On October 15, more than 19 million people across the globe are signed up to drop to the floor, duck under a solid object, and hang on in the world’s largest earthquake drill.
The Great ShakeOut can be a yearly reminder to prepare for an earthquake – a natural disaster that affects all 50 states, according to ready.gov. The same preparations you make for earthquakes can also help you prepare for other types of natural disasters.
Here are stories of three people who participated in ShakeOuts where they lived.
Luke was a student at a community college. His school sent him an e-mail saying it was participating in the ShakeOut about a week before the event. He forgot about it. The next week, while he was walking to class, he received a text message saying the event was beginning.
“I was already outside, so I didn’t do anything,” he said.
In fact, from his perspective, the event was a dud. When he arrived at his class, only one classmate even knew about the ShakeOut.
Now he wants to be more prepared for an earthquake. He and his wife, Stephanie, live on the third floor of a building. So they joke their preparation may need to include rappelling gear. More seriously, he said his water heater is free standing and he probably should bolt it down.
Stephanie has more ideas, including keeping breakables off high shelves and securing bookcases to the wall. She’s from California, so she did an earthquake drill every year.
She also participated in ShakeOut events in offices where she worked. At one, everyone had to practice crawling under their desks. Several of her coworkers had limited mobility and couldn’t get under, or got stuck under, their desks.
“They realized, ‘I need to make some serious accommodations for me to be safe,’” she said.
She thinks ShakeOut-style earthquake drills are useful for several reasons.
First, they make her aware of hazards she might not otherwise consider. Like obstacles. Her current job is in a building with labs, glass equipment, and chemicals. When coworkers have sturdy furniture, like lab benches, they’ve often stuffed things under them. In an earthquake, those areas would be inaccessible as cover.
“I think we’d be pretty much doomed,” she joked. “We have a sturdy enough building, but man, it would be scary.”
Second, drills remind her of emergency procedures. She and her coworkers get trained every year on the individual to call if there’s a chemical spill or other accident.
“How are we going to remember it if we don’t practice it?” she asked.
Third, drills help her update her knowledge. For example, she was raised believing she should stand under a door frame during an earthquake. That isn’t recommended anymore.
“In modern houses, doorways are no stronger than any other part of the house. You are safer under a table,” according to earthquakecountry.org.
Fourth, the drills remind her to think more about emergency preparedness at home. She believes it’s especially important to rehearse emergency meeting places and contact information. When a major earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011, she was working for an organization that recruited people to teach there. They had to scramble to find all their teachers so they could let their families know they were safe.
Next up: Judy. Judy is a budget officer for her state’s highway patrol. She has participated in four ShakeOut drills in her office. No one took the first one seriously, but each year they got a little more conscientious.
For example, because people in her office with limited mobility couldn’t get under their desks, her office bought hardhats. Another year they bought flashlights that clip onto the hardhats so they can keep their hands free if they need to evacuate over debris.
Each earthquake drill teaches her little ways to improve her preparation at home, too. Like this tip she shared: keep shoes by or under the bed. That way, if there’s an earthquake and there’s broken glass around, they’ll be easy to reach.
She keeps a 72-hour emergency kit at her desk and another in her front closet at home. She also keeps blankets and a first aid kit in her car. Her emergency training taught her that, logistically, it’s impossible for outside help to arrive sooner than three days.
“I always hear people say, ‘I get all this [emergency kits] together and never need it. Well, count yourself [lucky] that you never need it. Sometimes things happen and so many people don’t have it,” she said.