Safe Places (Pockets of Safety During Earthquakes)

We explored looking for possible pockets of safety in locations where everyone goes on a daily basis to attempt to discover viable options for safety for an average person. From the shopping mall, the grocery store, gas station, large convenience stores, major hardware stores and the workplace we’ve visited various locations specifically looking for rapid-fire locations where one might move to for immediate safety and came away with some bright ideas. And while these are our suggestions, they are not necessarily the best suggestions however a place to start and you can add your ideas to these and ascertain what works the best for you.

There is one single rule in regard to all of the following suggestions; remain calm. While the shaking is occurring, place yourself where you will have shelter over your head. When the shaking stops, think of where you are going to go next. Be aware of your surroundings and make a slow, well thought out plan of exit.

The Gas (Petroleum) Station

If an earthquake occurs which is felt strongly, stop the pumping process, remove the gas nozzle from your automobile and replace it in its original holder.  If time permits pay for the gas then, or get into your car and ride out the earthquake, then resume pumping gas or pay the attendant.

Shopping Malls

The greatest safety issue in shopping malls may be human herding. We suggest if you are inside of a store or the central area of the mall, move toward sides of interior walkways or the interior store department walls and wait. This allows time for those who wish to rush outside of the building to do so and when you believe it’s safe leave the structure if you think it’s necessary.

Large Convenience Stores

Stores with high shelving units may be problematic with items flying off of the shelves and falling on you or the shelving units falling over with the contents falling at the same time.  There are areas you can move toward that are away from those shelving units and we suggest you move to them as soon as any earthquake activity commences. But do not run out of the store as human herding or other unknown potential risks could injure you.

Major Hardware Stores

Once again, like large convenience stores you’ll find high shelving, yet the unsecured items on the shelves most likely will be much larger and much heavier, thus providing a greater risk to shoppers during an earthquake.  We suggest you move out of the line of shelving into the intermediate aisle, sit down if necessary and wait for the earthquake to end.

Grocery Stores

There are some areas inside of most grocery stores or markets which are safer and those might be where the bread, potato chips, snack items or other lightweight items area stored. If you’re in the store in an aisle which presents much risk from heavy canned or glass processed foods you may wish to move toward a safer area.

Viewer Suggestion: If the floor is rocking and rolling too much to keep your balance properly, try jogging in place. It works! Your feet can't touch the ground long enough to be affected by its movement, so create your own.  

Exiting Stores – Risky?

Most stores have large plate glass windows in the front, thus trying to exit while an earthquake is in progress is risky due to the potential for broken glass to fall potentially injuring you and most notably your eyes at a time when you would fare best without physical injury.

Home Safety

The one area of homes not often thought to be key in earthquakes are hallways. They often have little to no furniture in them and hopefully not to many photos/pictures on the walls. It’s a good meeting place for everyone in your household during a quake and all you need to do to ride out an earthquake is sit down, place your back against one wall, brace your feet against the one in front of you, place your hands at your sides for balance and wait until the earthquake and possible early aftershocks are concluded, then check for interior damages.

Home Daycare Operations

While most states do not have a specific set of instructions for daycare safety, daycare operators need to make a plan on how they will round up the children, where they’ll take them and make sure they are ready. If you are leaving your child at a daycare make sure you ask the operator what they have planned for earthquake events and if you operate one you may consider the following.

It’s best to practice a defined earthquake drill with the children. This can be accommodated by advising them when you blow a particular whistle they should go to “the hallway or other room” as soon as possible. Have them sit down and suggest they listen for the sights and sounds Mother Nature is making during her best dance ever. Above all else, don’t frighten them by displaying a lack of courage or they will become as frightened as you may be. You may wish to be creative in your drills and make it more like a game and tell them after a genuine earthquake the child who can remember the greatest number of interior sights or sounds from the quake will receive a special prize. Have one special prize set aside for the winner and perhaps coloring books for all of the other kids.

Workplace Safety

Almost every company has a definite plan as to what they expect their employees to do during and after an earthquake.  If you remain unaware, ask your supervisor what you should do and if there is no place in place it might be a good idea to suggest all of you work on developing one. If your employer releases you from work after an earthquake, please listen to your local radio news to ascertain if you need to change your route to get home before you leave your workplace.

Unreinforced Brick Buildings

These buildings present risk of partial or total collapse during an earthquake, thus if you have to enter one, please check for the nearest exit and though not a guarantee of safety normally the hallways inside of these structures are safer during an earthquake as the outer walls tend to fall away. But you must decide what course of action you need to take as we cannot be your eyes and ears at the moment when that decision must be made.

Earthquake Safety Tote Bag

We highly recommend you keep a bag near an exit at home, or possibly in your car that includes a change of clothing, water and prepackaged nutritious snack food items to see you through the first 24 to 48 hours.


I’m certain there may be some situations we haven’t covered yet, but hopefully these will give you a place to start and you can create your own as you go along.  Remember, we’re rootin’ for ya!

Previously Successful Projects

In the realm of successful efforts in earthquake safety one of Petra's middle-of-the-night-muses resulted in SB1567 being signed into law in California in September 2003. This provided five million California renters' equal footing in earthquake safety to homeowners. Health and Safety codes were changed with a new mandate that all water heaters in rental units in California be retrofitted to keep them from falling over during an earthquake thus preventing fire, injury and property damage.

On April 18, 2006 at the 100th Centennial Celebration of the 1906 earthquake something new in earthquake safety was delivered; 10,000 earthquake safety whistle were handed out to the public compliments of the Office of Emergency Services.  This was an idea that was hatched by Petra three years earlier and was adopted by the Country of Japan in 2008, thus urging no less than one-hundred-sixty-million persons to secure an earthquake safety whistle with hope an early rescue might save more lives.

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