Disaster warning and surveillance systems have been widely applied to help the public be aware of an emergency. However, existing warning systems are unable to cooperate with household appliances or embedded controllers; that is, they cannot provide enough time for preparedness and evacuation, especially for disasters like earthquakes. In addition, the existing warning and surveillance systems are not responsible for collecting sufficient information inside a building for relief workers to conduct a proper rescue action after a disaster happens. In this paper, we describe the design and implementation of a proof of concept prototype, named the active disaster response system (ADRS), which automatically performs emergency tasks when an earthquake happens. ADRS can interpret Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) messages, published by an official agency, and actuate embedded controllers to perform emergency tasks to respond to the alerts. Examples of emergency tasks include opening doors and windows and cutting off power lines and gas valves. In addition, ADRS can maintain a temporary network by utilizing the embedded controllers; hence, victims trapped inside a building are still able to post emergency messages if the original network is disconnected. We conducted a field trial to evaluate the effectiveness of ADRS after an earthquake happened. Our results show that compared to manually operating emergency tasks, ADRS can reduce the operation time by up to 15 s, which is long enough for people to get under sturdy furniture, or to evacuate from the third floor to the first floor, or to run more than 100 m.