By Gordon Williams 

The Great Washington ShakeOut for 2020 is set for 1015 on 1015 (10:15 a.m. on October 15). Goal of the ShakeOut is to get folks to practice the earthquake survival skills of dropping down, covering up and holding on. If you want a disaster prevention exercise totally appropriate for our times, this is it.  

You can drop, cover and hold on your own or do it with friends, family, co-workers or school classmates (properly masked and safely distanced, of course). You can do it face-to-face or virtually over such video conferencing services as Zoom or Teams.

That 1015 on 1015 is only a suggestion. You can drop, cover and hold on at any time on any date you have free. Just do it, whenever and wherever you can — Washington being earthquake country and those survival skills being a very good thing to have down pat. 

When you do join the ShakeOut, you won’t be alone. The Washington ShakeOut is just one part of the Great International ShakeOut. It is observed around the world on the third Thursday in October. An estimated 600,000 Washingtonians will be taking part, as will around 17 million individuals around the world. An estimated 1.5 million Americans took part in the 2019 drill.  

Best source of everything you need to know about the event is at You can register for the ShakeOut at the site, learn how to participate, find what resources are available to participants and where to turn for more information about earthquake safety.

The American Red Cross — one of the agencies that sponsors the ShakeOut — has earthquake safety apps online. A click at the ShakeOut website will connect you with Red Cross resources. Among those offerings are an Earthquake App and an Emergency App. All Red Cross apps are available free at the Apple Store or Google Play. 

The first earthquake safety lesson you need to learn and practice is what to do when the ground begins to shake. Earthquakes strike without warning, so your safety and survival can depend on knowing what to do and being able to do it instantly. That’s where drop, cover and hold on come into play. 

At the first tremble, immediately drop to your hands and knees and crawl to cover under a desk or table. If there is no cover readily available, lean against an interior wall that is free from windows or objects that might fall on you. Then hold on to something secure until the shaking stops. Here is more detailed advice from the Red Cross: 

If you are in bed – stay there, curl-up and hold on. Protect your head with a pillow,  

If you are inside – stay there until the shaking stops. When it is safe to get out, use the stairs rather than an elevator,

If you are in a wheelchair – lock wheels and protect your head and neck,

If you are outside – find a spot away from buildings and power lines and drop to the ground,  

If you are in a vehicle – pull over to a clear location and stop–avoiding bridges, overpasses and powerlines, stay in the vehicle with the seatbelt fastened until the shaking stops.  

If you are near the seacoast and at risk of a tsunami following the quake – get as high as you can as quickly as you can. Head to higher ground, or to the upper floors of a building tall enough and sturdy enough to withstand the surge. You won’t have much time to seek safety, so plan ahead for places you might go to survive a tsunami. Don’t count on getting out by car. Roads may be blocked by the quake and escaping crowds could clog all usable roads. 

Since you never know when a quake might hit, it is a good idea to quake proof your home as thoroughly as possible, and keep it that way. The overriding theme here is: If something could fall, secure it so it doesn’t come down. 

Bolt water heaters and gas appliances to wall studs so they don’t fall in a quake. Bolt any tall pieces of furniture — bookcases, dressers, cabinets — to wall studs so they don’t tip and fall. (As a bonus, you won’t have to worry about furniture pieces being pulled down by young kids.) Put heavy objects on lower shelves so no one is injured if they spill out.

Anchor overhead lighting fixtures to ceiling joists. Put strong latches on cabinets so contents can’t spill out in a quake. Remove objects such as pictures, mirrors and wall clocks from above places where people sleep or sit. 

Consider having a professional check out your home to make sure the structure is securely anchored to the foundation. Are such things as carports, porches, decks, awnings and canopies secure enough to survive a quake? 

With Washington prone to occasional earthquakes and “the big one” an ever-present threat, use the lessons learned from the Great Washington ShakeOut to keep you and your loved ones safe when a quake does occur.

American Red Cross Northwest Region

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