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Practicing Safety and “Shaking Out”


shakeout drill

CAPTION: Administrator Craig Fugate (left) and Deputy Administrator Rich Serino practice "Drop. Cover. Hold On." as part of the Great ShakeOut earthquake drill held October 18.

Those of us in emergency management have a lot to say about getting prepared.  We urge folks to learn about the hazards in their area, get an emergency kit, and have a plan for what to do if a disaster should strike.  Despite those commonly-used messages, there’s one thing I wish we encouraged people to do more – practice.  Practicing your emergency plan makes you comfortable with it. And it also makes it much more likely that during an emergency, you will actually use the plan you drew up and practiced ahead of time. 

Practicing can have an impact on your own safety, too – which is why FEMA was encouraging participation in the Great ShakeOut earthquake drill that happened earlier today. Thousands of organizations and millions of people around the U.S. participated in the drill and practiced how to stay safe should an earthquake strike their community.  They put the three steps of “Drop. Cover. Hold On.” into action whether they were at their office, school, or home.  

Even if you missed the ShakeOut drill this morning, you can practice earthquake safety at any time.  It’s as easy as finding a table or desk where you can practice:

Practicing these steps is a great starter for getting better prepared.  Earthquakes occur all year long across our country – in a lot of places you wouldn’t expect. And whether your community is vulnerable to quakes, blizzards, hurricanes, floods, or wildfires, I challenge you to take simple actions and raise your practice to the next level:

  • Know the resources in your home – if a disaster struck tomorrow, would you have enough supplies, water, and food to sustain you and your family for at least 72 hours?  If you’re answer is “probably not” then has some great tips on building your family’s emergency kit with items already around your home.
  • Know the resources in your community – do you know the emergency management resources in your neighborhood or city?  Where is the nearest hospital?  Is there a safe room or shelter where you could go in the event of an emergency?  If your answers are “I’m not sure”, then check out this list of emergency management agencies and start learning about the key resources available in your neighborhood.
  • Know how you would stay in touch with family and friends – if the power was out and phone lines were unavailable, do you know how you would communicate with loved ones to let them know your status?  This is a vital part of any family emergency plan – you can download a template of a family plan at so you can answer “yes” to this question.

Finally, I’d like to give a big “thank you” to the schools, businesses, government agencies and families who participated in today’s Great ShakeOut drill.  I hope it got you thinking about how to stay safe should an earthquake strike.  Leave me a comment below and let me know how the ShakeOut drill went for you, or how you plan on participating next year!

Workplace Preparedness and The Great ShakeOut Tomorrow

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 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.


We have hurricanes in North Carolina. We have tornados, floods, ice storms and an occasional four-inch snowfall that’ll have our streets closed for days and our Northern transplants aghast and confused by the empty bread and water shelves in grocery stores. But we don’t have earthquakes. That is to say, we didn’t have earthquakes until we actually did on August 23, 2011.

I was sitting at my desk on campus at North Carolina Central University working out latest training manual for MGT 405 Mobilizing Faith-based Communities in Preparing for Disaster, when my tin of mini Altoids jiggled and fell to the floor. It was an oddly familiar scene, I mean, I’d seen something like it a dozen times in the movies. The tea cup rattles. Books fall from the shelves. The ground opens up and waterlines burst in rooster-tails of mist spraying panicked drivers.

This wasn’t that kind of earthquake. The tea cup shook, but that was the extent of the damage; nevertheless, that barely-there earthquake provided me and my colleagues with one of the strangest and strangely horrifying sensations we’d ever experienced. It was certainly disconcerting in the moment to feel the building move beneath us, but perhaps even more so, because until that moment, an earthquake was simply as far off the radar as a meteor strike – it was simply unimaginable.

Our institute is in the business of helping first responders prepare for natural disasters and we often challenge participants in our courses to understand the risks to their communities and plan for them using an all-hazards approach. But it took an earthquake in Durham, North Carolina for us to truly have a sense of the spectrum of possibilities. There’s a dorm across from my office where 500 students live. It’s an old dorm. And there’s a facilities plant and chemistry labs where students and staff and faculty work with volatile chemicals and compounds just around the corner. We have an emergency plan, but like most universities and towns and cities and counties, is it enough?

NCCU will participate in the Great Southeast Shakeout on October 18th not only because we feel we need to be prepared in case another earthquake hits, but because if not an earthquake, there will be something else. In the months since the earthquake the university has developed a campus CERT team and engaged in all-campus emergency training. The Shakeout exercise will take place in our university’s emergency management courses for undergraduates, introducing them to concepts and best practices that will help make them our future leaders and our communities safer.

Finally, our institute continues to train emergency managers and faith-based community organization leaders through our MGT 405 course that is available through the Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium.  In order to train the whole community, we must engage all sectors of the community in order to mobilize our citizens. Our whole community truly needs to be prepared for every possibility – even when, as we’d always thought of earthquakes, those possibilities seem impossible.


Other ShakeOut blog posts

ShakeOut and my school

Editor’s note: the following is posted by Gabriela Rodriguez, a member of FEMA’s Youth Preparedness Council from Puerto Rico. She shares how her school is involved in the ShakeOut earthquake drill coming up Oct. 18, as well as the steps it has taken to prepare for earthquakes. Learn more about the ShakeOut drill at

There are many reasons why I decided to participate, along with my school, in the ShakeOut.  As the youth representative in my region, (FEMA Region II) I’m always seeking for new opportunities to advise friends and neighbors on emergency preparedness, and this seemed like an excellent way to do so. Through the ShakeOut, we can practice and verify our evacuation plans, and if we did not have one, the drill provides a reason to develop it.

Our REACT group has modified the existing plan at the school, along with the directors, as we had some challenges with the more distant areas or closed air conditioned rooms. We established a sequenced sound system with bells as part of the evacuation and we are completing the final details to have a good activity that may remain permanently in our school.

My school holds regular drills and constantly strives to be better prepared. That also encouraged me to register, because we always have the unconditional support of our directors.

Thank you,

Gabriela Rodríguez 

FEMA Region II Youth Preparedness Council representative


Other ShakeOut blog posts

Posted on Wed, 10/17/2012 - 13:53

North Carolinians Get Ready to Drop, Cover and Hold On


Many of us in North Carolina felt shaking last year after a 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck Mineral, Virginia.  We all learned that day that you don’t have to live on the West Coast to experience an earthquake.

It’s equally important for our part of the country to be prepared for earthquakes because it only takes one to cause serious, even catastrophic, damage.   That’s why Governor Bev Perdue recently proclaimed this Thursday, October 18, as Earthquake Preparedness Day, and North Carolinians will be among the nearly 1.5 million participating in the Great Southeast ShakeOut earthquake drill at 10:18 a.m. that morning. 

While the drill includes simple steps—drop, cover and hold on—they are critical during a real earthquake.  Even minor earthquakes can cause objects and debris to fall and these steps can help us avoid serious injuries. 

We also have to remember that we may not be anywhere close to home when an earthquake strikes.  Many of us travel to more earthquake prone areas while we’re vacationing, visiting friends and family, or taking business trips. Preparing for hazards that exist where you’re visiting is just as important as preparing for hazards that exist at home.

We can’t predict when the next earthquake will strike, but drills like the Great Southeast ShakeOut will help us get ready. We should all practice the steps now so we’ll know how to react if the ground starts shaking. Please join me and sign up to participate at


Other ShakeOut blog posts

“Go One Step Further” and the Great ShakeOut


Editor's Note: The views expressed by Bob Boyd do not necessarily represent the official views of the United States, the Department of Homeland Security, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA does not endorse any non-government organizations, entities, or services.

Agility, while obviously an organization focused on disaster preparedness and recovery, is also a collection of individuals who share a common desire to help.

We earn a living providing critical post disaster assistance to our members across the continent, but in addition, our leadership has answered a calling to offer assistance to people and organizations who are working to increase their own resilience through whatever means possible.  The Great Southeastern ShakeOut is an event we have adopted as not only a reason to practice a critical emergency plan, but we also hope to use this event as a reminder to “go one step further.”  Practicing the “Drop, Cover & Hold On” action is the first step, but then what happens after?  Surely communications, safe evacuation and treating the injured are all immediate concerns following an emergency like this.

Agility and the Small Business Administration have partnered to provide a free Earthquake Preparedness Checklist, available at  We encourage everyone to take some of the steps on this checklist and practice them as part of the ShakeOut event.  For example,

  • Updating phone lists and contact information for employees,
  • Testing an alert notification system,
  • Restocking supplies in the office first aid kit, and
  • Checking the status of fire extinguishers and ensuring employees know where they are located.

How Agility is “Shaking Out”

Agility sent emails to its customers in the Southeast inviting them to register for the Southeast ShakeOut, and offered the Earthquake Preparedness Checklists as a useful way to “go one step further.”

Additionally, Agility’s own offices and staff will be participating at 10:18 a.m., Oct. 18 by practicing the “Drop, Cover, Hold On” action, followed by a building evacuation drill.  Afterwards, Agility leadership will test our alert notification system and provide instructions to employees and stakeholders for what to do after the event.  Prior to the Oct. 18 event, our HR department will perform a full evaluation of the accuracy of critical contact information on file for employees.  They will send emails to all employees reminding them to involve their own families in the drill by reviewing family plans at home and checking emergency kit supplies or building a kit.

The ShakeOut events provide an excellent opportunity to build a culture of preparedness within any group or organization.  It only takes a few minutes to register and participate in the ShakeOut.  But we encourage everyone to take it one step further and incorporate other steps into your drill that can enhance your preparedness.


Other ShakeOut blog posts

South Carolina’s Faults due for a ShakeOut


The earthquake threat that exists in South Carolina typically doesn’t get much attention as say, a hurricane, a tornado or even an ice storm potential.  Many living in the Palmetto State aren’t aware that the epicenter of the largest earthquake ever recorded on the eastern seaboard was near Charleston, S.C. on August 31, 1886.  This magnitude 7.3 earthquake resulted in 60 deaths, 90 percent of all buildings in the Charleston area were destroyed and property damage was estimated at $5-$6 million in the period’s currency. 

The 1886 quake was felt over 2.5 million square miles from Chicago to Cuba.  The South Carolina Emergency Management Division estimates an earthquake of similar magnitude occurring today would result in hundreds of fatalities; the damage to infrastructure and the economy would be spread over many states for many years afterwards. 

It’s important for communities that may not be as susceptible to frequent earthquakes to be aware that it’s still a risk they should prepare for.  Even though South Carolina hasn’t experienced an earthquake of such severity since the 1886 Charleston event, we experience 10-30 measurable tremors a year, with 5-6 on average physically felt.  That’s why as part of the South Carolina’s annual Earthquake Awareness Week, more than 213,000 people from the state are participating in the Great Southeast ShakeOut.  For example, an elementary school will be visiting the South Carolina State Museum on Thursday, visiting an exhibit on the 1886 earthquake and also participating in the drill at 10:18 a.m. Additionally, South Carolina Emergency Management Division is holding an earthquake preparedness table top earthquake exercise with several county emergency management agencies near the South Carolina-Georgia border.

Planning for this drill has given state emergency management communities an opportunity to have a little fun while conducting a disaster preparedness campaign.  Through the development of Public Service Announcements, promoting social media pages, hosting chats and getting out in the communities, public information teams from the Nation’s Capital to Savannah and everywhere in between have been creative and enthusiastic about the Great Southeast ShakeOut- a testament to how dedicated our emergency management community is to making sure the people we serve have the information they need to make decisions about their personal safety. 

We’ve been able to discuss the differences between the Richter and Mercali scales, to explain why some companies don’t offer earthquake insurance and to encourage people to take this opportunity to understand the types of emergencies their communities are most vulnerable to and take steps to prepare for them; all through multiple platforms, traditional and new.  Plus, in states where college football reigns supreme, it’s been a friendly competition to see which state gets the most participants to practice “Drop, Cover and Hold On” at 10:18, on 10/18. I hope you’ll sign up to participate, too.

Editor's note: Derrec Becker is a Public Information Officer with the South Carolina Emergency Management Division and can be reached at and via social media @SCEMD.


Other ShakeOut blog posts

FEMA Releases the “2011 FEMA Central States Disaster and Earthquake Preparedness Survey Report”



Today, we released the “2011 FEMA Central States Disaster and Earthquake Preparedness Survey Report.”  The Report provides actionable recommendations for increasing preparedness, including insight into the use of hazard-specific outreach, messaging, education, and training; the linkage between awareness of outreach and preparedness behaviors; and the value of using multiple channels for outreach and other activities.    

Americans are frequently reminded to prepare for disasters—from earthquakes, to tropical storms and hurricanes, to wildfires, and to tornadoes, as a few examples.

The goal of the Central States Disaster and Earthquake Preparedness Survey was to gauge residents’ preparedness for an earthquake following six months of outreach and events by The Central United States Earthquake Consortium  (in partnership with FEMA) including the 2011 National Level Exercise, which used a catastrophic earthquake as the scenario, and the April 2011 Great Central U.S. ShakeOutTM.  The Great Central U.S. ShakeOut is the largest earthquake preparedness drill in central U.S. history, providing an annual opportunity to practice how to be safer during earthquakes and to get prepared at work, school, and home.

We discovered that individuals exposed to communication and outreach before the ShakeOut had much higher awareness of the risks posed by earthquakes, and more knowledge of what to do in response to an earthquake and had taken steps to prepare for an earthquake and other hazards. We found that community connections, including outreach from community-based organizations and informal discussions among the public, are linked with earthquake preparedness behaviors.  

The Report states that more than half of the survey respondents knew the following key earthquake response actions during shaking: get close to the ground, get under a large piece of furniture, hold onto something, and do not run outside if you are currently inside a building.  However, more than three in five respondents incorrectly believed that they should get in a doorway, and more than two in five incorrectly believed they should run outside of a building.

The Report findings are informing new communication and outreach strategies.  We are incorporating these findings into the National Campaign to build and sustain preparedness, by enhancing community-based outreach that focuses on local risks.   

For more information and to download the Report, visit In addition to reading the report, please participate in your local ShakeOutTM drill (visit to register).

Preparing for Earthquakes on the Anniversary of Last Year’s East Coast Earthquake

Today is the anniversary of last year’s earthquake along the east coast – the biggest earthquake to hit the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains.   To remember the importance of preparing for unexpected events, we visited the Washington Monument – it was damaged during the earthquake.  Many of FEMA’s partners also visited the Washington Monument today, including the National Park Service, Central U.S. Earthquake Consortium, U.S. Geological Survey, and representatives from the Virginia and D.C. governments. 

We met with Tim Manning, one of the big bosses at FEMA.  He talks about our visit to the Washington Monument and the importance of preparing for earthquakes and other emergencies.

We learned how to register for the Great Southeast Shakeout which will occur on October 18.  The Shakeout is an earthquake drill where schools and businesses practice “drop, cover, and hold on” – the appropriate steps to take if you feel the ground shaking.  We encourage you to register and participate with us!   

fema flat stanley and stella at washington monument

While we cannot always predict when a disaster will happen, we can at least prepare by practicing what actions to take.   We encourage you to visit to learn even more tips about preparing for earthquakes.

The Great Utah ShakeOut: a Great Opportunity for Private Sector

Posted by: Angela Petersen, Vice President, Business Continuity for Zions Bank

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by Angela Peterson do not necessarily represent the official views of the United States, the Department of Homeland Security, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA does not endorse any non-government organizations, entities, or services.

On April 17, 2012, the State of Utah participated in the Great Utah ShakeOut the largest simulated earthquake exercise in the state’s history. Several members of my organization were fortunate enough to be asked to participate in the state simulation cell during the exercise. What a great opportunity to strengthen both our knowledge of the operation of the state during a crisis, as well as our organizational response plans and how we can better respond during an event.

Through the actual experience, and being able to spend time talking with our FEMA regional representatives about their past response to significant events, I am able to take away practical knowledge that will be used to benefit my organization.

One of the most important messages I will take back deals with communications. As a financial institution, we have always known that our customers are the most important focus of our recovery. The exercise reinforced the importance of pre-planning for communications following a significant event.

Making sure we deliver messaging through every aspect of the business will make all the difference in our ability to respond effectively. This means we need to talk more about what we would expect to hear from our clients and employees, and prepare ourselves with the methodology to effectively disburse messages and ensure they are communicated as uniformly as possible.

An organization’s understanding that it is not “business as usual” when it comes to customer service is vitally important. The staff we have on hand today to handle customer and media-based inquiries will need to become more robust following an event. The stresses of not only the situation but also the repeated requests for information quickly take a toll on people.

The exercise reinforced my belief in the need to pre-plan a communications staff and train for these types of situations. It is one of the greatest steps an organization can take to reduce their reputational risks following an event.

Overall, I believe each member of the business community owes it to their employees, as well as their customers to build a plan that not only encompasses the business function, but the human element of business as well. Our being prepared to sustain ourselves and our respective businesses while the state focuses on placing critical response measures in place is vitally important. Basically, we need to do our part to be prepared now.

I congratulate the State of Utah for a well-run exercise, and thank its leaders for their encouragement of private sector business and community involvement in the exercise, and for the ever-present message of preparedness.