October 14, 2011

ShakeOut – inspiring practice

Posted by Austin Elliott

This Thursday (October 20), the fourth annual California ShakeOut drill will take place at 10am. What that means for you in California is that companies, agencies, and organizations all around you (hopefully including yours!) will be preparing and practicing their emergency procedures and reviewing their plans for the inevitable occurrence of an earthquake.

Emergency management and response agencies and school districts throughout the state have implemented educational campaigns spurred by the ShakeOut drill, and individuals are encouraged to play along. If climbing under the nearest desk while you’re sitting at work at 10am to practice what you would do in a real earthquake seems a little too basic, consider using the drill and the wealth of materials prepared for it to contemplate the real danger of earthquakes, and to think concretely about how you will cope when one does happen. Think of it this way: if a major earthquake happened 30 minutes from now–which is entirely possible–what would you do? Would you be ready?


The brutal truth of it is that earthquakes are an inevitability in California. We average around one M7 and several ~M6 quakes each decade, whether they hit densely populated areas or not. Of course the San Andreas is capable of unleashing a Big One–a M8–on us soon, but there are plenty of other faults throughout the region that present a great hazard. We don’t know which one will hit us next, so the best we can do is be prepared.

Map showing where specified peak ground accelerations (PGA) have a 2% probability of being exceeded within 50 years

Take the opportunity of the ShakeOut drill not simply to await a prescribed time to drop, cover, and hold on, but to pause during each different activity of your day and consider what you would do if a strong earthquake hit at that moment. Are you prepared? In some places you will be much less prepared and much less safe than in others, but this is somewhat out of your control. Make sure the places you spend most of your day–your office, your couch, your bed–will be relatively safe during extreme shaking. We have plenty of little quakes, so we know how some jostling feels, but consider a truly large earthquake. Consider ground motion akin to that captured during the Kobe and Haiti earthquakes (still the most intense ground motion I’ve witnessed on film…). Stuff won’t just fall off shelves; it will be thrown across the room, along with the furniture that holds it.

This imagination exercise is scary. It should be; the major earthquake(s) in our future will be. Thinking seriously about this very real hazard can help you protect yourself during and after the quake. Most people survive major earthquakes. The better prepared you are, the more confidently you can handle the risk of a major temblor. Register with ShakeOut, or “like” it on facebook, where they post practical daily tips that you probably haven’t thought of.

I won’t bother replicating the wealth of advice these resources offer, but I will seriously encourage you to visit www.shakeout.org and www.daretoprepare.org to get some inspiration about how to deal with the earthquakes you’ll inevitably face.

To lighten the tone a little but keep you thinking about how to be prepared, I’ll guide you to www.totallyunprepared.com where you can watch a collection of Discovery-Channel-style clips (“Will It Shake?“) and a series of videos exploring “Where Will You Be?

Like I said, don’t just Drop, Cover, and Hold On at 10am. Stop once an hour and re-assess what you’d do. What if a major quake happened right now?