Earthquake Preparation for Laboratory Personnel

The following questionnaire/checklist is designed to help Department Chairs, Principal Investigators, Lab Supervisors, and Lab Personnel perform a self-assessment for their areas of responsibility. Use this list of questions to help identify situations that may pose a problem in case of an earthquake.


  • If an earthquake occurred right now, where would you go for protection?
    • Locate safe and danger spots in your area. Decide if you would go under a desk or table, in a safe corner, or out of the lab against a corridor wall.
    • Consider flying glass hazards from windows and glass and falling hazards from light fixtures, books, pictures, and equipment when selecting safe spots.
  • Do you know the evacuation routes from your building?
    • Do not leave the building until the tremors have stopped.
    • For information on evacuation routes from your building contact EH&S Building and Fire Safety Office at 206.616-5530.
  • Is there an emergency assembly point (EAP) for your building, department, or work unit? If so, where is it? Is there an alternate assembly point in case your first emergency assembly point happens to be downwind of a chemical or gas release or otherwise unusable?
    • Check departmental safety and health plan or emergency plan for evacuation routes and EAPs. Guidelines for departmental emergency plans can be found in the third section of the UW Emergency Plan in all Reference Stations.
  • Are gas cylinders well secured in an upright position?
    • Are pressure regulators removed and cylinder caps in place on cylinders that are not in use?
    • Two cylinder straps or chains fastened to the lab wall are recommended for each cylinder.
  • Are chemicals stored properly?
    • Are chemicals recapped and returned to their storage cabinets immediately after use?
    • Are chemical storage cabinets closed and latched?
    • Are chemical storage cabinets secured to prevent tipping or movement?
    • Are chemical storage shelves equipped with lips or restraints to keep chemicals and glassware in place?
    • Are waste chemicals removed regularly?
    • Are chemicals stored in secondary containment trays or tubs?
    • Are non-compatible chemicals stored separately?


  • Are fume hood sashes closed as far as possible to contain spills while still maintaining adequate ventilation rates?

  • Are heavy equipment and furniture that might block exit routes secured? Are exits and aisle ways maintained free and clear of obstructions?

  • Do you have equipment and/or processes that could be damaged or pose a fire or health hazard if power was suddenly lost? What contingencies have been made to provide backup or emergency power to maintain critical system?

  • Are safety system (i.e., fire extinguishers, safety showers, eye washes) accessible and in proper operating condition? Does every one in the lab know how to operate them?

  • Do you have extra spill containment equipment available?

  • Do you have extra food, water, flashlight, radios and batteries available?



Depending on the time and circumstances of the earthquake, you may be asked to stay out of the building for a few minutes to a few days--or indefinitely.

  • Is your short-term evacuation checklist posted near the exit of your lab? This is a check list of essential steps to take before leaving the building. These include, but are not limited to:
    • Turn off gas burners
    • Check quickly for fires, fire hazards, or spilled chemicals
    • Check for injured or physically limited people who might have trouble evacuating the building
    • Bring emergency supplies (first aid kit, flashlights, etc.) to the emergency assembly point
    • Close the lab door as you leave
    • Report crucial items or hazards to the appropriate official at the emergency assembly point

  • Do you have a long-term plan in case you could not get back into your lab for at least a week?
    • Which cell lines/experiments/data are your first priorities?
    • Are provisions made for taking care of lab animals or making sure that you have enough liquid nitrogen for the freezers? (Remember that normal distribution systems will not work, so you should have your own supply.)
    • Do you have backup copies of important data (both disk and hard copies)?



Each of these issues and items could be critical for the health and safety of laboratory occupants. While this article is directed toward earthquakes, please remember that building fires and other natural or man made disasters could have a similar impact on your laboratory space and staff. We encourage you to discuss these plans among yourselves and take whatever action is necessary to see that all issues are addressed. It is a good idea to practice your disaster plans periodically to assure:

  • Plans meet the requirements of current laboratory operations.
  • Staff are familiar with both the overall plan and their specific role.
  • The plan is successful in accounting for staff and in reporting staff and laboratory conditions to key department administrators.

(Adapted from Stanford University's guide to department disaster planning and recommended by the UW Sector One Health and Safety Committee.)


Personal Emergency Supplies Kit List

(sufficient for 72 hours)
  • Emergency Food and Water
  • Medical supplies
  • Prescription medicines
  • Hygiene/sanitation supplies
  • Portable radio
  • Flashlight
  • Extra batteries
  • Extra pair of glasses
  • Glove, dust mask, sturdy shoes
  • Survival Blanket