San Mateo County is a beautiful county. But no matter where you live in our county, whether it is the bayside, or coastside, up on the hill, or in the more populated areas of the Peninsula, we all live in earthquake country. Understanding the risks and preparing to survive and recover can help keep you and your family safe.

California is a dynamic place where the forces of nature are continually uplifting, twisting and eroding the landscape. Almost everyone in the state lives within 15 miles of an active fault, capable of producing earthquakes as large as the 1989 Loma Prieta or the 1994 Northridge earthquakes. And when a very large earthquake occurs, you don't need to be close to the epicenter for the shaking to affect you. Big earthquakes many miles away can cause damage and disrupt the life of your community. Coastal areas are also at risk of tsunamis, generated from either earthquakes on local faults or across the Pacific.

Life After a Big Quake

These earthquakes will disrupt services like electricity, water and sewer, and may limit access in and out of the Bay Area. Fire and police departments will be dealing with the most serious situations and may be unable to respond quickly to issues in your community. Government assistance may not be available or may not be enough to replace your damaged belongings or repair your home. Good news: Taking steps now will give you confidence that you and your family are prepared to stay safe where the earth shakes.

You’re Already Getting Started Now by Reading this Page!

The Seven Steps to Earthquake Safety on this page give you basic guidelines for what to do before, during, and after a damaging earthquake. You can also visit for more tips on how to apply these steps to your family's unique needs.

What To Do When the Earth Shakes


You can reduce your chance of injury if you:

  • Drop down onto your hands and knees
  • Cover your head and neck with your hands and arms and take shelter under a sturdy table or desk if possible.
  • Hold on to your shelter until the shaking stops.

How would you protect yourself during an earthquake if you are in a car, or at the beach or enjoying a local baseball game? Find out more by reading on.

Staying safe where the earth shakes is more than just what we do DURING an earthquake. We can PREPARE to SURVIVE and RECOVER by following the Seven Steps to Earthquake Safety below.

Step 1: Secure your space

Earthquake shaking can move almost anything, even large or heavy items. Imagine your home being picked up and shaken sideways - what would be thrown around? How can you prevent it? Secure your space by identifying hazards and securing moveable items. Try doing one item from the list below every weekend until you get everything done. Start with what you can do for free. Don't be afraid to ask others for help.

No cost:

  • Move heavy or large items, such as potted plants or large speakers to the floor or low shelves.
  • Move things that can fall on you away from anywhere you spend a lot of time (bed, couch, desk, etc).
  • Move heavy unstable objects away from doors and escape routes.

Low cost (many of these items are available at your local hardware store):

  • Secure water heater to the wall studs with two metal straps. (Average cost $20)
  • Secure (or brace) electronic items such as computers and TVs with straps. (Average cost $15)
  • Hang mirrors and pictures on closed hooks. (Average cost $2 per hook)
  • Secure top-heavy furniture and appliances to wall studs. (Average cost $12)
  • Secure small items on shelves with museum wax.
  • (Average cost for tub of wax $10)
  • Install latches on kitchen cabinets.
  • (Average cost $8)

Consider asking for help:

  • Use flexible connections where gas lines meet appliances.
  • Secure overhead light fixtures.
  • Secure free-standing wood stoves or fireplace inserts.
Step 2: Plan to be safe

Plan to be safe by creating a disaster plan and deciding how you will communicate in an emergency. Before the next earthquake, get together with your family or housemates to plan now what each person will do before, during and after an earthquake.

Suggestions for your plan:

  • Learn and practice "Drop, Cover, and Hold On"
  • (see Step 5).
  • Identify safe spots in every room you can easily reach in just a few steps, such as under sturdy desks or tables.
  • Keep flashlights and extra batteries in several places.
  • Store a fire extinguisher where you can easily get to it or attach it to a wall. Everyone in your family should know how to use one.
  • Place a sturdy pair of shoes and a flashlight in a
  • bag and tie it to one of your bed legs. This makes it easy to find shoes so you don't cut your feet on broken glass, one of the most common earthquake injuries.
  • Take a first aid and CPR training course and download a first aid app to your smart phone.
  • If you are a person with a disability or need extra help, work with your personal support network to make them part of your plan. Visit
  • Find out if you live, work or play in a tsunami zone and make sure everyone knows how to get to higher ground if necessary. To see if you are at risk for
  • tsunami, earthquake, fire and flood hazards, visit

Communicate with your family and neighbors:

  • Choose a place nearby where everyone can meet if your home is not accessible.
  • Provide all family members with a list of important contact numbers.
  • Choose someone who lives out of the area who everyone can text or call to tell them how and where you are. Long distance phone lines are restored before local ones.
  • Know who has a land line phone that doesn't require power.
  • Learn how to use a NOAA Weather Radio with the Public Alert feature to get information on tsunamis or other hazards.
  • Make sure everyone knows the location of the electrical circuit breaker and gas shut off valve. Tie a wrench near the gas turn off. Only turn off the gas if you smell or hear leaking gas or see the meter turning quickly. If you turn it off, you'll have to wait for the gas company to turn it back on. Ask your neighbors for permission to shut off their gas and power, if necessary, and give them permission to shut off yours. or more about how to plan to be safe, go to
Step 3: Organize disaster supplies

Organize disaster supplies in a few convenient locations - your HOME, CAR, SCHOOL and at WORK. Routes away from home may be blocked, and help may not get to you for a while. THINK ABOUT WHAT YOUR FAMILY WILL NEED IF YOU HAVE TO SHELTER AT HOME FOR UP TO THREE WEEKS. In a big earthquake, utilities may not be available for an extended period of time.

Make a "grab-and-go" backpack with things you may need in an evacuation AND organize supplies for staying in your home for an extended period of time.

  • Keep an EMERGENCY BACKPACK near the door to "grab-and-go" in case you can't stay in your home. This is especially important if you live or work in a tsunami zone. Place copies of important documents/cash in a plastic bag in the backpack. Include medication and extra glasses that anyone in your family may need. Other items: water, snacks, baby formula, cell phone chargers, etc.
  • Store EMERGENCY SUPPLIES in a dry area at home including food and water for your family and pets, clothing, blankets, work gloves, tools, personal care items and anything you will need on a daily basis.
  • STORE WATER for everyone in your family. The recommended amount is one gallon per person or pet per day for at least three days and ideally up to two weeks (even longer if you live in desert or remote areas).
  • Create a KIT FOR YOUR PETS that includes dry pet food and any medications they might need. Keep a photo of you with your pet in the kit in case your pet gets lost. Consider implanting an ID "chip" so that your pet can be linked back to you even if you are separated.
  • Buy a NOAA WEATHER RADIO with the Public Alert feature.

For more ideas on what to include in your disaster supplies, visit

Step 4: Minimize financial hardship

Step 4: Minimize financial hardship.

Earthquakes may last only seconds but they can shake up our lives for weeks and months to come. You can minimize your financial hardship by organizing important documents, strengthening your property and considering earthquake insurance.

Do you own a home?

The latest recommendations for what you can do to strengthen your home are available at and here and here

  • Does your home have enough bolts connecting the "sill plate" to the foundation?
  • Are there large openings in the walls of the lower story, such as a garage door, that should be better braced?
Illustration of house foundation with sill plate

Source: USGS

Homes with a crawl space should have panels of plywood connecting the studs of the short "cripple" walls. Doing some work on your home now may reduce earthquake damage and financial hardship when the next earthquake hits!

Do you rent?

If you are a renter, ask your landlord about the safety of your building and encourage any needed updates or repairs. Have a look here to guide your conversation:

More ways to protect yourself financially:

  • Renters and homeowners can protect themselves with earthquake insurance. Without earthquake insurance, you will be responsible for all costs to repair or rebuild your home and replace your personal property. Residential policies do not cover earthquake damage. For more information, contact your insurance agent or go to
  • If you live in a tsunami zone, consider FEMA flood insurance. Homeowner's policies do not cover damage caused by flood or tsunami.
  • Prepare a "grab-and-go" backpack where you keep important documents in a sealed plastic bag, things like:
    • Copies of identification
    • Copies of insurance cards
    • List of emergency contact numbers
    • Photos of belongings in your home. This will help you file an insurance claim.

To learn more, go to

Step 5: Drop, Cover, and Hold On

When the earth shakes: DROP, COVER, and HOLD ON! The farther you move while the ground is shaking, the more likely you are to be hurt.

In most situations:

  • DROP down onto your hands and knees (before the earthquake knocks you down). This position protects you from falling but allows you to still move if necessary.
  • COVER your head and neck (and your entire body if possible) under a sturdy table or desk. If there is no shelter nearby, only then should you get down near an interior wall (or next to low-lying furniture that won't fall on you) and cover your head and neck with your arms and hands.
  • HOLD ON to your shelter (or to your head and neck) until the shaking stops. Be prepared to move with your shelter if the shaking shifts it around.
  • If you are IN BED, stay in bed, and cover your head with a pillow. People get injured when they get up and move around.
  • If you are OUTSIDE, first drop then crawl towards open space if you can - stay away from building exteriors, overhead power lines and trees.
  • If you are unable to DROP, brace yourself and protect your head and neck. In a wheelchair, set the brake and protect your head.
  • If you’re NEAR THE SHORE, and feel a strong or long-lasting earthquake, or the water suddenly draws back from the beach, tsunami waves may arrive within minutes. As soon as it is safe to move, go immediately to higher ground or inland away from the coast.
Step 6: Improve Safety

Right after an earthquake, you can improve safety by evacuating if necessary, helping the injured and preventing further damage.

When should I evacuate?

If you are near a large body of water (the ocean or the bay), move to higher ground as soon as you can safely move. Tsunami waves (on the bayside, these waves are known as a Seiche) can arrive within minutes.

    • Go on foot. Roads and bridges may be damaged.
    • If evacuation is impossible, go to the third or higher floor of a sturdy building or climb a tree. This should only be used as a last resort.
    • Stay away from the coast until officials tell you it is safe to return. The danger may last for days.
  • If you are not in a tsunami zone, evacuate your home or office only if there is damage to the building. You will be safest at home, even if the power is out.
  • If you need to evacuate to a shelter, take your "grab­and-go" bag (Step 3). Shelters have limited space.

Help the injured:

  • If a person is bleeding, put direct pressure on the wound.
  • Do not move any seriously injured person unless they are in danger of further injury.
  • Keep them warm to prevent shock.
  • If you can, call 9-1-1.
  • Right now you can consider downloading the American Red Cross First Aid app  It contains first aid tips that could help you save a life.

Prevent further damage:

  • Be prepared for aftershocks. Stay away from anything that looks like it may fall.
  • Large fires are a sign to evacuate. If you have a fire extinguisher handy, put out small fires.
  • Unplug appliances and electronics. When the power comes back, damaged appliances and electronics could start a fire.
  • Shut off the gas only if you smell or hear a gas leak or see the meter spinning quickly. Only the gas company can turn the gas back on, so shut it off only if necessary.
  • Do not use candles or matches. You could start a fire and there may also be gas leaks. Use your flashlights.

Let people know:

  • Register on the Red Cross "Safe and Well" website so people will know you are okay:
  • Phone service may be out. When possible, text or call your out-of-area contact and tell them where you are.
  • On Facebook, you can ask if someone else is safe during a disaster:
    • Go to Crisis Response and select a Crisis page
    • On the Crisis page, click Safety Check.
    • Under Friends in the area, you’ll see a list of your friends who are Marked Safe and a list of your friends who are Not Marked Safe Yet. Use the search bar to search for a friend using their name, but keep in mind that you can only as people you’re friends with on Facebook if they’re safe.
    • Click Ask If Safe next to the person’s name.
    • Once you ask if a friend is safe, they’ll receive a notification and be able to mark themselves safe.
  • THEN STAY OFF THE PHONE. This will allow calls to be made for emergencies.

Stay informed:

For more on how to improve your safety and the safety of others, go to:


Step 7: Reconnect and restore

In the days and weeks that follow, restore daily life by reconnecting with others, repairing damage, and rebuilding community. You, your family, friends and neighbors can come together to start the process of recovery.

The first days after an earthquake:

  • Do not enter your home until you know it's safe.
  • Check for gas leaks, chemical spills, damaged electrical wiring and broken water pipes.
  • Monitor local radio or television reports about where to get emergency housing, food, fust aid, clothing and financial assistance.
  • Check on your neighbors, especially seniors or the disabled.
  • Use your refrigerated and frozen food first and save the canned goods for later.
  • Take pictures of damage to your property and home.
  • Contact your insurance agent or company right away to begin your claims process. Keep records of any repair or cleaning costs.

The first weeks after the earthquake:

  • If your gas was turned off, contact the gas company to turn it back on.
  • If the electricity went off and then came back on, check your appliances or electronic equipment for damage.
  • Contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), or other federal and state agencies to find out about financial assistance for your home, apartment, farm or business.
  • If you need repairs to your home, check with the Contractors State Licensing Board to ensure your contractor is fully licensed in California. Fraud is common following a disaster. Visit
  • Talk with your family about how they are feeling. Children and older adults are of special concern in the aftermath of disasters. Contact local faith-based organizations, voluntary agencies, or professionals for counseling.
  • Reach out to neighborhood or community organizations and get involved. Your voice is important in deciding how your community will rebuild in the years to come.

For more about how to reconnect and restore, go to:

Tsunami Safety

Going to the beach is one of the best things about living in San Mateo County. But anytime you are near the beach, harbor or bay, you are at risk for a tsunami.

What is a tsunami?

A tsunami is a series of water surges or waves usually caused by an earthquake beneath the

sea floor.

What areas are at risk?

Beaches, harbors, bays, and river mouths are at greatest risk. Know your tsunami zone by going to:  If you are in a tsunami zone of close to the coast, you may need to evacuate to higher ground immediately after an earthquake.

What should I do to survive a tsunami?

  • If you are in a tsunami zone and feel an earthquake, MOVE INLAND or to HIGHER GROUND as soon as it is safe to move.
  • COUNT how long the shaking lasts. It's the length of shaking that is important - not how strong it is. The longer the earthquake lasts, the more likely it is that a tsunami was generated.
  • GO ON FOOT. Roads and bridges may be damaged and coastal roadways will be gridlocked. If you cannot leave the area, go to the upper floor of a building or climb a tree - but only as a last resort.
  • TSUNAMIS ARE TRICKY. The first surges of a tsunami are almost never the largest. It is not unusual for tsunami surges to last 12 hours or longer. Just when you think the danger is over, another damaging wave may arrive. DO NOT CO BACK TO THE COAST until officials allow you to return.
  • PRACTICE YOUR EVACUATION ROUTE ahead of time with everyone in your family. Every minute counts.

Two ways to know if a tsunami is coming:

  1. Natural warnings - these include the ground shaking, a loud ocean roar, or the ocean going out unusually far so you can see the ocean floor. If you see or hear any of these natural warnings, move inland to higher ground immediately.
  2. Official warnings -you may be notified that a tsunami warning has been issued via SMC Alert, San Mateo County coastal tsunami sirens, TV or radio. Emergency workers may come door-to-door. In some cases there might be outdoor sirens and announcements from airplanes. Follow the instructions of emergency officials.


Tsunami Warning graphic

Where do I go for more information?

In a life-threatening emergency: Call 9-1-1.

If you need help but it's not an immediate emergency or are having trouble getting back on your feet months after the disaster: Call 2-1-1 (where available) or your San Mateo County Health & Human Services agency at (650) 802-7500.

If you are looking for a shelter: Use the Shelter Locator at or on the Red Cross Earthquake Mobile App or call 2-1-1 (where available).

If you can't find a loved one: Check the Facebook Crisis Response site, Red Cross Safe and Well website.

If you are a person with a disability, there are specific resources for you at: call 2-1-1.

To find out if you live/work in (or will visit) a tsunami zone:

For more information, go to:,,,