Earthquake ‘Turtle Drop’ and Emergency Drills

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Turtle drop is what we tell children to do in early childhood education services when there is an earthquake. Expert advice to the public on the Civil Defence website is to ‘drop, cover, hold’.

The video below by Auckland Civil Defence shows this brilliantly in the early childhood education context


Adults are recommended to move a few meters to a safer place if needed before turtle dropping. 

However, what we see in early childhood services is that as part of doing regular earthquake drills children may be taught to just ‘drop, cover, hold’ wherever they happen to be.

The turtle drop is fine for office workers and school students who can drop under their own desk, cover their neck with one hand and hold on to their desk with the other hand.  But it’s not quite that easy for children in ECE services who don’t spend most of their time sitting at desks.

Children may be endangered if in early childhood services they are taught to simply ‘drop, cover, hold’, without regard for where they happen to be. 

Is it really so safe to turtle drop under a tree, beside a tall stack of boxes, near a power pole or where structures and debris could fall? 


Children who can do the turtle drop

If a child is old enough to do the ‘turtle drop’ then is a child not also old enough to be made aware that he/she should not, for example, stay by a glass window during an earthquake?  

Children who are able to ‘turtle drop’ should be seen to be capable learners about dangers within the building and playground, and adults in early childhood services should not shy from finding ways to discuss, show and teach children about safety in an earthquake situation.

In every ECE service there should also be sufficient adults to the number and ages of children to ensure that every child is actively supervised by at least one adult all of the time.

However, in a big earthquake the adults might not be able to walk to or even reach out to children who may be in different areas of the early childhood facility and grounds.

The adult closest to any child should call out a reminder to the child to turtle drop.  If it’s possible for the adult to get to a child, then the adult should quickly scan to make sure they are not near a glass window for example and stay with the child covering/ protecting the child if necessary.  

Babies and younger children

Adults along with older children can model and practice the turtle drop with toddlers.  

During an earthquake adults should support, and if possible, protect infants with their body (crane over leaving room for breathing/ air flow).

The infant sleep room should not have glass windows near cots nor mobiles or other objects over heads that could fall and seriously hurt in an earthquake.  If there are dangers and it’s not possible for the adult to get to the cots to pick up infants or protect them – then throw a blanket over infants in most danger as one teacher did during a major earthquake.

Some early childhood services have a cot with wheels on it or a cart that they can collect and put infants into to wheel outside to safety to an evacuation point, immediately after an earthquake finishes and before aftershocks. In smaller services with above adult:child ratios it is more likely to be possible to carry infants out in adult arms.

Safety of children in highchairs and other child restraining furniture

In an emergency situation when there is an earthquake , highchairs may topple over. Young children may be unable to get out due to highchair restraints. Young children in top sleep bunks cannot get out without help, and older children who can climb down will very likely struggle to do so when everything around them is shaking. 

It is recommended that all beds and cots are single level and highchairs are not used unless there is an adult available to every child in a highchair. 

* Teachers can learn more from the full article an earthquake safety and turtle-drop  

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