School Earthquake Preparedness Guide: Activity Checklist and Videos

There are so many information online about disaster preparedness and guides, and let’s face it, most of them are confusing, vague and hard to put into action, especially if this is not your field of expertise. Even if your role is being the Risk Manager in your school, disaster preparedness is not your only job, and it’s hard to juggle the day to day task with the actual disaster preparation.

So in this post, I’m putting together all the things that matters and what you really need to know, so that you can put into action in real world disaster preparedness. This is not a typical post that you've find online, you can rely on the information that I’m going to share with you as this is what I’ve been doing for schools for the last 25 years.

I’ve made this post to be easy to follow, just select the group you belong to and you will find all the information that you need to know that is related to you, so if you are a member of the Search & Rescue Team, just click the Search & Rescue Group and you will find all the information that you need to know. If you are the Incident Commander or the Risk Manager of your school, you can go through the sections one by one, try to focus 1 group each week (bookmark this page and save it some where you can go back again). So let's get started! Here's the outline of what we will cover in this post.


Earthquake Preparedness Plan Overview

When a major earthquake happens during school hours, you and your staff will be facing life and death choices. And depending on how you will response and how prepared you are, your situation can get either worst or better.

And the biggest challenge is that - you will be on your own. Professional rescuers and outside resources will not be able to help you quickly. And the first 60 minutes after a massive earthquake is the most crucial part of your school survival and recovery.

This is a sample overview of your disaster response plan:

Sample of earthquake plan for school

 *Image from School Disaster Preparedness Calculator Report

Step 1: Evacuation and Utility Shut Off. Right after the earthquake, students will evacuate the building to the Assembly Area. While they are evacuating, your Utility/Security Team must shut off all utilities. 

What you need to plan for: Prepare an evacuation route and train your staff exactly on how they will evacuate the students. Will the teacher be the first to come out of the room? How can he make sure that everyone has gone out? How can he know if someone is missing? These little things, if not stated before hand can cause bigger problems. See below on how to choose your layout your evacuation route.

Step 2: Roll Call. Your assembly team will do a roll call in the assembly area.

What you need to plan for: All teachers must give the day's attendance list to the assigned Assembly Team and report if anyone was left in the building. See below on how to build your team. The assembly team is also responsible in looking after the welfare of the students while they are waiting for their parents/guardian to come and pick them up. And you need to consider that there will be delayed in transportation due to road blocks - caused by earthquakes. So your school must be able to give them the basic needs such as water, food and sanitation. See below for the whole school supplies.

Step 3: Team up and Gear up. While the assembly team is doing the roll call, the rest of your emergency team will be gearing up for their assigned roles and start their operations.

What you need to plan for: Who will be doing what, what supplies do they need and how will get their supplies.

Communication is a crucial part of the operation. Staff must know what their roles and what exactly what they will do. Who's going to get the supplies that they need?

The Incident Commander and Group Supervisors will set up their Incident Command Post. The Search & Rescue Group will be gearing up and get ready for their rescue operation - how will they know which location should they go first (this must be included their training). The Medical Operations Group will set up their Triage and First Aid Area, get their supplies and be ready for their operation. The Utility/Security Group must secure the gates. The Family Reunification will team up and organize their list of emergency contact person.

Setting up your Emergency Response Team is one of the most significant parts of your planning. See below on how you should structure your Emergency Response Team. Work with your logistic to come up with a realistic list of supplies that your team needs. See below the list of supplies recommended for your school.

Step 4: Operation. All your staff (what ever their role is) must learn the LifeSavers and the overview of your plan. They need to know who should they contact if they need supplies or if they need to report an incident. Group members must have training to the group functions they belong to, such has members of Search & Rescue Team must have training Light Urban Search & Rescue, Medical Operations Group must have training in Triage and Disaster First Aid and Utility Group must have training in Utility and Fire Control.

Evacuation Route and Locations

Here’s an example of a school map with evacuation route and locations.

  • Assembly/Evacuation Area. Consider a location where it’s near to your emergency supplies, so you don’t have to travel too far when distributing food and water.
  • Medical Operations Area. Consider a location where it’s near to all building, since this is where your Search & Rescue Team will transfer injured victims, you don’t want it to be very far away from classrooms.
  • Family Reunification Area. Ideally this is near to where your school gate is location
  • Incident Command Post. Consider a location that is not too close other areas but is in the middle of all areas. This way, your incident commander can see all operation but is not too near that he will be overwhelmed.

Emergency Response Team Organizational Chart and Responsibilities

Here’s an example of what your Emergency Response Team should look like (download the editable power point version here):

Understanding SEMS/NIMS/ICS for Schools

Emergency Response Team is only part of a big system which called SEMS/NIMS and the IC must have a good understanding of these emergency protocols. In my post about SEMS/NIMS here, I talked about a simple introduction to Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS), National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS).

  • The Operations Group is the “doers” of the Emergency Response Team, these are people in the field.
  • The Planning Group is the “planners”. They create realistic plan that the operations can execute.  They work with Logistics to come up with the list of what the operations will need in the field. You can’t create a plan where there are 18 helicopters that will pick up the kids - that’s not realistic.
  • The Logistics Group is the “getters”. They will get the supplies that planning group have requested, and they have to work with the Finance group to make sure that the cost is within the budget.
  • The Finance Group is the “payers”, they track the money side of everything.

All these groups reports to the Incident Commander. And each school site would have its own Incident Commander (site commander), so these IC’s would report to the School District’s IC - Emergency Operations Center (EOC) which would report to the City’s IC who reports to the County’s IC who reports to the State’s IC, and if the incident was massive, the State’s IC will have to report to the Federal/National Level.

How many members do you need for your Emergency Response Team?

This is an example of an emergency team structure for a school with a population of 900 people. Including Search & Rescue, Medical Operations (First aid and Triage), Utility, Assembly and Family Re-unification Team. (See the ideal ER team structure for your school here)

How to build your school emergency response team?

In summary, you need:

  • Incident Commander (IC). This person is in charge of providing direction and appoints people to positions. He/she directly manage Group Supervisors, the key personnel who are assigned to each group functions.
  • Group Supervisors (GS). There are 5 main group functions in the Emergency Response Team; (1) Medical Operation Group (2) Search and Rescue Group (3) Utility & Security Group (4) Assembly/Evacuation Group (5) Family Reunification Group. Each group will have its Supervisor. This person supervises the team responsible for a specific task and runs the overall work group's action plan. He/she directly supervises the Team Leaders.
  • Team Leaders (TL). Groups can be divided into teams for faster response and easy management. Each team will have 1 Team Leader that acts as the safety officer for its members and directs teams activities. This person reports all activities, needs and accomplishments to its Group Supervisor.
  • Team Member (TM). Each team must include a minimum of 2 members to maximum of 7 members. This person follows the command of the Team Leader.
School Emergency Response Team: Incident Commander and Group Supervisors
School Incident Commander and Group Supervisors
Required emergency supplies for your IC and GCs: Incident Command Post Kit and Triage Package 
Get the ideal quantity of supplies using our School Calculator.
School Emergency Response Team: Search & Rescue Teams

All members of your Search & Rescue Team must have training in Light-Urban Search & Rescue. They must be able to perform search techniques, forcible entry skills, proper methods of removal of trapped and non-trapped victims and using various lifts and carries. When selecting members to your Search & Rescue Team, choose staff who are physically fit and capable of lifting heavy objects/victims. 

Required emergency supplies for your S&R Teams: Team Leader Bag for each S&R Team Leaders and Safety Gear for each S&R Team Members. Get the ideal quantity of supplies using our School Calculator.

School Emergency Response Team: Medical Operations Teams (Triage and First Aid)

All members of your Medical Operations Team must have training in Triage and Disaster First Aid. Unlike the basic first aid skills, Disaster First Aid skills is for a mass causality disaster set up, your team must prioritize on providing treatments and resources to those who need most. 

Required emergency supplies for your Medical Operations Teams: Triage Tags, Triage Tarps and Disaster First Aid Kits. Get the ideal quantity of supplies using our School Calculator.

School Emergency Response Team: Utility & Security Team

Your Utility Team must know where the gas, electric and water meters are and how to shut them off. Immediately, right after an earthquake, the team must turn off all the utilities. This is extremely important, this alone can save your school from more damages like fires due to gas leaks, electrocution due to water and electric damage, and floods.

Required emergency supplies for your Utility Teams: Utility Shut Off tool, Flash lights/Light sticks

Assembly/Evacuation Area Team

Your Assembly Team will consist of the most members in your Emergency Response Team. You can organize your Assembly Team based on the number of classrooms and number of staff members remaining (who are not part of other groups yet). If there is not enough staff to (1 Staff: 1 Classroom), you may combine classes to be watched by one staff member. They will be responsible for the welfare of all the students while waiting for their parents/guardian to pick them.

Required emergency supplies for your Assembly Teams: Water, Food and Sanitation (Toilet)
Get the ideal quantity of supplies using our School Calculator.

Family Reunification Team

This team must have access to the records of all students and guardians emergency contact details.

You may assign 1-2 staff per year level. Consider having a printed list ready in case of power loss and no internet. 

Training & Practice Drill

How to do the proper Drop, Cover, and Hold on Position

During earthquake, people will panic. They will RUN! And they will run from any direction without any plan, this alone will create chaos. It can cause injuries from getting hit by flying derbies and can also cause stampede. And worst is even your staff will panic and get hurt himself, if this happens, he will not be able to help students, thus will create even more problems.

Solution: Train them to do the DROP, COVER, and HOLD ON position. That simple.

The good news is that people panic only because they don't know what to do. If you have trained them what exactly they need to do during an earthquake, you already made your job easier and your response operation will got a lot more smoother.

Drop Cover and Hold On

Drop, Cover, and Hold on position will keep them calm and safe. This position will help them think and plan of what to do next. This also decrease the chance of getting hit from debris. You can download this poster here.

What are the LifeSavers? The 3 Important Skills for ALL your Emergency Response Team Members

While there are specific skills for each task group, there are 3 most important skills that everyone in your team must know, these are the LifeSaves.

These LifeSavers manages the 3 life-threatening conditions;

1) Problems in Breathing
2) Severe Bleeding
3) and Shock

The LifeSavers controls these conditions and delays the shutting down of the system. Your job (whatever your role) you need to make sure that you perform the LifeSavers prior to leaving someone behind or transferring them to the first aid section.

Here's a infographic how to do the LifeSavers. You can also access my free video training here to learn the LifeSavers.

Let’s have some examples on how you can apply LifeSavers in real world emergency:

Scenario #1: You are a teacher with a class of 30 students. There are 3 students who are all unconscious. You don't want leave them behind but you cannot save them all, you need to make a decision. You need to be quick because you need to evacuate the rest of the class. So the best thing that you can do is the lifesavers. Before you leave them, perform the lifesavers. This way, you have improved their condition and give higher survival while they wait for the help to arrive.

Scenario #2: You are a search & rescue member and during your operation, you found a victim who is severely bleeding. DO NOT transfer the victim while they are bleeding. Control the bleeding first, it will only take less than a minute to do this, but it’s a critical moment for the victim’s survival.

What are the supplies you need to perform LifeSavers?

  • To control breathing, you don’t need any supplies since you just need to place the victim in the recovery position.
  • To control bleeding, you will need trauma dressings to cover the wound and triangular bandage to seal the wound for hands-free bleed control. For rescuer’s protection, it’s advisable that you were protective gloves from getting infected with bodily fluids. See the LifeSaver Pack.
  • To control shock, you need to place the victim in the shock position and cover him using a thermal blanket.

Once you have your emergency response team set, it’s time to provide them the skills and the confidence to carry out the plan and their function.

Light Urban Search & Rescue Training For School

Your on-site Search & Rescue team members need to be trained in:

  • Search techniques
  • Forcible entry skills
  • Proper methods of removal of trapped and non-trapped victims
  • Using various lifts and carries
Watch a video below demonstrating how to do Cribbing Rescue from our On-site Disaster Survival Skills for Schools
Get a copy of the book:
Disaster Response Guide for Schools
by Capt. Wayne Bennett

Triage Training

In a large-scale disaster, you may be confronted with an overwhelming number of injured victims.

How will you have to decide who to treat first? What injuries are the most urgent to treat? How will you manage the chaos? This is where Triage comes in. Your Triage Team needs to learn how to manage this seemingly impossible scene by using a system called Triage, is a quick assessment to sort victims and prioritize their treatment during mass casualty incidents.

Disaster First Aid Training

This first aid training is a little different from the basic first aid training, as you will be expecting overwhelming numbers of victims, this training will provide techniques on how to handle many victims when you have limited staff and recourse.


Watch this first aid video excerpt from our Disaster Survival Skills Workshop.

Fire/Utility Control

Your utility team has a very important task, they need to know where the utility meters and how to shut them off. By shutting all utilities, you are preventing further damage to your site. Utility Team Shut Off Tool

The team must also know how to control fire, this is dangerous and certainly not for the untrained. This is why this training is so important. It teaches the basics of fire behavior, fire type and recognition.

Watch this fire extinguisher training video excerpt from our Disaster Response Training

Earthquake Kits For Schools and Emergency Supplies (Content List)

To maximize your school budget, you should purchase supplies in the order of priority.  I highly recommend that you use our Disaster Preparedness Calculator for Schools to get the right number items for your school and emergency response teams.

If you want to gather supplies yourself, here is our minimum recommendations:


Command Post Barricade Tape, Public Information Barricade Tape, Staging Area Barricade Tape, 2-Commander Walkie-Talkies, Bull Horn, FM-Weather-Shortwave Radio with Light, National Incident Management System (NIMS) Guide, Incident Command and Triage Book. Product: Incident Command Post and Triage Package


(Medical, Search & Rescue, Assembly: Vests, Ponchos, Clipboards, Golf Pencils, Light Sticks 12 hr. Product: Incident Command Post and Triage Package*This package also include Triage kit for your Triage team (see Medical Operation Group below)


Triage Tarps and Triage Forms for patient evaluation, body identification, injury assessment with triage instructions. This is included in our Incident Command Post and Triage Package. They should also wear vinyl gloves for their protection but this can come from your First Aid Supplies.


Stretchers, trauma dressings, 4×4 gauze pads, triangular dressings, rolls of gauze, leg splints, arm splints, burn gel, cold packs, sterile water packs, first aid tape, duct tape, emergency thermal blankets, paramedic scissors, tweezers, vinyl gloves, antiseptic wipes, antimicrobial wipes,  band-aids. Product: Disaster First Aid Kit and Stretchers 


Hard hat, goggles, vest, dust masks, leather gloves, knee pads, marker, pry bar, door wedges, 4 in 1 utility shutoff, window hammer, duct tape, search rope, flashlight, light sticks, hazard tape, drinking water. Product: Search & Rescue Team Leader Bag, Rescue Cribbing and LifeSaver Pack


Hard hat, Goggles, Dust Masks, Vest, Gloves and Knee Pads. Product: Individual Safety Gear


Fire Extinguishers and 4-in-1 Utility Gas Shutoff Tool


Drinking water, emergency food pack, and sanitation kit (privacy shelter and porta-potty)


Have 1 Classroom Evacuation Back Pack. Contents: Door wedge/stop, safety vest, light stick, water, thermal blankets, trauma dressings, triangular bandages, antiseptic wipes, vinyl gloves, band-aids, antimicrobial wipes and CPR shield.

Earthquake Hazard Mitigation For Schools

There are 2 types of earthquake hazards, the structural and non-structural.

Structural hazards are the building structure itself. So structural mitigation would need a lot of budget but the good news is if your building (in US) was built after 1994, there's a good chance that you don't need to worry too much about the structural side of your building. Otherwise, you would need to talk to an engineer to help you assess your school. You can also download this PDF from FEMA about Earthquake Safety For Schools.

In this post, we'll only cover the nonstructural hazards, such as furniture, lights, appliance, mechanical equipment, things that are not part of your building structure. Did you know? Did you know that 55% of the injuries during the 1994 North-ridge earthquake were caused by falling furniture or objects? Only 1% of injuries were caused by building damage. This study was made by the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA). This is why mitigation is really important that you this now, I cannot stress out how this alone could save you from all chaos and a lot of stress when the earthquake happens.

What is earthquake hazard mitigation?

The idea of earthquake hazard mitigation is to identify the hazards in your school and try to reduce them. Here are the steps to mitigate your school from earthquake hazards.

1. Move or anchor furniture that are taller than its wide. Start by moving furniture such as bookcases and shelves away from chairs where people sit or spend a lot of time. If this is not possible, like in classroom or libraries, then you would want to anchor them to the wall. Most local home improvement store have straps and anchors for most applications (for chimney, water heater, furniture, TVs, computers etc.) Just ask them about earthquake strapping for furniture. Checkout my post on the steps on how to anchor furniture.

2. Secure and rearrange objects inside your shelves. Move heavy or breakable objects to lower shelves. Use earthquake straps for bookcase and covers to prevent objects from falling. 

3. Use Quake Hold or Museum Wax. Trophies, pottery objects, and lamps are deadly if they fall, so use quake hold or museum wax to seal them to their place, don't worry these won't damage your objects.


4. Cover your windows with safety films. Next, consider covering your windows with safety films, especially any glass that are over 4’x6′ in size. These size windows can shatter and implode into your room causing life-threatening injuries. I would recommend at least 4 mil thick version of the film. This provides excellent strength increases and provides a strong barrier between you and the glass to help protect you from broken glass. 

Question: Some folks asks if they have to film wall mirrors, no need. They won't implode as they are already sealed to the wall, unless they are hanging mirrors which will fall into the next step.

5. Use closed hooks when hanging mirrors and pictures. If you’ve watched earthquake movies, you’ve probably have seen those falling mirrors and wall frames in the scene. Though they might not very dangerous, you wouldn’t still want to break those artworks.

Use close hooks to hang frames and mirrors, this will prevent the frame falling down even when it’s shaking.

By this time, if you’ve started to do these steps, you’ll feel more confident. 

There are more ways to mitigate your school from earthquake hazards, download this checklist that includes a much more items that you can do to get your school earthquake resilient. 

In summary

Earthquake preparation can be a daunting task but it's actually very simple. You just need to know what are damages it can cause to your school and try to reduce these damages. How you can make your school zero-casualty, but if in case something unfortunate happens, you also have a back up plan.

Organize your team, create a planning group to help you structure your Emergency Response Team. Know your staff existing skills, if they have good back ground in first aid then they be best to put in the first aid team. 

Train them for their roles. Check with your local fire department if they have programs where they could train your staff on incident command system, search and rescue, triage, first aid and fire control. I am currently creating an online version of our Disaster Survival Skills Workshop. Email us if your school is interested to register (it will also push me more to get this done asap).

Gather supplies. Use our free disaster preparedness calculator to save you time in listing all the supplies that you need. Budget maybe the biggest concern here, but I recommend getting supplies in priority order, the calculator generates a report and gives you a list based on priority.

Mitigate hazards. Go in each rooms and identify the hazards, what could fall, can you remove them or how can you prevent them from falling. 

Practice Drills. Your school might already be doing earthquake drills. Test your skills, how long will it take for teachers to evacuate all children. Try to do it with some scenarios, if someone was trapped, how long will it take for your team to rescue them.

I hope this helps.