Training & Education

Great ShakeOut Aims to Plant the Seeds of Survival into the Heads of Potential Earthquake Victims

California will be joined by several states and countries for the fifth annual earthquake ShakeOut drill.

For a minute on Oct. 18 at 10:18 a.m. some 60 radio stations will broadcast the sounds of an earthquake followed by an explanation that it’s a drill and what should be done to survive a real earthquake. Schools and other organizations will participate in drills as part of a growing effort to educate the public about how to survive an earthquake.

Drop, cover and hold on, is one of the messages that will be drummed into the heads of more than 9 million Californians during the fifth annual Great California ShakeOut. In addition, nearly 2 million or more will participate in drills in other states and countries.

“What we’ve seen time and time again not only in California but around the world is earthquakes strike without warning, panic sets in and people rely on natural tendencies — get up and run,” said Glenn Pomeroy, CEO of the California Earthquake Authority. “It turns out that’s the worst thing you can possibly do if you want to increase your chances of survival.”

Surviving an earthquake could come down to remembering a few simple steps, each of which will be repeated over and over during ShakeOut drills. The first step consists of preparedness: securing your space in an office or home. Shelves and other structures can easily be thrown about during an earthquake if not secured. Another precaution is having supplies on hand, especially water. The American Red Cross recommends one gallon of water per individual per day and there should be enough of it to last a couple weeks.

Once an earthquake begins the best protection is to drop, cover and hold on. Most injuries during an earthquake occur from flying objects, and the best immediate strategy is to drop, preferably under a table or other structure, cover the back of your head with one hand and hold onto the object with the other. Exit the building once the shaking stops.

“If we keep repeating that mantra over and over and illustrating the importance of it people are going to start baking it into their muscle memory, and we’re going to save lives when the next big shake strikes,” Pomeroy said.

California is home to two-thirds of the nation’s earthquake risk, as Pomeroy put it, but other states are at risk as well, as evidenced by recent quakes in Virginia and Oklahoma and the danger in the Pacific Northwest and near the New Madrid fault line in Missouri, for example. 

The Great ShakeOut started in California but has spread to several regions and countries, including New Zealand, which was hit twice by devastating quakes since 2010.  Of the 186 people killed in the New Zealand earthquakes many succumbed outside to falling or flying objects. “Lives would have been saved if they’d had the opportunity to do some of these drills beforehand,” Pomeroy said.

“People’s natural instinct is to downplay the danger of things where they live,” said Lance Webster, spokesman for the Great California ShakeOut. “People need to be trained and the only way we know to train them is to repeat it over and over again.”

Webster said about half of the participants in the Great California ShakeOut will be school children from kindergarten to fourth grade. “Get them while they’re young and you’ve got them.”


Jim McKay  |  Editor

Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management. He lives in Orangevale, Calif., with his wife, Christie, daughter, Ellie, and son, Ronan. He relaxes by fly fishing on the Truckee River for big, wild trout. Jim can be reached at

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