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Best Practices for Earthquake Safety in Schools - At-A-Glance

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), there were more than 1600 earthquakes of a 5.0 or higher magnitude in 2019, resulting in more than 200 deaths. With the threat of a “Big One” (higher than 8.0 magnitude quake that experts predict could hit the United States soon), it’s more important than ever to have a solid understanding of earthquakes and the proper procedures to take before, during, and after the event in your facility.

Know What an Earthquake Is

An earthquake is the result of the movement or slipping of the tectonic plates that make up the Earth’s crust. Areas most at risk for earthquakes are those that lie on major fault lines, which is the point at which two plates meet. 

In the United States, this means that residents of California and other states along the Western coast are at the highest risk of experiencing a major earthquake. However, according to the USGS, all fifty states have at least some vulnerability to earthquakes and aftershocks.

This means that, no matter where your facility is located, you should have a plan in place for dealing with the effects of a major earthquake.

Be Prepared for an Earthquake

As with any other major emergency event, it’s important that your school has a plan in place to react to a high-magnitude earthquake.


At Joffe, we want to make sure that all of our schools are prepared with the knowledge and skills they need to carry out these plans.

Before: Ensure that your school has well-stocked and frequently checked emergency kits in easily accessible locations. Have students and staff participate in earthquake drills. Regularly update your school’s safety plan, including accounting for changes to the school’s floor plan and total population, and making allowances for students with special needs.

During: Ensure that your faculty and students are following the Drop, Cover, and Hold On procedures.

Drop: Drop to your hands and knees, staying close to the floor to reduce the risk of injuries from falls and flying debris.

Cover: Ideally, move to a covered position beneath a sturdy piece of furniture. In classrooms, this means having students crawl under their desks. If this is not an option, move to an interior wall free of heavy hanging objects likely to fall. Cover your head and neck to guard against injury.

Hold on: Hold tightly to your cover (or, if you are unable to find any, your head and neck) until the shaking has completely stopped. If your shelter begins to move, such as an unsecured desk beginning to shift, be prepared to move with it.

After the Earthquake

Once all shaking has stopped, check in with all students and faculty. Address any immediate first aid needs, and, if it is safe to do so, have students move outdoors to a clear area and immediately have an adult call for help. If there are any more serious injuries that complicate a person’s ability to move, have the rest of the students move to safety, have one adult stay behind (if safe), and call for help as soon as possible. Assist children in getting in contact with their parents and other family members where possible.

Make sure that all individual groups have access to outside communication, such as a wireless television or radio, and have it turned on to listen for important updates from the local and national government.

For more information about earthquake preparedness in schools, visit The Great Shakeout. For up-to-date information about safety before, during, and after an earthquake, see the CDC’s earthquake preparedness page and the Red Cross Earthquake Safety Guide

At Joffe Emergency Services, we want to help you make sure that your school is always prepared. To learn more about the programs we offer, see our School Safety Programs list, or contact us directly here.

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