Penn State Environmental Health and Safety: earthquake safety

August 25, 2011

Shockwaves from the Aug. 23 earthquake surprised most Penn Staters and left many uncertain about what to do in the event of an earthquake, an event that most Pennsylvania residents have not experienced.

While the earthquake, which originated in Virginia, was unexpected in this part of the country, the same tips for safety apply wherever you may be, according to Maurine Claver, director of Penn State's office of Environmental Health and Safety.

-- Indoors? Get under a heavy desk or table, well away from windows or glass panels.
-- Stay inside until the shaking stops.
-- Aftershocks could cause objects to fall off shelves – beware.
-- Outdoors? Move away from buildings and stay in the open until the earthquake subsides.
-- Avoid areas that have sustained damage.

There are more tips for what to do before and after an earthquake available on Penn State's Emergency Management website at or at the Federal Emergency Management Agency site at

The 5.8-magnitude earthquake rattled the East Coast. Though the epicenter was in Virginia, tremors from the quake were felt as far north as Toronto and as far west as Flint, Mich.

The quake itself wasn’t unusual – in the central Virginia seismic zone, quakes have been recorded since at least the 1700s -- but its strength was. According to Kevin Furlong, professor of geosciences at Penn State, the tremor was felt over a wide area because the shallow quake created long wavelengths. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated the depth at about three miles.

While earthquakes of this magnitude are common on the West Coast, occurring about once every five years, they occur once every 50 to 100 years on the East Coast.

Last Updated September 07, 2011