Drop, Cover, and Hold On

earthquake news alert GIF for drop, cover, and hold on
A perfect example of dropping, covering, and holding on.

How to Execute an Earthquake Drill

Your house is ready, and you’re prepared to survive the aftermath of an earthquake with your kit, but what about the earthquake itself? Are there steps you can take to prevent injury during the event? Yes, and here they are:

The most common injuries during an earthquake are from people trying to move through the shaking ground, falling items, and collapsing walls. Just like fire drills, tornado drills, or duck-and-cover drills, there are drills you can practice to keep you safe during an earthquake.

You’ve heard of “Stop, Drop, and Roll.” Now get ready for “Drop, Cover, and Hold On.”

Step 1: Drop

how to "drop" in "drop, cover, and hold on"

The second you feel shaking, hit the ground. Falling is one of the leading causes of injury during an earthquake, so drop to your hands and knees to lower your center of gravity. From there, you’ll be able to move to find cover without risking injury.

Step 2: Cover

how to "cover" in "drop, cover, and hold on"

You think an earthquake will ruin your day? Having a light fixture or bookcase fall on your head won’t make it much better. Step two is to find cover. Stay on your hands and knees and crawl underneath something sturdy like a table or desk. Try to keep at least one hand covering the back of your neck and head in case something falls on you while you’re moving. If there’s no cover around you, stay against an interior wall and avoid windows.

Once you’re in a safe spot, get as low as you can. Tuck your knees under your belly to protect your vital organs and keep your head low to the ground. Keep your arms over the back of your neck and head to prevent injury from falling debris.

Step 3: Hold On

how to "hold" in "drop, cover, and hold on"

The final step of the drill is “Hold On.” This means two things. First, it means you should stay under your chosen cover until the shaking stops. Don’t try to move around.

Second, it means to literally hold on to your cover. Things move around during an earthquake, which could include your chosen table or desk. If your cover starts to shift, you can hold it in place or move with it if you can’t keep it stable. Hold on with one hand while the other protects your head and neck.

Keep holding on even after the initial shaking stops. There could be aftershocks.

Differently Abled People

Some people might not be able to drop to their hands and knees or crawl around to find cover, and if they tried, they might injure themselves. For people who use walkers or wheelchairs, the drill becomes “Lock, Cover, and Hold On.” Lock your wheels, hunch over, and cover the back of your head and neck with your arms. Stay there until the shaking stops.

What NOT to Do

Any good “to-do” list should be accompanied by an equal and opposite “don’t-do” list. There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to what to do during an earthquake. Here are some things to avoid:

  • Don’t stand in a doorway – Most doorways are no stronger than the rest of the house. Plus, you’ll be standing, which goes against every step of the drill. You’re safer under a table.
  • Don’t move – Don’t go outside. Don’t move between rooms. Just don’t move. Moving increases your chances of falling down and getting injured. Find cover and stay there until the earthquake is over.
  • Don’t trust the “Triangle of Life” – The “Triangle of Life” is a misguided earthquake tip that says you should hide next to table legs, for example, to form a triangle with the legs as the upper point. The legs will be able to support more weight, so if something heavy falls, you’ll be better protected, right? WRONG! You’re really just sitting beside the table, which leaves you unprotected. Get all the way under the table.
Rule of Thumb

If there’s truly nowhere to go under a piece of furniture, taking cover next to a large piece of furniture is the next best option. Make sure your arms and hands continually cover the back of your neck and head. You can recover from broken hands and arms, or even live without them, but spinal and head injuries are much more likely to be fatal.

Running Drills

Practice “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” drills with your family so they understand what to do if an earthquake strikes. Be sure to include your kids. No one is supposed to move during an earthquake, so you might not be able to get to your children to help them. It’s important that they can act quickly and independently in case of an emergency. Talk to them about earthquakes. You don’t want to scare them, but they need to realize the importance of staying safe.

When you run drills, practice what to do after a severe earthquake as well. Most earthquakes don’t cause serious damage and won’t even shift the glass in your cabinets, but it’s a good idea to go through the motions of checking all of your shut off locations during drills to make sure you have the muscle memory in the event of a real disaster. Make sure your family knows where your emergency kit is, and that it’s only for emergencies. The flashlights won’t be useful if all the batteries have been pilfered for toys!

Earthquakes don’t have a season, so stay prepared all year long by running drills and maintaining your kits. Stay calm during the quake and you’ll remember exactly what to do.

About the Authors

It takes a village! We are researching, writing and fact checking as a family. Collaboration is the name of the game, whether we’re running from a zombie horde or finding the best way to turn a complex concept into a deliciously digestible set of bullet points.

Professional worrier. Mom, entrepreneur. Lifetime student of brain science. Passionate about surviving what's coming (climate change, wtf) and staying as sane as possible. Determined to make the best of the end of the world.