A Personal Assessment of The Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill



I happened to be sitting on the third floor of Eugene’s downtown branch of the public library when they announced there would be a 1-minute earthquake drill just now. Had heard one was planned for Washington state, but not Oregon, so this was a surprise.

Oooh, it was a big exercise. So, how did I do?

Even knowing it was coming, I couldn’t find a safe place. I casually looked at a space next to me under the dictionary table and figured that would hold me. It didn’t – also there was nothing to hold onto and no way to cover my head. At least I did it right. Some other patrons kind of laughed it off. There are only a few people up here currently. One lady just sort of cringed by the front desk and covered her head with a paper – she’s dead, along with me, I suppose (we weren’t actually “graded”). I saw a man leaning into a corner – nothing was over him to fall on him, but nothing was over him to protect him, either. He’s probably dead, too. A couple of people stayed at their seats and laughed – having done a post on the Cascadia subduction zone, I know exactly what they would be doing if this was real – screaming, and probably joining us on “the other side.” One guy was focused on me trying to hide under the dictionary table, and he kept walking out to the stairs…which might not be there any more in a real event. Another one bites the dust.

The librarian, however, may have survived – she hid underneath her desk, where there was plenty of room.

So – Earthquake 7, humanity 1.

I thanked the librarian – she was kind of sheepish about it.

There was no feedback after this exercise, which is problematical – negative actions should be corrected, positive ones reinforced, though it’s difficult to see how a public library could do it. Everybody is back into their lives now…which most certainly wouldn’t be the case in the real thing.

Well, I learned a few things, including:

  • Don’t plan for emergencies casually
  • Try out your plan before it’s needed – step-by-step walkthrough
  • That space over by the desk can be reached quickly from where I normally sit up here and it will hold me.
  • I need to figure out how to get down off the third floor safely, should there be a quake and I survive up here

Thanks, ShakeOut organizers and Eugene Public Library!

PS: Last night I talked about the drill with people. People mostly reacted as if it was a cool media event. Nobody that I talked with knew the scale of yesterday’s drill. It was discouraging also to note that the enhancement effect of the sense of a media happening only appeared to strengthen people’s previous ideas about what to do in an earthquake, and many of the ones that I heard mentioned were wrong, things like: Don’t hide under something – that gets you killed; stand in a doorway (the good old standard – we were not in an old-fashioned adobe home so it wouldn’t work); and someone even said “things in here won’t move.”

This, only a couple hundred miles – if that – from the possible epicenter of M9-plus megathrust earthquake!

My overall assessment, then, of this, my very first ShakeOut, is that it doesn’t work and won’t until you can combine it with effective and immediate feedback. I also think that the media emphasis on it is actually leading to a disconnect for many people between their reality and “the show.”

Odd – I didn’t think it would turn out this way.

Categories: Earthquakes

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