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The Great ShakeOut is happening now! Millions of people across the country are practicing their Drop, Cover, and Hold On, using the video below to guide their drills. Take this opportunity to think about, talk about, and practice what you would do in an earthquake. Think about it everywhere you go today: what would you do if an earthquake hit now? The Earthquake Country Alliance has some answers for you.

Happy ShakeOut!

ShakeOut this week! World’s largest ever earthquake drill

This is a big week in U.S. (and world) earthquake history. In the U.S. we mark the anniversaries of several major, important earthquakes that have struck the country.

On October 15, 1979, a M6.9 earthquake struck the Imperial Valley of southern California/northern Baja. In 2006 a M6.7 earthquake rocked the island state of Hawaii, damaging thousands of buildings at a cost of $73 million. On October 16, 1999, people throughout the U.S. southwest were rolled from their slumber by the massive M7.1 Hector Mine earthquake that struck the Mojave desert at 2:46am. And of course… on October 17, 1989, the Battle of the Bay baseball World Series was interrupted in San Francisco by the devastating M6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake. …And let’s not forget the 1935 M6.3 Helena, Montana earthquake of October 19, part of a series that cost the city dearly, and should serve as a reminder that the intermountain west and the Rocky Mountain front are not free from seismic danger.

Capitalizing on that spate of anniversaries, and on the early date in the U.S. school year, a host of quake-dedicated agencies have organized the fifth annual ShakeOut drill.

This year the drill has expanded far beyond California, incorporating participating agencies in countries around the world. The U.S. is divided into official ShakeOut regions, including many individual states and some at-risk regions like the New Madrid seismic zone, each with their own specific issues when it comes to earthquake hazard. Nearly the whole country is covered, so I encourage ALL of you to sign up and Shake Out.

In most of the U.S. the drill takes place on Thursday, October 18, at 10:18am. In the Central U.S. the drill will take place on February 7, to mark the largest of the 1811-12 New Madrid quakes, and Utah will hold theirs on April 17. Participation is voluntary, unless your employer or educator has opted in for you, but already one third of California’s population is registered. Globally, 17 million people are signed up. Of course it behooves everyone to know what to do in an earthquake, and what resources you will have available, so there’s hardly any reason not to join in.

Visit for information on what to do before, during, and after an earthquake, and to obtain resources for your own drill. Every family that faces the threat of earthquakes (that’s all of you) should know how to find each other and cope with the aftermath. You should also brush up on your Drop, Cover, and Hold On. No doorways. No triangle of life. No sprinting down the stairs to the street like a frantic animal. Stay in place and get under something sturdy. The Earthquake Country Alliance has put together an informative set of instructions on how to protect yourself in a wide variety of situations.

Sign up for the drill, and get the word out to your friends and coworkers. This is invaluable practice. We can’t predict earthquakes, but we do now how to deal with them. The best defense we have as individuals is our own awareness and preparation.

Share your ShakeOut plans or experiences in the comments, to help pool preparedness plans.

Central U.S. “ShakeOut” drill on Tuesday

On Tuesday, February 7, 2012–the 200th anniversary of the biggest of the New Madrid earthquakes–nine states in the central U.S. will conduct a regional earthquake drill put on by ShakeOut, a consortium of organizations and agencies concerned with earthquake research, hazard mitigation, and emergency preparation. Participation is voluntary, but public agencies, school districts, universities, and private companies are all registered and are taking advantage of both public awareness and prepared publicity materials to develop and exercise their disaster plans. The prepared publicity materials include descriptions of reasonable scenario earthquakes, including M6.5 quakes in the New Madrid Seismic Zone, the Wabash Valley Seismic Zone, or a more generic description for an unforeseen quake that may occur outside of these notable zones of seismicity. The ShakeOut website also includes images and media to share, as well as video and audio recordings to play during the allotted time of the drill.

As with the Great California ShakeOut, I encourage everyone to participate. Officially the drill is to take place at 10:15am, but I encourage everyone who’s considering participating to conduct their own earthquake “drills” everywhere they go: once an hour, stop yourself and think “what would I do if an earthquake hit this very moment?” Consider that you would have very little warning, and you may be in a very inopportune place. You won’t always have a sturdy table to dive under in the safety of your own home.

The drill this week focuses on a collection of states centered around the New Madrid seismic zone, a collection which comprises the region of strongest shaking and most damage in the 1811-1812 earthquakes. Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama all suffered substantial shaking during the huge quakes of those years’ winter. Oklahoma is included thanks both to its proximity to New Madrid and to its own seismic hazard, manifest in late 2011 when the Wilzetta Fault lurched to life and rattled homes across the state. This is by no means an exclusive list. Although MO, IL, and IN have had their share of moderate quakes, plenty of other U.S. states are at risk, and as we saw in August, sizable quakes are apt to occur almost anywhere.

Think about the recent quakes in Oklahoma and Virginia, and ask yourself whether you would have been prepared had they been bigger, worse, or closer to you! Take advantage of the resources these government agencies have put together to raise awareness and prepare our country for inevitable seismic disasters!

ShakeOut – inspiring practice

This Thursday (October 20), the fourth annual California ShakeOut drill will take place at 10am. What that means for you in California is that companies, agencies, and organizations all around you (hopefully including yours!) will be preparing and practicing their emergency procedures and reviewing their plans for the inevitable occurrence of an earthquake.

Emergency management and response agencies and school districts throughout the state have implemented educational campaigns spurred by the ShakeOut drill, and individuals are encouraged to play along. If climbing under the nearest desk while you’re sitting at work at 10am to practice what you would do in a real earthquake seems a little too basic, consider using the drill and the wealth of materials prepared for it to contemplate the real danger of earthquakes, and to think concretely about how you will cope when one does happen. Think of it this way: if a major earthquake happened 30 minutes from now–which is entirely possible–what would you do? Would you be ready?

The brutal truth of it is that earthquakes are an inevitability in California. We average around one M7 and several ~M6 quakes each decade, whether they hit densely populated areas or not. Of course the San Andreas is capable of unleashing a Big One–a M8–on us soon, but there are plenty of other faults throughout the region that present a great hazard. We don’t know which one will hit us next, so the best we can do is be prepared.

Map showing where specified peak ground accelerations (PGA) have a 2% probability of being exceeded within 50 years

Take the opportunity of the ShakeOut drill not simply to await a prescribed time to drop, cover, and hold on, but to pause during each different activity of your day and consider what you would do if a strong earthquake hit at that moment. Are you prepared? In some places you will be much less prepared and much less safe than in others, but this is somewhat out of your control. Make sure the places you spend most of your day–your office, your couch, your bed–will be relatively safe during extreme shaking. We have plenty of little quakes, so we know how some jostling feels, but consider a truly large earthquake. Consider ground motion akin to that captured during the Kobe and Haiti earthquakes (still the most intense ground motion I’ve witnessed on film…). Stuff won’t just fall off shelves; it will be thrown across the room, along with the furniture that holds it.

This imagination exercise is scary. It should be; the major earthquake(s) in our future will be. Thinking seriously about this very real hazard can help you protect yourself during and after the quake. Most people survive major earthquakes. The better prepared you are, the more confidently you can handle the risk of a major temblor. Register with ShakeOut, or “like” it on facebook, where they post practical daily tips that you probably haven’t thought of.

I won’t bother replicating the wealth of advice these resources offer, but I will seriously encourage you to visit and to get some inspiration about how to deal with the earthquakes you’ll inevitably face.

To lighten the tone a little but keep you thinking about how to be prepared, I’ll guide you to where you can watch a collection of Discovery-Channel-style clips (“Will It Shake?“) and a series of videos exploring “Where Will You Be?

Like I said, don’t just Drop, Cover, and Hold On at 10am. Stop once an hour and re-assess what you’d do. What if a major quake happened right now?

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