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How To Run Earthquake Practice Drills


Earthquake practice drills save lives and should be standard protocol for families at home, businesses and schools, in any geographic location where earthquakes are inevitable. The type of drill you instate should take people's ages and physical abilities into account, as well as your own domicile's specifics. The goal of the drills is to make people's responses rote, eliminating panic and increasing safety. Since an earthquake can happen at any time, you should include separate drills for outdoor areas of your home, school or business, such as the backyard, pool, drop-off area or parking lot. Here are some standard, starting concepts you can adapt to your own unique situations.

Schedule Your Drill – Earthquake practice drills should be scheduled and performed on a regular basis, requiring mandatory attendance. Vary the times of day so that people have the opportunity to practice their response in multiple locations. Everyone involved should be asked to assess their surroundings ahead of time and make safety improvement recommendations if necessary. Even the smallest changes can make a difference or even save someone's life. Involving everyone pre-drill will also help to increase their awareness of their own surroundings if an earthquake should take place.

Signal Your Drill – You can't simulate an earthquake's shaking but you can re-enact its sound by downloading realistic sound effect recordings accompanied by earthquake safety tips here. If you are at home, have your family engage in their usual activities, rather than gather in one place waiting for the drill to begin. You can signal the drill with a whistle or other sound that lets them know the earthquake drill is beginning. If you are at school or another place with a PA system, you can use that system to alert everyone to the drill.

Drop, Cover and Hold On – Everyone should know this earthquake safety basic. Drop to the floor as quickly as possible in a safe area, away from windows or potential falling objects or things that may become airborne projectiles. This should be under a heavy object like a dining room table or sturdy desk. If no heavy piece of furniture is accessible, use an interior wall. Curl up into as small a ball as possible and use your arms to protect your head, neck and chest. Find something solid to hold onto and be prepared to move with it. Never get between two heavy objects and make sure children understand that getting next to a piece of furniture is not the same thing as getting under it. Everyone should also know to face away from windows.

Practice Contingency Plans – Your drill should include adaptations to drop, cover and hold on for individuals in wheel chairs or with other physical or mental compromises. Unless the person has an aide 24/7, let them participate in the drill on their own. Other contingencies should be considered, based upon location. For example, individuals who are in bed when an earthquake hits should stay there and use a pillow to cover their heads, provided the bed is situated away from any windows. Kitchen safety should be addressed. If someone is cooking, their drill should include turning off the stove or burners before they drop. In the bathroom, know to drop to hands and knees if taking a shower and to elbows and knees if possible during a bath, if the water is shallow enough.

Count – Earthquakes, though seemingly endless, only last about a minute on average. Have everyone slowly and methodically count to 100 after they are in the drop, cover and hold on position. This will help them determine the typical length of an earthquake and also may have a calming effect.

Practice a Communication Plan – Your earthquake practice drill should include the way people will communicate with each other. Individuals should never rush to another room during an earthquake, including parents seeking children. Determine ahead of time how you will connect both during and after the earthquake. This can be as simple as a roll call led by one person or speaking to each other from room-to-room in order to maintain connection.

Plan for Aftershocks and Evacuation – If an earthquake really does hit, you will be required to assess your surroundings afterwards to determine if you will be safer staying put or evacuating. Have your drill include several potential evacuation routes and build aftershocks into your plan. Determine what you will do if a door is jammed shut or if debris has closed off the route you were planning on taking. Also have your go bag, which should be packed and readily available in an accessible place, grabbed prior to evacuation. Practice each route as well as how individuals will find each other after the quake, so no one is left behind and unsafe. Make sure that standard safety tips, such as moving away from exterior walls, are known by everyone. Figure out how pets will be evacuated and cared for.

Practice First Aid and After-Earthquake Safety – Administering first aid may be necessary after an earthquake. Let everyone practice administering various types of basic first aid, including children. A good, solid practice drill will include an after-earthquake plan for reaching the authorities if needed, and determining where to go and what to do if the building has been rendered unsafe for habitation.

Create a Manual – Nothing takes the place of a drill, but writing everything down so people have a manual to refer to prior to an earthquake is a good idea. This can help bring safety questions to the forefront and help people think out additional contingency plans if needed.


Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at


To learn more, visit CBS San Francisco's Earthquake Resource Center

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