Earthquake Safety for Moms

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Think the safest place to be in an earthquake is standing in a doorway?

Think again.

Let’s face it–us Gen X moms in Southern California (and those who wish they all could be California girls) live on shaky ground. Many of us aren’t particularly afraid of The Big One (hey, if it hits, it hits. It’s not like I can stop it. I’m more concerned about crossing the street), but that doesn’t mean we don’t need some basic safety tips. And as moms, we need to keep our kiddos safe too.

So let’s start with the doorway myth. Safest place to be in a quake? Wrong. I know this is what many of us were taught as kids, but let’s look at the science here.

The #1 cause of death and injury in earthquakes are moving and falling objects 1.

Let’s take falling objects. Occasionally that’s stuff from the ceiling (lights, fans), but usually it’s stuff from shelves and pieces of furniture. If a cascade of your leatherbound collection of the entire works of Shakspeare (and I know you have one) is coming off the shelf, or your giant flatscreen tv is teetering right above your head, where do you want your head to be?

That’s right! Under something hard, like a desk or a table!

That’s what experts call DROP, COVER, and HOLD ON. Whenever possible, the best thing to do in an earthquake is to drop to the ground, cover your head, and hold on2.

This is what we need to teach our kids, particularly because of the other half of that #1 cause of death and injury above: moving objects. Even if heavy things don’t fall, they can still move quite violently. Think of your refrigerator sliding across the floor at you, or that sideboard you bought in order to organize your kitchen but is instead filled with random Gladware with missing lids. That puppy can take you out if it’s moving fast enough. Children are especially susceptible to injury or even death from moving objects.

The most important thing we can teach our children about earthquakes is get safe and stay there.  Teach your children that the safest place to be is underneath a piece of heavy furniture. If nothing is available, they should look for a spot on the wall that doesn’t have anything over it, sit on the floor with their backs against the wall, and cover their heads. Remember: drop, cover, and hold on. Practice pointing out safe places in every room in your house. Under no circumstances do we want our children trying to navigate through moving and falling objects out of fear or trying to find you. This is particularly important at night, when it’s dark and disorienting, and it can be impossible to see obstacles or moving objects.

If your child is in bed when an earthquake strikes, the safest thing for them to do is stay in bed and cover their heads with a pillow (make sure there’s no ceiling fixtures overhead). Unless they happen to have a heavy desk nearby, or a nightstand large enough to cover them, they should stay in bed.

Of course a frightened child will very likely get out of bed to come to your room. It’s a natural reaction, but a dangerous one. Reassure your children that you will always come to them in an earthquake, day or night. Tell them (in an age-appropriate manner) “if the house starts shaking, stay in bed with your pillow over your head and wait for Mommy or Daddy to come and get you.” It’s counter-intuitive for sure, so you will probably need to practice. Feel silly or think it’s not important? Take a look at everything in between your child’s bed and your own, including bedroom furniture. A quick look at my house reveals two bookshelves, a candle wall fixture, a cuckoo clock, and antique china hutch (rest in peace, Grandma), two glass French doors, four pictures on the wall, and the refrigerator in between my bedroom and Mouse’s. Yes, we have a weird house. It makes sense if you see it. But all of those are major safety hazards for a child trying to get through in the dark while the house and everything in it is moving.

Remember, during the day: Get safe and stay there. Drop, cover, and hold on.

Remember, at night: Stay in bed with your pillow over your head and wait for Mommy or Daddy to come and get you.

Of course all those hazards are there for you too. And technically we’re supposed to stay in bed as well. But let’s get real. If this house really starts shaking, I’m going to get to Mouse’s room as soon as I can. So let’s move to my next tip: Keep a pair of closed-toed shoes and a flashlight near your bed. I keep a giant Mag Light in my nightstand, which does double-duty as the weapon of choice to beat the crap out of intruders, and a pair of shoes nearby (because that’s usually where I kick them off anyway). I’m likely to get some nasty bruises if my antique china hutch (rest in peace, Grandma) falls on me, but a child can easily be crushed or killed by the same.

So what’s this about doorways? We used to think that doorways were the most structurally sound part of any building. Nope. When was the last time you saw a collapsed building with a bunch of doorways standing intact? One look at those heartbreaking, devastating pictures from Haiti, and it’s clear that people can only survive in a pocket of protected space, such as underneath a sturdy table or desk. Remember: DROP, COVER, AND HOLD ON. Let’s be frank. If the building is coming down, a doorway ain’t gonna do jack for you. Additionally, you are susceptible to getting a nice whack from the swinging door. The American Red Cross3 says:

Doorways are no stronger than any other part of the structure. During an earthquake, get under a sturdy piece of furniture and hold on. This will provide some protection from falling objects that can injure you during an earthquake.

If you have no other good options, then sit on the floor against a wall and cover your head.

Please ignore the lack of segue to the next tip: Strap your furniture and appliances to the wall. (don’t worry, I’ll sum this all up at the end). An antique china cabinet (rest in peace, Grandma) that’s attached to a stud in the wall is something that is not going to fall over and block my “zero to Mouse’s room in .005 seconds” dash.

The best way to get our kids prepared is to practice a duck, cover, and hold drill4. And everyone has their well-stocked earthquake kit with enough supplies to survive The Big One or the Apocalypse (whichever comes first), right? Well, our answer is “kinda.” There are a number of websites that describe how to put together an earthquake kit5 but here in suburbia, at the bare minimum you’re going to need water, food, medicine, and tools.

Water: One gallon per person, per day, for three days. Don’t forget Fluffy and Rover!

Food: Non-perishables. Sorry kid, the dinosaur chicken nuggets didn’t make it.

Medicine: Both prescription and non-prescription. Throw a basic first aid kit in there too, while you’re at it.

Tools: That intruder-beating flashlight I was talking about goes here. Also, a battery-powered radio with extra batteries (I know, how passe’, but your cell isn’t going to last all that long). Consider buying one of those hand-cranked cell phone chargers.

Those are the biggies, but of course there’s a lot of other things that would be nice to have so check out the link below and stash away some of that too.

I’ll wrap things up here.

Before the quake:

  • Strap your furniture to the wall
  • Shoes and intruder-beating flashlight by the bed
  • Practice drills for the kiddos. “Get safe and stay there.” “Drop, Cover, and Hold On.”
  • More practice drills. “Stay in bed with your pillow over your head and wait for Mommy or Daddy to come and get you”

During the shaking:

  • Drop, cover, and hold on6
  • Don’t run outside
  • A doorway is not your best choice
  • Remain calm. Or at least pretend like you’re remaining calm
  • “Get safe and stay there.”
  • “Stay in bed with your pillow over your head and wait for Mommy or Daddy to come and get you”


  • Use basic, common sense
  • Conserve your cell phone batteries
  • Get to a safe location as quickly as possible and expect aftershocks
  • Take stock of your earthquake kit. However, under no circumstances should you go back inside a building that might be unstable to retrieve anything
  • Don’t panic. It’s not the end of the world. Hopefully.

This has been humorous post, but earthquakes are very serious. Please visit the links below for more earthquake preparedness information. And take care, Earthquake Moms! Just a few easy steps can make a huge difference in keeping our kids calm and safe in an earthquake.

1 Occupational Safety and Health
3American Red Cross
4California Emergency Management
5San Francisco Gate Earthquake Readiness

There also is a chain email going around regarding some guy’s theory that he calls the “triangle of life.” His theory is almost completely incorrect and is going to get someone killed or injured one day. Click here for the American Red Cross’s article setting the record straight.

The Scrivener

3 Responses

  1. Thanks for the great advice!!

  2. Offers a checklist of what Internet safety topics to discuss with kids, whether they are elementary school age, tweens or teens.

  3. […] going to take a moment to brag here and just say that I am awesome in catastrophic situations–earthquakes, tornadoes, house floods, that kind of thing. I’m not so great at ordinary, every day […]

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