Step 5: Drop, Cover, and Hold On

Drop, Cover, and Hold On or other recommended actions (if you feel shaking or get an alert).

Drawing of a family protecting themselves during an earthquake, under a table and in a wheelchair

ECA’s Step 5 Webinar reviews how to Drop, Cover, and Hold On and other protective actions
(Click “CC” for captions)

Learn about our Safer At Home Webinar Series

Your past experience in earthquakes may give you a false sense of safety; perhaps you did nothing, ran outside, or stood in a doorway, and you survived with no injuries. Or perhaps you got under your desk, and others thought you overreacted.

Yet you may never have experienced the kind of strong shaking that is possible in much larger earthquakes: sudden and intense back and forth motions of several feet per second will cause the floor or the ground to jerk sideways out from under you, and every unsecured object around you could topple, fall, or become airborne, potentially causing serious injury.

This is why you must learn the expert guidance for how to immediately protect yourself after the first jolt… or get an alert that shaking is on its way! (Alert systems around the world can now detect earthquakes and send alerts that may provide enough time to act before strong shaking arrives, including Earthquake Warning California, powered by the ShakeAlert® Earthquake Early Warning System being implemented for the West Coast!

Taking the proper actions, such as “Drop, Cover, and Hold On,” can save lives and reduce the risk of injury. Everyone, everywhere, should learn and practice what to do during an earthquake, whether at home, work, school, or traveling.

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 nearby, crawl underneath it for shelter
  • If no shelter is nearby, crawl next to an interior wall (away from windows)
  • Stay on your knees; bend over to protect vital organs
HOLD ON until shaking stops

  • Under shelter: hold on to your shelter with one hand; be ready to move with it if it shifts
  • No shelter: hold on to your head and neck with both arms and hands.

Why Drop, Cover, and Hold On?

Our special report explains why official rescue teams, emergency preparedness experts, and others recommend “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” as the best way, in most situations, to protect yourself during earthquake shaking.

The report also describes why running outside, standing in a doorway, or the “triangle of life” are dangerous or out-dated recommendations.


Download the official Drop, Cover, and Hold On graphic and many other useful images


Specific situations…

It is important to think about what you will do to protect yourself, wherever you are, when the earth begins to shake. What if you are driving, in a theater, in bed, at the beach, etc.?

Persons with Disabilities: See for recommendations for people who use wheelchairs, walkers, or who are unable to drop to the ground and get up again without assistance.

Indoors: Drop, Cover, and Hold On. Avoid exterior walls, windows, hanging objects, mirrors, tall furniture, large appliances, and kitchen cabinets with heavy objects or glass. However, do not try to move more than 5-7 feet before getting on the ground. Do not go outside during shaking! The area near the exterior walls of a building is the most dangerous place to be. Windows, facades, and architectural details are often the first parts of the building to break away. If you’re seated and unable to drop to the floor: bend forward, Cover your head with your arms, and Hold On to your neck with both hands.

In bed: Do not get out of bed. Lie face down to protect your vital organs, and Cover your head and neck with a pillow, keeping your arms as close to your head as possible. Hold On to your head and neck with both hands until shaking stops. You are less likely to be injured by fallen and broken objects by staying where you are.

This new FEMA poster depicts how to appropriately respond to an earthquake in a variety of settings.

In a high-rise: Drop, Cover, and Hold On. Avoid windows and other hazards. Do not use elevators. Do not be surprised if sprinkler systems or fire alarms activate.

In a classroom: Drop, Cover, and Hold On. Laboratories or other settings may require special considerations to ensure safety. Students should also be taught what to do at home or other locations.

In a store: Drop, Cover, and Hold On. Getting next to a shopping cart, beneath clothing racks, or within the first level of warehouse racks may provide extra protection. For more details, download a simple PDF fact sheet about Earthquake Safety in Stores.

Outdoors: Move to a clear area if you can safely do so. Avoid power lines, trees, signs, buildings, vehicles, and other hazards. Then, Drop, Cover, and Hold On. This protects you from any objects that may be thrown from the side, even if nothing is directly above you.

Driving: Pull over to the side of the road, stop, and set the parking brake. Avoid overpasses, bridges, power lines, signs and other hazards. Stay inside the vehicle until the shaking stops, then proceed carefully by avoiding fallen debris, cracked or shifted pavement, and emergency vehicles. If a power line falls on the car, stay inside until a trained person removes the wire.

In a stadium or theater: Drop to the ground in front of your seat or lean over as much as possible, then Cover your head with your arms (as best as possible), and Hold On to your neck with both hands until the shaking stops. Then walk out slowly, watching for anything that could fall during aftershocks.

Near the shore: Follow the instructions above for your particular location. Then as soon as shaking reduces such that you are able to stand, walk quickly to high ground or inland, as a tsunami may arrive soon. Don’t wait for officials to issue a warning. Walk, rather than drive, to avoid traffic, debris, and other hazards.

Below a dam: Follow the instructions above for your particular location. Dams can fail during a major earthquake. Catastrophic failure is unlikely, but if you live downstream from a dam, you should know flood-zone information and have prepared an evacuation plan for getting to high ground.


Additional Resources

Earthquake Safety Video Series: Simple videos demonstrating what to do to protect yourself in various situations (near a table, no table nearby, in a theater/auditorium, at the shore, and more to come).

Animated GIFs: Click each to open larger version or right-click (mac: command-click) to download and share via social media!

Earthquake Safety GIF Shelter Earthquake Safety GIF No Shelter
Earthquake Safety GIF Stadium Earthquake Safety GIF No Tsunami
Earthquake Safety GIF Car Earthquake Safety GIF Bed
Earthquake Safety GIF Walker Earthquake Safety GIF Wheelchair
Earthquake Safety GIF Cane

Recommended Earthquake Safety Actions (including situations when you cannot get beneath a table) (PDF | RTF)

Key Earthquake Safety Tips for People with Disabilities and Other Access or Functional Needs (2 pages) (PDF | RTF)

Earthquake Preparedness Guide for People with Disabilities and Other Access or Functional Needs (8 pages)

Recommended Earthquake Safety Actions For Parents and Care Providers of Young Children and Infants (PDF)


Practice Makes Perfect!

Thoroughly review this information, consider what to do in your home or workplace, and practice. It is through practicing Drop, Cover, and Hold On that we build “muscle memory” to help us respond correctly when the shaking starts. An excellent way to practice how to survive an earthquake is to participate in Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills when you can rehearse quake-safe actions with millions of others. It takes 1 minute to practice and is free! Learn more at