While the 2014 Great NorthEast ShakeOut earthquake drill on 10/16/2014 has passed, check out the Shakeout website and register now for the 2015 event on 10/15/15 by visiting www.shakeout.org


Most people living in New England probably think of places like California or Japan when they hear the word "earthquake." While Californians have learned to expect earthquakes, residents of New England typically consider the ground beneath their feet to be "solid as a rock." Nonetheless, the record of earthquake activity in the United States shows that, while the highest level of activity is, of course, in the western part of the country, earthquakes are quite common in many areas of the eastern United States, including New England. Notable examples of earthquakes that caused damage in New England and adjacent areas are: the earthquake off the coast of Cape Ann, MA in 1755; two earthquakes near Ossipee, NH in 1940; and an earthquake near New York City in 1884. (Source: Weston Observatory)

Massachusetts is located in a 'moderate' earthquake zone. Although they cause only mild to insignificant damage, we experience several small tremors every year. Scientists cite the Cape Ann Earthquake of 1755 (with a magnitude of 6.0) as the last major earthquake to cause significant damage in Massachusetts. Considering the age and type of construction of many structures in the area, a repeat of that event today could be expected to cause serious damage to buildings, as well as the infrastructure.

Since these small tremors continue to take place in the Commonwealth, and larger earthquakes are possible, it is important for us to be aware of some simple safety rules if the ground begins to shake.

The rules for remaining safe during an earthquake are quite simple:

Before an Earthquake

  • Understand the Richter Scale of Earthquake Magnitude:
    1. 1.2.0> Micro earthquakes, hardly felt. (Micro)
    2. 2.2.0-2.9 Generally not felt, but recorded. (Very Minor)
    3. 3.3.0-3.9 Often felt, rarely causes damage. (Minor)
    4. 4.4.0-4.9 Noticeable shaking of indoor items, rattling. (Light)
    5. 5.5.0-5.9 Major damage to poor construction over small region, slight damage to well-designed buildings. (Moderate)
    6. 6.6.0-6.9 Can be destructive over 100 miles across. (Strong)
    7. 7.7.0-7.9 Can cause serious damage over larger areas. (Major)
    8. 8.8.0-8.9 Causes serious damage in areas several hundred miles across. (Great)
    9. 9.0< Devastating in areas several thousand miles across. (Rare Great)
  • Check for hazards in your home.
  • Place large or heavy objects on lower shelves. Fasten shelves to walls.
  • Store bottled foods, glass, china, and other breakables on lower shelves or in cabinets that can fasten shut.
  • Secure a water heater by strapping it to the wall studs and bolting it to the floor.
  • Check for and repair pre-existing structural damage, such as cracked foundations. If the foundation is secure and fully intact, bolt the house to it.
  • Store hazardous materials such as pesticides or flammable products in closed cabinets, which are close to the ground.
  • Hang heavy items away from where people sit or sleep.
  • Know where and how to shut off electricity, gas and water at main switches and valves.
  • Develop a Family Communications Plan as well as a plan to reunite after an Earthquake.
  • Review your insurance policies to see what types of damage is covered.

During an Earthquake

Image depicting what to do during an earthquake: Drop to the Floor, Cover yourself by getting under sturdy furniture, and Holding on until the shaking stops

  • If indoors, stay away from windows, china cabinets, bookcases and other top-heavy furniture.
  • If you are in bed, stay there, hold on and protect your head with a pillow. Broken glass on the floor can cause injuries if you try to roll to the floor.
  • Drop, Cover and Hold On. Minimize your movement. Stay indoors until the shaking stops. The safest places are under a heavy table, desk, bed, supported archway or against an inside wall.
  • If there is no table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner. Doorways should only be used for shelter if they are in close proximity to you, and you know it is a strongly supported load-bearing doorway.
  • If in a high-rise building, stay away from windows and outside walls. The safest places are under sturdy furniture or next to an inside support column. Do not use the elevator. Be aware that the electricity may go out and the sprinkler system may come on.
  • If you are indoors, do not panic and run outside during the shaking, as bricks and other flying debris could be a greater hazard than that faced indoors.
  • If you become trapped in debris, do not light a match due to possible gas leaks. Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. Shout only as a last resort; shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.
  • If outdoors, get into the open, away from chimneys, signs, streetlights, buildings, trees and powerlines.
  • If in the car, pull to the side of the road and stop the car. Do not park under overpasses or powerlines. Stay in the car until the earthquake is over. If the earthquake is severe, do not attempt to cross bridges or overpasses that could be damaged.

After the earthquake

  • Be prepared to experience a number of aftershocks, some of which could almost be the same magnitude of the initial earthquake. They can occur in the first hours, days, weeks, or even months after the initial quake.
  • Look for and extinguish small fires. Eliminate fire hazards.
  • Check for injuries. Do not attempt to move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of death or further injury.
  • Check all utility lines for breaks inside and outside your home. Do not touch downed powerlines. If there are problems, the main gas valve, electrical circuit or water main should be shut off. Report the problem to the utility.
  • Check your home for cracks and damage. Open closets and cupboards cautiously.
  • Check chimneys for visual damage however have a professional inspect the chimney for internal damage before lighting a fire.
  • Only use the telephone for emergency calls.
  • Take photographs/video of property damage.
  • Stay out of damaged buildings and approach chimneys and other masonry structures with caution.
  • Pets' behaviors may change dramatically after an earthquake. Normally quiets and friendly cats and dogs may become aggressive or defensive. Watch animals closely. Lease dogs and place them in a fenced yard.
  • If you go to a community shelter, remember only seeing-eye dogs and other service animals will be allowed inside. Make plans ahead of time to take your pet to stay at relatives, friends or a kennel outside the affected area. Know pet-friendly hotels and motels.
  • Prepare an emergency kit for your pets; include collars & leashes, a three-day supply of food, bowls, litter boxes, photographs, and a week's supply of medications that your pet may be taking.
  • Make sure your pets wear collars with current license and rabies tags, and identification tags that include information on where you will be staying during the emergency.
  • Use a pet carrier for each of your pets to make transportation easier.