to deep waters when there is time to safely do so. Warnings may be updated, adjusted geographically, downgraded, or canceled. To provide the earliest possible alert, initial warnings are normally based only on seismic information.


A tsunami advisory is issued when a tsunami with the potential to generate strong currents or waves dangerous to those in or very near the water is imminent or expected. The threat may continue for sev­eral hours after initial arrival, but significant inundation is not expected for areas under an advisory. Appropriate actions to be taken by local officials may include closing beaches, evacuating harbors and marinas, and the repositioning of ships to deep waters when there is time to safely do so. Advisories are normally updated to continue the advisory, expand/contract affected areas, upgrade to a warning, or cancel the advisory.


A tsunami watch is issued to alert emergency management officials and the public of an event which may later impact the watch area. The watch area may be upgraded to a warning or advisory - or canceled - based on updated information and analysis. Therefore, emergency management officials and the public should prepare to take action. Watches are normally issued based on seismic information without confirmation that a destructive tsunami is underway.

Information Statement

A tsunami information statement is issued to inform emergency manage­ment officials and the public that an earthquake has occurred, or that a tsunami warning, watch or advisory has been issued for another section of the ocean. In most cases, information statements are issued to indicate there is no threat of a destructive tsunami and to prevent unnecessary evacuations as the earthquake may have been felt in coastal areas. An information statement may, in appropriate situations, caution about the possibility of destructive local tsunamis. Information statements may be re-issued with additional information, though normally these messages are not updated. However, a watch, advisory or warning may be issued for the area, if necessary, after analysis and/or updated information becomes available.

During a Tsunami

  • Follow the evacuation order issued by authorities and evacuate immediately. Take your animals with you.
  • Move inland to higher ground immediately. Pick areas 100 feet (30 meters) above sea level or go as far as 2 miles (3 kilometers) inland, away from the coastline. If you cannot get this high or far, go as high or far as you can. Every foot inland or upward may make a difference.
  • Stay away from the beach. Never go down to the beach to watch a tsunami come in. If you can see the wave you are too close to escape it. CAUTION - If there is noticeable recession in water away from the shoreline this is nature's tsunami warning and it should be heeded. You should move away immediately.
  • Save yourself - not your possessions.
  • Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance - infants, elderly people, and individuals with access or functional needs.

After a Tsunami

  • Return home only after local officials tell you it is safe. A tsunami is a series of waves that may continue for hours. Do not assume that after one wave the danger is over. The next wave may be larger than the first one.
  • Go to a designated public shelter if you have been told to evacuate or you feel it is unsafe to remain in your home. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345).
  • Avoid disaster areas. Your presence might interfere with emergency response operations and put you at further risk from the residual effects of floods.
  • Stay away from debris in the water; it may pose a safety hazard to people or pets.
  • Check yourself for injuries and get first aid as needed before helping injured or trapped persons.
  • If someone needs to be rescued, call professionals with the right equipment to help. Many people have been killed or injured trying to rescue others.
  • Help people who require special assistance—infants, elderly people, those without transportation, people with access and functional needs and large families who may need additional help in an emergency situation.
  • Continue using a NOAA Weather Radio or tuning to a Coast Guard station or a local radio or television station for the latest updates.
  • Stay out of any building that has water around it. Tsunami water can cause floors to crack or walls to collapse.
  • Use caution when re-entering buildings or homes. Tsunami-driven floodwater may have damaged buildings where you least expect it. Carefully watch every step you take.
  • To avoid injury, wear protective clothing and be cautious when cleaning up.

Related Websites

Find additional information on how to plan and prepare for a tsunami and learn about available resources by visiting the following websites:

Listen to Local Officials

Learn about the emergency plans that have been established in your area by your state and local government. In any emergency, always listen to the instructions given by local emergency management officials.

Helicopter spreading water over a forest fire.
This page explains what actions to take if you receive a fire weather watch alert from the National Weather Service for your local area and what to do before, during, and after a wildfire.

Basic Safety Tips

  • If you see a wildfire and haven't received evacuation orders yet, call 9-1-1. Don't assume that someone else has already called.
  • If ordered to evacuate during a wildfire, do it immediately- make sure and tell someone where you are going and when you have arrived.
  • Many communities have text or email alerting systems for emergency notifications.To find out what alerts are available in your area, search the Internet with your town, city, or county name and the word “alerts.”
  • If you or someone you are with has been burned, call 9-1-1 or seek help immediately; cool and cover burns to reduce chance of further injury or infection.

Fire Weather Watch

Fire weather watch = dangerous fire weather conditions are possible over the next 12 to 72 hours

Steps to Take

  • Turn on your TV/radio. You’ll get the latest weather updates and emergency instructions.
  • Know where to go. If you are ordered to evacuate, know the route to take and have plan of where you will go. Check-in with your friends and family.
  • Keep your car fueled, in good condition, and stocked with emergency supplies and a change of clothes.

Prepare Your Home

  • Regularly clean the roof and gutters.
  • Maintain an area approximately 30’ away from you home that is free of anything that will burn, such as wood piles, dried leaves, newspapers and other brush.
  • Connect garden hoses long enough to reach any area of the home and fill garbage cans, tubs, or other large containers with water.
  • Review your homeowner's insurance policy and also prepare/update a list of your home's contents.

After a wildfire

Returning Home

  • Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
  • For several hours after the fire, maintain a "fire watch." Check and re-check for smoke, sparks or hidden embers throughout the house, including the roof and the attic.
  • Use caution when entering burned areas as hazards may still exist, including hot spots, which can flare up without warning. Evacuate immediately if you smell smoke.

Cleaning Your Home

  • Wear a NIOSH certified-respirator (dust mask) and wet debris down to minimize breathing dust particles.
  • Discard any food that has been exposed to heat, smoke or soot.
  • Do NOT use water that you think may be contaminated to wash dishes, brush teeth, prepare food, wash hands, or to make ice or baby formula.
  • Photograph damage to your property for insurance purposes.

Before Wildfire season- Make a Wildfire plan

  • Know your wildfire risk.
  • Make a wildfire emergency plan.
  • Build or restock your emergency preparedness kit, including a flashlight, batteries, cash, and first aid supplies.
  • Familiarize yourself with local emergency plans. Know where to go and how to get there should you need to get to higher ground, the highest level of a building or to evacuate.
  • Stay tuned to your phone alerts, TV, or radio, for weather updates, emergency instructions or evacuation orders.

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Last updated: 08/31/2012 - 09:14 AM