Muscle Memory

June 2, 2014 in

Last week a 6.9 magnitude earthquake shook northern Greece and Western Turkey. The quake caused 266 injuries--mostly resulting from people rushing out of buildings. So, we're going to get up on our soap box (or under it, should the earth move) and remind everyone what to do during an earthquake.


people sheltering under desk


Quake Basics

  1. Fight the urge to run (and that includes running to get in a doorway!).
  2. Try to get next to an interior wall, away from windows, and drop (think: I'm not going to run any where because that's how I can get hit by flying objects or get knocked over).
  3. Make yourself as small as possible (think: I need to curl up into a ball to protect my vital organs).
  4. Hold on your head (think: I need to protect my head from getting hit by falling objects).
  5. If you are close to table, or something akin, get under it and hold on to a leg (but only if you are close to one; if you have to move a ways to even get to a table you're safer to drop where you and hold your head/neck).
cover your head cartoon


If you or someone you know has an access and/or functional need, learn more about what to do during an earthquake here

Practice, Practice, Practice!

As we just saw in Turkey, many of us have an instinctual urge to run out of a structure during an earthquake. To fight this knee-jerk reaction, we need to practice the safest thing to do during an earthquake, which is to drop, cover and hold on. And by practicing, we create muscle memory: meaning, actually going through the motions in drills can teach your body to know exactly what to do in that moment when you feel the earth move.

Want to practice drop, cover, and hold? It's really easy to do: pretend you are experiencing  an earthquake, and get under a desk or table and hold on to a leg.  If you aren't close to anything you can get under, drop to the ground and make yourself as small as possible.  Cover your head and neck with your arms all the while thinking about trying to protect your head and vital organs as you curl into as small of a target as possible. Want to see exactly how to do it? See this video demo:


Doorways aren't your friend in an earthquake, especially in modern houses and buildings. That old myth comes from the time when homes were made out of things like reinforced adobe, and the doorways were actually the strongest parts of the building. These days, doorways are no stronger than any other part of the house, and you have no way to protect yourself from flying or falling objects. And while you are trying to get to said doorway is when you are most vulnerable to injury.

You might've heard of the "triangle of life" method, or finding shelter in the void space next to a larger object in an earthquake. DO NOT to follow the triangle of life advice, mostly because the greatest danger during an earthquake is from falling objects, and in a really big quake, you might not actually be able to run or crawl to find a "triangle of life" zone. Learn more about why the triangle of life is not safe.

For more myths, check out Southern California Earthquake Center's Earthquake Myths.

Getting the 4-1-1 After the Earthquake (or any Emergency)

In an emergency, don't call out on your phone, but if you have access, use text, Facebook, and/or Twitter to share your status and what's happening around you. Use the hashtag #SF72 in your post, which helps the city to be aware of and respond to the situation at hand. Follow @SF_emergency on Twitter to find out (and share) the latest updates.  We'll also let you know what's happening via our SF72 Crisis Map.

Become an Earthquake Preparedness Guru

Programs like the Fire Department’s Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (SF NERT) provides free training that will allow you take care of yourself, your family, and your neighborhood in the next disaster.

Spread the Word

Share this information with your loved ones and go to to learn how to be prepared for just about any emergency. And remember, you are more prepared than you think!