ODPEM Government of Jamaica
Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management
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Disasters Do Happen
Protect Yourself From an Earthquake


What to do Before an Earthquake - Conduct a Hazard Hunt

Especially in small earthquakes, which make up the vast majority of all earthquakes, most injuries and fatalities occur because the ground shaking dislodges loose objects in and on buildings.

Conduct an earthquake hazard hunt of your environment and eliminate objects that have the potential to cause injuries. Foresight and common sense are all that are needed as you go from room to room and imagine what would happen in an earthquake.

Some common earthquake hazards are:

  1. What-nots, wardrobes, freestanding closets, dressers and bookcases: these may topple over during an earthquake unless they are securely anchored to the wall. Either bolt directly through the back of the furniture into the wall or use steel angle brackets. Fallen furnishings could block your escape route, in addition to causing injury and damage. Freestanding bookshelves, especially in an office setting, should be bolted to the floor and to ceiling posts and put guard rails or ‘fences’ on open shelves so that items cannot slide off.
  1. Tall, heavy lamps, vases, figurines: if you display fragile items on open shelves or tables use industrial Velcro to attach items to stands.
  1. Hanging plants and mobiles: these tend to swing widely during earthquakes. Hang planters on hooks that can be curved over to form a circle so that the wire or cord cannot jump freely. Use lightweight, plastic containers or baskets instead of heavy, ceramic ones that may cause serious injuries if they strike someone in the head.
  1. Mirrors on walls: ensure that mirrors are securely bolted to walls.
  1. Heavy objects on wall shelves: ensure that shelves are securely bolted to walls. Adjustable shelves, the board of which rest on wall brackets, can be stabilized with clips or wire to connect the board to the bracket. Remember to use guardrails on shelves and do not place chairs, desks, beds etc. beneath shelves where items can fall on people.
  1. Window air conditioners: make sure they are securely fastened and bolted into their spaces so they do not fall out.
  1. Hanging lamps or chandeliers: make sure they are securely fastened to the ceiling. Put a mesh or plastic guard around fluorescent bulbs to catch any splinters.
  1. Unsecured TVs, computers on cart with wheels: attach TVs and computers to their stands with industrial Velcro or bolt the items to the stand. Wheels on carts must be able to be locked to ensure that the cart will not roll around wildly.
  1. Bed by window, heavy objects on shelves above bed: locate bed near an interior wall and away from windows and hanging light fixtures or any item that may fall on you while in bed. If the bed must be next to a glass window, install shatter-resistant plastic film (like the material used to tint windshields) over the glass to hold shattered glass in place and prevent it from flying around the room. Another alternative is tempered glass, which breaks into tiny rounded pieces, but this is more expensive than the film. Be sure that the bed is not on rollers, and if it is on bare floor use plastic non-skid coasters to reduce sliding.
  1. Heavy pictures above bed: hang these from fixtures that can adequately bear their weight. Items such as hanging pictures and items on shelves will weigh twice as much when they fall. For example, if it weighs 2 lbs. on the wall, it weighs 4 lbs. when it hits, so do not place over beds, desks or chairs.
  1. Unfastened cabinet doors: install proper latches on cupboard doors that will not open if the object tilts over or is shaken. Heavy objects inside your cupboards can lean or fall against the inside of the doors, so the latches must be strong enough to withstand this pushing. Be careful not to stand directly in front of cupboards as items lying against the doors can come crashing out on you.
  1. Unfastened medicine cabinet doors: the primary hazard in the bathroom during an earthquake is broken glass. Mirrors, toiletries, and medicines can fall and break. Most personal care products are now being packaged, but liquid medicines, perfumes and colognes are sometimes supplied in glass containers. Select products in unbreakable containers where possible and make sure the doors of your medicine cabinet can be secured with a latch.
  1. Unattached water heaters: these are very vulnerable to earthquake damage. They are likely to “walk” or even topple over disconnecting the utility lines, causing gas or water leakage, or electrical shorts, fires or explosions. To prevent the water heater from moving or toppling over, wrap it with two metal straps or chains, near the top and bottom and bolt the ends to the wall.
  1. Gas stoves with rigid feed lines: use flexible gas lines that will not break during an earthquake and release gas. Anchor the gas cylinder to the wall with chains and if you are cooking, turn off the stove before taking cover.
  1. House not bolted to foundation: ensure that houses/buildings are properly attached to their foundations.

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What to do During an Earthquake

Earthquakes can happen at anytime, anywhere. There is a chance, when an earthquake hits, that you may have a few seconds between the realization that this is an earthquake and the time when the shaking stops.

This is when your advanced planning becomes important. If you know what to expect and what to do, you can make the right decisions that may mean the difference between injury, life or death.
Take Cover in the Nearest Space

Take cover where you are. If you are outside during an earthquake take cover there, do not rush indoors or vice versa.

Protect yourself from things that may fall on top of you, whether it is broken glass or a whole building. Once you take over in your safe place, stay there until the shaking stops, earthquakes seldom last longer than a minute although it seems longer.
Duck, Cover and Hold

Practice the Duck, Cover and Hold procedure until it becomes second nature.

  • Duck: get under a sturdy piece of furniture, making yourself into a little ball (do not duck under beds or other objects that could collapse).


  • Cover: keep your head and eyes protected from falling or flying objects. Cover your head with one hand.
  • Hold: with your other hand, hold onto the piece of furniture. If it moves, move with it. Stay under shelter until you are sure the shaking has stopped.

Cover and Hold

If you cannot shelter under furniture or a doorway, move against an interior wall if you are indoors, duck, put your arms over your head and across the back of your neck for protection. If there is a book, pillow, tray or other protection at hand, hold it over your head and neck.

It is better to break your arms than to have something fall on your head or neck, which will probably result in unconsciousness, paralysis, brain damage or death.
Door Way for Protection

If you are not near any sturdy furniture, take cover in a sturdy doorway. The extra construction around a doorframe makes it one of the strongest parts of a building. Also there is rarely anything over a doorway to fall on you.

Stand in a doorway for protection

Avoid doorways that have transoms or air conditioners above them.

Also, beware of the door that can swing back and forth during an earthquake. Brace yourself and try to hold off the door with your shoulder or hip and hold on tight, feet spread wide apart for balance, leaning across to hold onto the opposite side.

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What to do After an Earthquake If...

You Are At Home

  • Put on heavy soled shoes: If you are bare footed, put on shoes before you walk anywhere after an earthquake.
  • Check for injuries: Check yourself and other family members for injuries and seek medical attention for serious conditions.
  • Do not use the telephones unless there is a serious injury: Rescue workers will need all available lines. If the receiver is off the hook, replace it. Do not jiggle the hook if you do not get a dial tone as this could further jam the wires.
  • Check for fires: If possible one person or group should check for injuries while another immediately checks for fires. Do not light matches or candles as naked flames can ignite leaking gas and spilled flammable products. If you smell gas or have reason to suspect that lines might be broken, immediately disconnect the cylinder.
  • Check stairs before using them: Stairs may have weakened after an earthquake; when evacuating check these carefully before placing your full weight on them.
  • Check the building: Carefully inspect the interior and exterior of the building. Look for cracks in the walls, shifted posts or pillars, and cracks in porches and sidewalks. If you see anything other than minor cracks, evacuate the building immediately and do not re-enter the building until a professional has checked it for safety.
  • Assist your neighbours: Once your home is secure, check with your neighbours to see if they need assistance.
  • Listen to the radio: Listen to your radio for evacuation orders and other information.

You Are Away From Home

  • Stay where you are: If you are in your car, at a movie or store, or some place where you do not feel safe, you will probably try to go home. Stay where you are for a while and wait for aftershocks and information on the radio. Remember that aftershocks, particularly those following a big earthquake, can cause a lot of damage. Overpasses, bridges and some buildings might survive the main shock, but fall during an aftershock.
  • Do not drive unless: You are away from tall buildings and bridges, and then your driving should only be to safety or to render assistance. The roads should be kept open for emergency vehicles. When you arrive home, do not rush in. Look at the building from a distance for damage; if it looks okay make a closer inspection. If it still looks undamaged, open the door and smell for gas. If you don’t smell gas, enter and check for other fire hazards.

You Are In the Dark

  • Recall your location: If you find yourself alone in the dark after an earthquake, take a few minutes to recall the location of exits and the layout of the building.
  • Plan your escape route: Plan your escape route and then move slowly, using your hands to guide you. If you heard the sound of breaking glass during the earthquake, wrap your hands in a jacket or other material to protect them. Carefully exit the building, take cover if there are any aftershocks and be alert for the smell of leaking gas.

Related Topics:


Earthquake Safety in the Workplace


Earthquake Safety for Children


Earthquake Safety for the Disabled & the Elderly


Websites of Interest:


Earthquake Unit, Jamaica


Seismic Research Centre, St. Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago


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