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Anytime Lesson Plan: Earthquake Preparedness: Thinking Ahead


In this activity, students will identify what objects and places are hazards during an earthquake and learn ways to prepare for an earthquake.


In this activity, students will:

  1. identify what objects and places are hazards during an earthquake,
  2. learn ways to prepare for an earthquake.


  • earthquake preparedness kit content cards (one set per class)
  • student worksheet
  • a few extra minor hazards setup in your classroom


  • hazard: something that might be a source of real or theoretical danger
  • preparedness:  being ready for unpredictable events or situations



  1. Place some small earthquake hazards in the classroom, such as potted plants and picture frames on the wall.
  2. Print images of the preparedness kit contents.
  3. Print one worksheet for each student.


Discuss what students already know about earthquakes.  Ask questions such as:

  • How many of you have felt an earthquake? 
  • Have you ever heard stories of earthquakes?
  • What types of things do you think you would feel (senses and emotions) during an earthquake?
  • If it hasn’t already been discussed, introduce the idea that some earthquakes are minor and can barely be felt, while other earthquakes are intense, with very strong shaking and a lot of resulting damage. 

Other earthquake lessons, like Plotting Earthquakes, Memories of the 1989 Loma Prieta Quake, or What Happens in an Earthquake? make good introductions to earthquake preparedness.  This activity also correlates to the Earthquake exhibit at the Academy, but can easily be done before or after your visit.


  1. Ask students what they think is the direct cause of most earthquake deaths and injuries. Listen to their ideas. After some discussion, tell students that the movement of the ground during an earthquake seldom causes death or injury. Most deaths and injuries are caused by falling debris from damaged buildings.  Anything that can move, fall, or break when the ground starts to shake is an earthquake hazard if it can cause physical or emotional harm.
  2. Come up with a list of potential earthquake hazards.  You can start more generally and then have students point out things around the classroom that might be hazards during an earthquake (bravo if there aren’t many, but make sure to plant a few.)  A partial list could include falling brick from walls and roof decorations, collapsing exterior walls, falling glass from broken windows, falling ceiling plaster and light fixtures, overturned bookcases and other furniture and appliances, falling objects from shelves and walls, broken gas lines and electrical wires, flooding from broken water pipes, downed power lines, damage to bridges, highways, and railroad tracks, fires from spilled gasoline and other chemicals, liquefaction and landslides, water sloshing in pools, and tsunami (in coastal areas).
  3. Discuss what it means to “be prepared” for an earthquake.  Define preparedness.   Do they know of things that they can do to prepare for a big earthquake?
  4. Being prepared by fixing hazards.  Go over your list of things that might fall or break during an earthquake. Add anything more that might be found in their home or classroom.  Point out that some items might be considered earthquake hazards and that one way to be prepared is to make sure these objects won’t fall or break and hurt someone. Brainstorm ways to make the hazards safer in the event of an earthquake (securing things down, special earthquake hooks, latching drawers and cabinet doors). 
  5. Have student choose 3 items from the list.  Instruct them to write why it would be considered a hazard and suggest a way to minimize the hazard.
  6. Being prepared for what to do during an earthquake. Remembering what to do during an earthquake is an important part of preparedness.  Have students review the drop, cover, and hold on procedure. 
  7. Tell students that another way to prepare for an earthquake is to discuss with their family the emergency action plan.  You could assign writing up a plan with their families for homework.
  8. Being prepared for after the earthquake.  In a big earthquake like the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, many problems occur in the hours and days after an earthquake.  Discuss the types of problems that might occur (injuries from fallen objects, damaged buildings, gas and water leaks, fires, damaged electrical lines, spilled hazardous materials, aftershocks).
  9. Make an earthquake preparedness kit
    • Discuss what a disaster preparedness kit is and why it is important to have (you and your family might be without electricity, water, and access to grocery stores for a few days, you may not have access to transportation).   
    • Pass out the images of items that might go into the kit to the class, one pair or group of students.  Have each pair/group decide if the item that they are given is something that should go into a disaster kit or not.  Make sure they have an explanation of why or why not. 
    • Have each pair/group report to the class what they thought about whether their item should be included.  As the class decides if they agree, you can have them fill out their worksheet.  Once all students have presented, you can ask for any extra ideas of items that could go in the kit.
    • You can also have students rank the items from most to least important to include in the kit.
      Items for preparedness kit
      • Water for each family member for at least three days (allow at least 1 gallon per person per day) and purification tablets or chlorine bleach to purify drinking water from other sources
      • Canned and non-perishable food, at least a three-day supply, and a manual can opener
      • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and extra batteries
      • Flashlight and extra batteries
      • First aid kit
      • Fire extinguisher
      • Duct Tape
      • Whistle
      • Adequate supplies of medications that you or family members are taking and extra eyeglasses
      • Wrench to turn off utilities
      • Waterproof, heavy-duty plastic bags for waste disposal
      • Camp stove to cook on outdoors (store fuel out of the reach of children)
      • Small toy or game for comfort
      • Do not include perishable food, large toys, and items needing to be plugged in
      Refer to “Stock Up for Safety” for other ideas of items that can go in the kit.


Once students have finished the worksheets, encourage students to bring it home and share what it means to be prepared with their family.


  • Test students’ knowledge online.  Play “Quake Quiz SF” (http://quakequizsf.org/).  Players are given 6 different locations in which an earthquake might take place and then are asked what they should do in each situation.
  • Connecting to the Earthquake exhibit  If you will be bringing your class to the Academy, you can reinforce both what the experience of an earthquake is like and how to prepare for one in our new earthquake exhibit. 
    • San Francisco Shake Experience: Students can experience what an earthquake actually feels like in the shake experience.  This short simulation will provide students with an opportunity to experience the 1989 Loma Prieta and 1906 San Francisco earthquakes.  The shake experience links nicely to what students learned about how long earthquakes last and the sounds that they might hear during an intense earthquake. Though children 3-6 years old are allowed on the shake table in small chaperoned groups, there are a few things of which to be aware:   (1) though allowed, this experience can be frightening, so make sure to properly prepare your students; (2) for safety's sake, everyone must be able to grip the railing securely; (3) wheelchairs are accommodated in the Shake House exhibit; and (4) children ages 3 years or younger are not permitted in the Shake House.
    • Earthquake preparedness: One section of the exhibition highlights the steps that you can take to prepare for an earthquake. Have students explore this section of the exhibit and report what they learned about the safety steps that they should take before, during, or after an earthquake.


Image credits for preparedness kit content cards:

California Content Standards

Grade 4

Earth Sciences

  • 5a.  Students know some changes in the earth are due to slow processes, such as erosion, and some changes are due to rapid processes, such as landslides, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes.

Health Education

  • 1.5.S.  Identify basic safety guidelines associated with weather-related emergencies and natural disasters (e.g., floods, earthquakes, and tsunamis).
  • 1.6.S.  Identify disaster preparedness procedures at home, at school, and in the community.



There is a 62% probability that at least one earthquake of magnitude 6.7 or greater will occur on a San Francisco Bay region fault before 2032.  The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake measured 6.9 on the moment magnitude scale (Mw), while the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake measured 7.8. The United States Geological Survey has a superb description of many of the possible hazards during and as a consequence of a large earthquake in the Bay Area (http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/2005/15/).

Before doing this lesson with your students, make sure to familiarize yourself with the 6 steps to take to prepare for an earthquake: make a plan, secure your home, get a kit, “drop, cover, hold on”, check for hazards, and stay connected.  The attached files, “Get Quake Ready” and “Stock up for Safety”, and the San Francisco Dept of Emergency Management (http://72hours.org/) website, have a lot of great information on how to prepare for an earthquake. 


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