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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.


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Last Updated: 
17/10/2012 - 14:24
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