Earthquake, Landslide, & Sinkhole Preparedness


Earthquakes can and do occur in Virginia. Virginia has a moderate earthquake risk, which is similar to most other states on the eastern seaboard and their intensity may be small compared to west coast states, but Virginians still need to be aware of this hazard and prepare their families.

Safety Tips

No matter where you are, there are steps you can take to protect yourself during an earthquake.


  1. Remain indoors.
  2. Get under a desk or table or stand in a corner.
  3. In a high-rise building: Stay away from windows and outside walls. Get under a table. Do not use elevators.


  1. Go to an open area away from trees, buildings, walls and power lines.
  2. When driving pull over to the side of the road and stop. Avoid overpasses and power lines. Stay inside your car until the shaking is over.
  3. In a crowded public place: Do not rush for the doors. Crouch and cover your head and neck with your hands and arms.
  4. Stay indoors until the shaking stops and you are sure it is safe to exit.
  5. If you are in a mountainous area or near unstable slopes or cliffs, be alert for falling rocks and other debris. Landslides are often triggered by earthquakes.

After the Earthquake

  • Expect aftershocks. Aftershocks frequently occur minutes, days, weeks and even months following an earthquake.
  • Get everyone outside if your building is unsafe. Exit via the stairs. Aftershocks following earthquakes can cause further damage to unstable buildings.
  • Be aware that fire alarms and sprinkler systems frequently go off in buildings during an earthquake, even if there is no fire. Check for and extinguish small fires. Exit via the stairs if there is fire. Fire is the most common hazard following earthquakes.
  • Clean up spilled chemicals, gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately.
  • Open closet and cabinet doors cautiously. Contents could have shifted during the shaking and could fall, creating further damage or injury.
  • Check the telephones. Cellular telephone equipment is subject to damage by earthquakes and cell phones might not be able to get a signal, but land line phones might work.


Landslides are Virginia's most widespread geologic hazard; they are most likely in areas of steep slope, but can occur even on fairly gentle slopes if conditions are right. Landslides commonly occur in association with heavy rainfall or large magnitude earthquakes. Certain man-made changes to the land, such as slope modification or drainage alteration, can increase the likelihood of landslides.

Safety Tips

If you are in an area that is susceptible to landslides, you should:
  • Stay tuned to your local radio and television stations for warnings of heavy rainfall. Be aware that short bursts of heavy rain might be particularly dangerous, especially after longer periods of heavy rain and damp weather.
  • Listen for any unusual sounds that might indicate moving debris, such as trees cracking or boulders knocking together. A trickle of flowing or falling mud or debris might precede a large landslide. Moving debris can flow quickly and sometimes without warning.
  • Be alert for any sudden increase or decrease in water flow and for a change from clear to muddy water. Be prepared to move quickly.
  • If you learn or suspect that a landslide is occurring or about to occur in your area, dial 911.
  • Inform others nearby. They might not be aware of the potential hazard.
  • Leave, getting out of the path of a landslide or debris flow is your best protection.

After a Landslide

  • Stay away from the slide area. There might be danger of additional slides.
  • Check for injured and trapped persons and animals near the slide, without entering the area. Direct rescuers to their locations.
  • Help people who require special assistance - infants, elderly people, people with disabilities.
  • Check your building, foundation and surrounding land for damage.


Sinkholes form in areas with soluble rock such as limestone, dolomite or gypsum. They are basin-like, funnel-shaped or vertical-sided depressions in the land surface. A sinkhole can be the result of natural (the collapse of a cave) or man-made (mining) activity. Where sinkholes and caves have formed, streams might sink into the ground. Stay away from sinkholes as they can "swallow-up" people and possessions as they continue to expand.

Shoreline Erosion

Shorelines along Virginia's rivers and coasts are especially desirable building sites for homes and associated community businesses. These areas should be monitored for shoreline erosion. Shoreline erosion is accentuated by heavy rainfall and the increased wave activity associated with severe storms, such as tropical storms and hurricanes.

During severe storms, damage to structures might not be limited to flooding, but also might involve shoreline erosion from rising floodwaters or storm surges that result in the undermining and destruction of homes, businesses, roadways, bridges and utility lines. Scour, caused by storm water undermining bridge supports and foundations, is the number one destroyer of bridges. Bridge scour might compromise access by highway and rail service. Coastal residents with shoreline must take proactive measures to protect their lives and property form erosion.