More than 63 million people in more than 60 countries took part in earthquake-safety drills and activities Thursday, including what our state calls the Great Washington ShakeOut, in which, at precisely 10:17 a.m., everyone collectively practices what to do in an earthquake.

The idea is to rehearse how to drop, cover and hold on — the three steps that emergency-management experts and other official-preparedness organizations agree is the best way to reduce injury and death during an earthquake.

“You could be anywhere when an earthquake strikes: at home, at work, at school or even on vacation,” warns the website for ShakeOut, an emergency-management partnership promoting regionally organized campaigns to help people prepare for and survive a quake.

Earthquake hazards vary from region to region, but most of Washington is prone to earthquakes.

The initial shaking felt during an earthquake does not indicate whether it will “suddenly become intense,” Shake Out says. That’s why officials recommend that people always drop, cover and hold on right away.

In most situations, you will reduce your chance of injury if you:


  • DROP where you are, onto your hands and knees. This position protects you from being knocked down and also allows you to stay low and crawl to shelter if nearby.
  • COVER your head and neck with one arm and hand.

    • If a sturdy table or desk is near, crawl underneath it for shelter.
    • If no shelter is near, crawl next to an interior wall (away from windows). Stay on your knees, bent over in a crawling position, to protect vital organs. Be ready to move if necessary.
  • HOLD ON until the shaking stops.

    • Under shelter: hold onto the leg of a table or desk with one hand; be ready to move with your shelter if it shifts.
    • No shelter: hold onto your head and neck with both arms and hands.

Don’t move to another site or go outside, officials say. “Earthquakes occur without any warning and may be so violent that you cannot run or crawl. You are more likely to be injured if you try to move around during strong shaking. Also, you will never know if the initial jolt will turn out to be start of the big one,” according to the statement.

The ShakeOut event is also promoted as an opportunity for individuals, families and organizations to review and update emergency-preparedness plans and supplies, and to secure their spaces in order to prevent damage and injuries.

Prepare for an earthquake

Earthquakes may be unpredictable — but they are also inevitable. Here are some tips to help you get ready before the next one hits.

The 2001 Nisqually earthquake destroyed the outside wall of a Pioneer Square office in Seattle. (Tom Reese / The Seattle Times)