An earthquake is a sudden, rapid shaking of the earth caused by the breaking and shifting of rock beneath the earth's surface. Earthquakes strike without warning and can occur at any time of the year, day or night.

Virginia is one of forty-­five states and territories in the United States at moderate to very high risk of earthquakes.

Get your home ready for earthquakes:

  • Secure tall furniture to the wall. Keep large or heavy objects on low shelves.

  • Store breakable items in lower cabinets with doors and latches.

  • Inspect and repair electrical wiring and gas connections; these can be potential fire hazards during an earthquake.

  • Secure your water heater by strapping it to wall studs and bolting it to the floor.

  • Check your home or building for structural defects and repair cracks in your ceiling and foundation.

  • Keep toxic and flammable items securely stored in cabinets with doors and latches.

  • Identify safe places in your home or office where you will ride out an earthquake. The best protection is under heavy furniture where you are protected from falling debris.

  • Learn how to turn off utilities.


If you are inside when the shaking starts:

  • Drop to the ground, take cover and hold on. Move as little as possible.

  • The best protection is to get under heavy furniture, such as a desk, table or bench.

    • Doorways are no stronger than any other part of the structure.

  • Stay away from windows to avoid being injured by shattered glass.

  • Stay indoors until the shaking stops and you are sure it is safe to exit.

    • If you must leave the building after the shaking stops, use stairs - not an elevator - in case there are aftershocks, power outages or other damage.

  • Be aware that fire alarms and sprinkler systems frequently go off in buildings during an earthquake, even if there is no fire.

If you are outside when the shaking starts:

  • Find a clear spot and drop to the ground until the shaking stops.

    • The greatest danger is due to falling debris – stay away from buildings, road overpasses, power lines, trees and streetlights.

  • If you are in a vehicle, pull over to a clear location and stop.

    • Avoid bridges, overpasses and power lines if possible.

    • Stay inside with your seatbelt fastened until the shaking stops.

    • Then, drive carefully, avoiding bridges and ramps that may have been damaged.

  • If a power line falls on your vehicle, do not get out. Contact and wait for emergency assistance.

  • If you are in a mountainous area or near unstable slopes or cliffs, be alert for falling rocks and other debris. Landslides are often triggered by earthquakes.


Smaller quakes (and sometimes larger ones) can often follow hours or days after the initial shake, causing further damage to weakened buildings and structures.

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