By Mary Kate McGrath - October 5, 2020
Many emergency managers in the United States are facing unprecedented natural disasters - from the devastating wildfires on the West Coast to an active Atlantic hurricane season that has resulted in mass evacuations and severe flooding. There are many response strategies, but one, raising situational awareness through emergency drills, will prove especially useful to prepare communities for earthquakes.
The Great Shakeout, an international earthquake drill that takes place annually on the third Thursday of October, encourages people in homes, schools, and organizations to practice what to do in the event of an earthquake, improving earthquake preparedness.
While the Great ShakeOut began in California and is largely focused on preparing individuals living in earthquake-prone areas, federal emergency managers encourage all people to participate. The event relies on the premise that an earthquake could occur anywhere, at any time, and everyone can be better prepared to survive and recover quickly.
The Great ShakeOut is organized to help encourage your community, schools, or organization to update emergency plans or supplies, secure your space to prevent damage or injuries, and practice the highly effective, “drop, cover, and hold on” procedure.
The GreatShakeOut website offers a tool for individuals to search the earthquake risk in their respective areas - however, the program maintains that everyone can benefit from participating in the Great ShakeOut. Everyone can be better prepared to respond to an earthquake; whether at home, at work, at school, or even on vacation. No matter what you, or your organization’s, geographical location, practicing swift earthquake response can be a beneficial safety practice.
The Great ShakeOut 2020 will take place on Thursday, October 15, at 1:15 PM EDT/10:15 AM PST. The event will be slightly different this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown orders mean in-person participation might be less common. However, local safety managers can continue to encourage community members to practice a drop, cover, and hold on drill independently. This exercise can help residents obtain a greater peace of mind amid an already anxious time - without stirring panic, it’s important to remind people that other hazards and risks can still occur amid the pandemic, including fires, floods, tsunamis, and of course, earthquakes.
Many people are likely wondering whether or not Great ShakeOut drills can move forward, considering the majority of the workforce is continuing to do their job remotely, K-12 students are doing remote or socially-distanced learning, and higher education campuses are operating at a limited capacity. However, organizers want communities to know that the Great ShakeOut is still possible amid COVID-19, as long as officials follow several key public health considerations.
While communities across the United States are experiencing new challenges, emergency managers want to remind people, especially those in disaster-prone regions, that earthquakes are still a risk. Here are the events three major considerations for running a drill amid the coronavirus pandemic:
1. Establish where participants will be for the drill ahead of time - at home, or with a limited number in-office or schools. The event supervisors can also leverage virtual communications - take advantage of video conferencing to guide people through the event, do instructional recordings or videos, share information on social media. Leaders can also further engage participants in an after-action dialogue or survey.
A mass notification system with a geo-polling feature can be used to survey participants after the drill. Administrators can use the feature to determine whether or not the drill was helpful and if community members feel better prepared for the natural disaster. This data can then be used to determine whether future communication is necessary, such as distributing a more extensive earthquake preparedness resource.
2. If conducting a drill in-person, make sure that it is social-distancing compliant, all participants are wearing mask, and that the drill is followed by diligent handwashing and sanitation efforts.
3. Be flexible about the date, choosing your own date or multiple dates to conduct the drill. Managers might still want to participate on Oct. 15, but due to the unusual circumstances, should be open to a rotating schedule or running multiple drills.
The Great ShakeOut promotes an immediate response strategy called, “Drop, Cover, and Hold On.” There may only be seconds to respond to an earthquake, and people need to be prepared to respond before the strong shaking knocks them, or any surrounding objects, loose, as per the Great ShakeOut website. The best way to improve response time is to practice “Drop, Cover, and Hold On.” Here’s how the strategy works:
If you’re inside a building, don’t go more than a few steps before dropping, taking cover, and holding on. If you’re a pedestrian outside, attempt to find a spot away from trees, powerlines, streetlights, or anything else that could topple over, then drop, cover, and hold on. If you’re driving when the shaking starts, pull over to a clear location, put your seatbelt on, and wait until the shaking stops. Once the shaking stops and it is safe to drive, be sure to avoid any bridges or ramps, as these may have been damaged during the event.
Remember that the shaking is not the main cause of injury during an earthquake - it’s the collapsing walls or roofs, shattered glass, or flying objects that cause most injuries or deaths during the natural disaster. The drill encourages community members to look around them, identify a safe place such as under a piece of furniture or an interior wall, and commit to this spot as the best choice during an earthquake event.
Do you feel ready to handle an earthquake? Watch this short video below:
Emergency managers, local leaders, school administrators, and business organizations can and are encouraged to participate in this event, even amid COVID-19. FEMA strongly encourages local officials to participate, and even amid COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, the drill can continue to boost situational awareness in your community.
A mass notification system can be a valuable tool for informing participants about the GreatShakeout. The scalable communication system allows administrators to send unlimited messages in 60+ languages, quickly, and reliably reaching your entire community with important information about the drill. It only takes administrators three clicks to reach send a message via text, email, voice call, IPAWS-OPEN, social media, digital signage, and more. In the past, Rave Alert has played a huge role in Great ShakeOut planning, facilitating the delivery of over 2 million messages about the annual earthquake drill.
Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.
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