What to do if you’re riding Metro during an earthquake

Millions around the world practiced how to Drop, Cover, and Hold On at 10:19 a.m. today during the Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills, which began in California in 2008.

Of course, if you’re on a bus or train, you may not be able to drop, cover and hold on. Here are some steps you can take to stay safe if riding during an earthquake.

If onboard a bus:                                            

  • Stay onboard unless instructed otherwise by the bus operator.
  • When the shaking has stopped, the bus operator will stop at the first available safe area away from overpasses, tall buildings, electrical wires or other hazards.
  • If evacuation from the bus is necessary, the bus operator will first survey conditions outside for any unsafe conditions and direct bus passengers to a safe area.
  • Metro’s Bus Operations Control Center will monitor buses to assist with any emergencies. The control center will broadcast instructions to operators and allow them to proceed when it is safe to do so.

If onboard a train or in a station:

  • The train operator will stop the train until the shaking stops and make announcements to keep passengers informed of the situation.
  • If you are in a train or station on Metro’s underground system, you may not be aware an earthquake is occurring. Sensors will alert Metro personnel that an earthquake is underway and emergency procedures will go into effect. If the magnitude of the earthquake is sufficient to cause damage to rail infrastructure, automatic shutdown will occur.
  • Once it is safe to do so, the train will proceed at a reduced speed to the next station with street-level trains avoiding all underground areas, elevated stations and all stations with under- or overhead structures.
  • If the train cannot proceed and it is unsafe to remain in place, the train operator will instruct riders to evacuate the train and walk to the nearest station or emergency exit to a safe location.
  • Depending on the magnitude of the earthquake, rail system maintenance engineers may be dispatched to inspect the system before the train can proceed. Field supervisors will be sent to assist with any inspections or evacuations required.
  • Metro Rail Operations will monitor the rail system to handle any emergencies. It will broadcast instructions to operators and allow them to proceed along the route when safe.

Overall, the Metro Rail system is well constructed to withstand large seismic events. Since underground structures move with surrounding soil, the Metro Rail system would not sustain damage or suspend train service in a low-magnitude earthquake. If a stronger earthquake were to occur, the Metro system would likely only experience minor, repairable damage.

During the 6.7 magnitude Northridge earthquake in 1994, for example, no Metro structures sustained damage and subway service was not adversely impacted.

For more Metro information on earthquake preparedness or to download Metro’s Emergency Preparedness Guide, visit our safety and security page.

5 replies

  1. As I recall, BART and the MUNI (Cable Cars and all) were largely up and running again shortly after Loma Prieta (certainly a non-trivial earthquake!). In fact, I was in San Francisco myself, not long after Loma Prieta, arriving shortly before the Bay Bridge reopened. When my train pulled into Oakland, we were given a choice: a short bus ride to the nearest BART station, with a ticket that would get us into San Francisco, and we’d be on our own, or a bus ride the long way around, and the bus driver would handle the luggage. Nearly everybody (myself included) opted for the former.

  2. Of course there was no damage to the North Hollywood Red Line service in 1994. The station didn’t open until 2000.

  3. Hi Anna, we would like to repost this article on The Museum of the San Fernando Valley Blog. How can we obtain proper permission?

    • Hi Maryley,

      Anything on our blog is free to be shared! All you need to do is link back to the original post here, something at the top or bottom that reads “Originally posted on The Source” we’re happy to help spread the safety message.


      Anna Chen
      Writer, The Source