On August 23, 2011 a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck Louisa County, Virginia; the shaking from this seismic event was felt as far north as New England and as far south as Georgia. At the time of the initial tremor, I was at FEMA HQ on C Street in Washington, D.C - ironically discussing the latest plans for National Preparedness month with my team. As the building shook more violently, I thought, I need to get out of here. I fought the impulse to run outside. I dropped, covered, and held on, waiting until the shaking stopped, grabbed my kit and evacuated.
As Director of FEMA’s Individual Community Preparedness Division, I had concerns about the safety of my staff located in our offices a mile away. Did they take the right protective action? Was anyone hurt? I immediately reached for my Blackberry to begin our emergency call down procedures. Weak signal. What now? I sent a text message to my Deputy and awaited a response.
I tried to calm myself, having no doubts they knew exactly what to do. However, it was my responsibility to try to ensure staff was safe.
Only minutes later my Deputy responded that all my staff was safely gathered in our designated location. This was a reminder that practicing emergency plans really does save lives. The next day I discussed the event with my team. We told stories about where we were and what we did during the quake. Some said it was a compelling experience to be on the other side of the whole ordeal. Many did the right thing during the shaking by dropping to the ground, getting underneath a sturdy object, and covering their head; others did not.
As a team, it allowed us to identify our safety gaps and the importance of practicing what we preach. Best of all, the discussions helped change a stressful situation into a learning experience. The lesson we all learned is that both practicing and preparedness are needed to help build a more resilient nation.
Earthquakes occur without warning and you never know if the initial jolt is the start of a larger quake or even stronger aftershocks. You may only have seconds to react, which is why it’s important to know what to do when the shaking starts…and stops!
We can’t prevent earthquakes or other natural disasters from occurring, but we can take important steps to prepare for these events. We need to make sure if another quake were to strike, the response of those impacted would be timely and appropriate. Tomorrow, October 18, at 10:18 a.m. marks the Great ShakeOut earthquake drill and I encourage everyone to join. Participate with more than 14 million individuals, schools, businesses, government agencies, and other organizations across the United States who will be taking part in the event. This drill is designed to encourage individuals to get prepared in their community, increase awareness on what to do in a disaster, and promote evaluation of emergency plans.
Take 90 seconds tomorrow to ensure if there is a future earthquake, you know the proper protective action to stay safe.
The drill consists of practicing these three simple steps:
- DROP to the ground,
- Take COVER by getting under a sturdy desk or table, and
- HOLD ON to it until the shaking stops.
If you haven’t already signed up, it is not too late! Register for the ShakeOut and participate tomorrow. Also, make sure you that you visit Ready.gov/earthquakes for important earthquake preparedness tips that can help protect yourself and your loved ones in the event of an earthquake.
Other ShakeOut blog posts
- We Must be Prepared. Even for Earthquakes.
Buddy Harris, North Carolina Central University
- ShakeOut and my school
Gabriela Rodriguez, FEMA Youth Preparedness Council
- North Carolinians Get Ready to Drop, Cover, and Hold On
Doug Hoell, Director, North Carolina Emergency Management
- “Go One Step Further” and the Great ShakeOut
Bob Boyd, Chief Executive Officer, Agility Recovery Solutions
- South Carolina’s Faults due for a ShakeOut
Derrec Becker, South Carolina Emergency Management Division