Survival Skills for Landslides: What to Do and How to Prepare

Survival Skills for Landslides

There are very few things that are as scary as a landslide. With tons of earth hurtling toward you, how are you supposed to survive?

As soon as there is a threat of a landslide, do the following:

  • Stay alert and awake. Many people die in a landslide at night.
  • Listen for sounds like trees cracking or other noises.
  • Move across the path of a landslide.
  • Avoid low-lying areas.
  • Curl into a ball and cover your head if you get caught.

How to Survive a Landslide

Recognize the Warning Signs

Signs of Fast-moving Landslides:

  • If you are near an active wildfire, you’re at increased risk. Sign up for emergency alerts and pay attention to weather forecasts for the wildfire area. Keep in mind that just because the weather is nice where you are, doesn’t mean that it’s the same near the burn area.
  • Unusual noises like trees cracking or boulders hitting each other could be an indication that a landslide is occurring.
  • Other unusual noises to be on the lookout for are rushing water, mud or earth.
  • Landslides are usually preceded by a faint rumbling sound that gradually gets louder.
  • If you see fences, trees, utility poles or boulders moving, it’s a definite sign that something is happening!
  • Huge boulders in the surrounding area can be a sign that there have been landslides in the past.

Signs of Slow-moving Landslides:

Slow-moving landslides are more difficult to detect and can be just as dangerous. They often show before a fast-moving landslide happens.

  • Changes to your landscape, trees, the pattern of water drainage, small slides or noticeable land movement.
  • The doors and windows of your house stick and jam for the first time.
  • Cracks begin to appear in your plaster, brick, concrete, foundation, and tile.
  • Outside staircases and walkways begin to pull away from the house.
  • Streets begin to slowly develop cracks. Old cracks in the ground may begin to get larger.
  • Any breakage of underground utility lines.
  • The ground appears to begin to bulge at the base of a slope.
  • New groundwater appears on the surface where there hasn’t been any in the past.
  • Utility poles, fences, and retaining walls begin to move, tilt or crack.
  • The ground may feel as if it’s sloped in one direction and may even move under your feet.

What to Do During a Landslide

If you know that a landslide is currently happening in your area, taking these steps could save your life.

  • Follow any warnings and evacuation notices you get. Your life is more important than your property and there really isn’t anything that you can do at this point anyway!
  • Listen for updates by your local news stations. It’s best to use a battery-powered radio so you can keep listening even if you lose power.
  • If a storm that could cause a landslide is happening, make sure you stay awake and alert. If you’re sleeping you won’t know if a landslide is happening until it’s too late.
  • When in doubt, evacuate early to be safe. When you finally do realize that a landslide is coming, the chances of you escaping are very slim!
  • Never try to cross a road with mud or water flowing across it and never cross a bridge if you see a landslide approaching. It’s very likely that the slide will increase in size too quickly for you to escape by those routes.
  • If you are stuck in the path of a landslide move uphill as fast as possible.
  • Don’t try to travel or hide in low lying areas like river valleys.
  • If you are near a stream or river, be on the lookout for an increase or decrease in the flow of water or if it turns from clear to muddy. These are signs that a landslide is coming.

What to Do After a Landslide

Following a landslide, the area is still very dangerous and there could be more slides coming. It’s best to completely avoid the area.

  • Stay tuned to local news for updates about the landslide and additional information that emergency agencies may be trying to put out.
  • Be on the lookout for flooding. Floods and landslides can be caused by the same conditions and often occur together.
  • If you notice injured or trapped people near the slide area, notify rescuers where they are. Stay out of the slide area.
  • Damaged utilities pose a hazard until they’re turned off. If you see damaged roads, railways, or utilities, maks sure you let the proper authorities know so they can turn them off and keep the danger to a minimum.

Once you’re allowed home:

  • You may have people coming to examine your house and the surrounding area. ou should let them do the inspections.
  • Allow trained professionals to check the building foundation, chimney, and surrounding land for damage.
  • Any damage ground should be replanted as soon as you can. The loss of ground cover is one of the main causes of flash floods and landslides.
  • Consult a geotechnical expert about how to prevent future damage from landslides. They can give you advice on the steps to take to protect your property without potentially making the area more dangerous for your neighbors.

How to Prepare for a Landslide

You can do the following things to protect yourself, your family and your property from a landslide:

  • Everything begins with good planning. Make sure you have an emergency kit built and your family knows what to do in case of an emergency.
  • Have a way to monitor your local emergency services and get notified of evacuation orders.
  • If you’re told to evacuate or feel like your home is unsafe, you should leave as fast as you can.
  • If you need to find a shelter, you can text SHELTER + your ZIP CODE to 4FEMA. You will get a reply with the location of the nearest shelter in your area.
  • Following proper land-use procedures is one of the best ways to avoid a landslide. Don’t build close to the edges of mountains, at the bottom of steep hills, near drainage or natural erosion ways.
  • Learn about the history of the land around you. You can contact local officials to determine if landslides have ever occurred in your area before. Do not assume that the next one will be the same as the last or that there won’t be one because there hasn’t been one in the past.
  • Have a geotechnical specialist assess your property to see if there are any landslide risks. They can help you build the correct preventative measures if there is a risk of a landslide happening.
  • Use the recommendations of the specialist to build appropriate protective measures. Landslides can’t be diverted but mud and water can. Think about building walls or channels to help redirect the flow of mud and water. Just make sure that you’re endangering your neighbors by doing so!
  • One of the best ways to protect yourself from risk is by getting the proper insurance. Contact your insurance agent to figure out how to set it up.

What Causes Landslides?

A landslide is caused when gravity causes rock, soil or artificial materials to slide down a slope. This can happen because of weathering of rocks, soil erosion, earthquakes or volcanic activity.

All landslides are propelled by gravity. When the force pulling the ground down a slope becomes higher than the force holding it in place, then a landslide happens.

The steeper the slope, the more power the landslide will have once it gets moving.

Related Questions

Where are landslides most likely to happen? Within the United States, landslide-prone regions are the Western Coast Ranges, the Cascades, large parts of the central and northern Rocky Mountain region, the Appalachian region, and along the Mississippi River.

How fast do landslides move? Landslides start as shallow flows that eventually liquefy the earth and accelerate. A normal landslide travels at 10 miles per hour, but some can exceed 35 miles per hour.


Landslides pose a very significant threat in some parts of the world. They can strike with almost no notice, move very quickly and have the potential to be very deadly and destructive!

The good thing is that with proper preplanning, and learning a few survival skills to make it through a landslide, you can be a lot more likely to survive one.