By Gordon Williams
Schedule yourself to put aside whatever you are doing at precisely 10:18 a.m. on October 18th (10:18 on 10/18) and spend the next 60 seconds dropping, covering and holding on. By doing so, you will be one of the million-plus people in Washington—more than 40 million people worldwide—practicing their earthquake coping skills in the annual Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill.
The goal of the ShakeOut Drill is to prepare people for an earthquake by teaching them what to do before, during and after the ground shakes. No one who lives in Washington needs to be reminded that we live in earthquake country. Here we are, smack dab in the Ring of Fire—the tectonically active band that circles the Pacific Ocean.
What can happen in the Ring of Fire was made vividly clear by the quake, and subsequent tsunami, that just struck Indonesia. The death toll there is nearing 2,000.
You don’t have to join an organized activity to drop, cover and hold on on October 18th. You don’t even have to carry out your drill on the 18th. Organizers of the ShakeOut want you to practice your earthquake survival skills whenever you find the time to do it.
Get the family together at a time that is convenient for everyone. Make sure everyone in the family knows what to do when the earth trembles. Pick a place to reassemble if a quake forces everyone to leave the home. Then practice your earthquake survival skills until putting those skills to the test becomes a habit.
If you do want to be part of the Great Washington ShakeOut—our part of Great Global Earthquake ShakeOut—there are literally zillions of ways to do so. Look at the event website at www.shakeout.org/washington and you will see all that is available to you.
If you haven’t taken part in previous year’s drills, you can register online. (If you have taken part before, just sign in). That will officially make you part of the ShakeOut, and it will bring you ShakeOut-related material. You can register even if you can’t take part on the 18th. Just mention the date you will be practicing dropping, covering and holding on.
There is lots more on the website. There is advice on how to participate in the drill. There are lists of the resources available to help you take part. There is advice on how to reduce earthquake risks around the home. One way, for example, would be to do a “hazard hunt” around the house for objects that might fall in a quake. Once found, secure those items. Prepare your family to live without power or access to shopping for two weeks. Buy a fire extinguisher and train everyone in the family to use it.
The website offers ideas on how different organizations can customize plans for taking part in the ShakeOut. On that list are schools (K-12), neighborhood groups, faith-based organizations, museums and libraries, youth organizations, tribes and lots and lots more. One suggestion is to host a ShakeOut block party. “Invite your neighbors over for coffee and share preparedness information,” the event organizers suggest.
One thing the block party might do is catalog the special skills neighbors have that might prove useful in a quake. Another would be to identify anyone—someone elderly, perhaps, or someone disabled—who might need special assistance after a quake.
In sum, organizers of the ShakeOut have put together a vast and comprehensive storehouse of earthquake-related material. Since the question about earthquakes in Washington is not whether we will have another quake but when we will have one, every family should consider building a library of preparedness material.
One bit of valuable advice you’ll find on the site is instruction on the right way of doing that dropping, covering and holding on. Here’s how to do it:
DROP where you are onto your hands and knees. That keeps you from being knocked down and it makes it easier to crawl to any nearby safe place in your home.
COVER your head and neck with one arm and hand. If a sturdy table or desk is nearby, crawl under it. If nothing is nearby, crawl to an interior wall—away from windows.
HOLD ON to something secure until the shaking stops.
Since you never know how severe a quake will be or how long it will last, drop, cover and hold on at the first jolt. Don’t wait to see how bad things are going to get. Special advice is available if you if you have disabilities—if you use a wheelchair or a walker or can’t easily drop to the ground for some other reason. For help with this, go to EarthquakeCountry.org/disability.
Finally, the website offers answers to a bunch of frequently asked questions about the Great Washington ShakeOut. One such question is how long the ShakeOut drill will last. Answer is that the drill only takes a minute, but there is no limit to how long organizations might spend preparing members to survive a quake.
Another question is whether an actual quake is likely on the 18th. The sobering answer to that one is, you never know. As the website puts it, “Because many areas of Washington are seismically active, it’s not impossible.”