New York just had itself an earthquake—the first one that many New Yorkers have ever felt—and you know what we learned? Most of us aren't exactly sure what the hell to do in an earthquake. Sure, some people evacuated their offices, but many did so via elevators. And then they just milled about outside, leaning on buildings. So, now that we've all caught our breath, here are a few tips on what to do in the case of another one (as well as in today's aftermath).

Both FEMA and the City of New York have pages on what to do in the case of an earthquake but the gist any California transplant will tell you: Drop, Take Cover and Hold On. In other words, if you are inside, drop to the ground, take cover by getting under a desk or a sturdy piece of furniture and hold on until the shaking stops. Nothing to hold on to? Cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.

But still, here are other things to keep in mind if you are indoors:


  • Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.
  • Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake strikes. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place.
  • Use a doorway for shelter only if it is in close proximity to you and if you know it is a strongly supported, loadbearing doorway.
  • Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave.
  • Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.
  • DO NOT use the elevators.

If you are outside in an earthquake you want to STAY OUTSIDE but move AWAY from buildings, streetlights and utility wires if at all possible. According to FEMA:

The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits and alongside exterior walls. Many of the 120 fatalities from the 1933 Long Beach earthquake occurred when people ran outside of buildings only to be killed by falling debris from collapsing walls. Ground movement during an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or injury. Most earthquake-related casualties result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects.

As for what to do after an earthquake? There are tips for that too. To start, move carefully. If the power goes out, do NOT light a match. If you smell gas, leave immediately and call 911. If all is clear, check that your utilities are all in order—especially important in New York are stove pilot lights which can get knocked off with a good rattle.

Finally, now is as good a chance to remind you the same thing that the city has been reminding you since 9/11: You really ought to have a "Go bag" ready to, uh, go in the case of a serious emergency!