Statewide earthquake drill shakes up preparedness plan

October 23, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Tina Eggers (left), city clerk, Megan Gregor, city passport and records specialist, and Mary Lorna Meade, city risk management officer, take shelter under desks at Issaquah City Hall at 10:18 a.m. Oct. 18. By Greg Farrar

Staffers flooded from Issaquah City Hall and other municipal buildings at 10:18 a.m. Oct. 18 as employees joined a statewide earthquake drill.

The preparedness exercise involved public employees throughout the city, plus residents throughout the city and state, as planners tested residents’ ability to respond to a temblor.

The city official responsible for disseminating information to the public during emergencies, Communications Coordinator Autumn Monahan, said frequent disaster preparedness exercises educate city employees about the proper procedures to follow in worst-case scenarios.

“It becomes second nature to them. If there’s an earthquake or a fire or some kind of incident, they know exactly what to do,” she said.

What to know

Planners at the American Red Cross offer simple tips for Washington residents to prepare for earthquakes:

  • Learn fire evacuation and earthquake plans for all of the buildings you occupy on a regular basis.
  • Select safe places in each room of your home, workplace or school. The safe place could be under a piece of furniture, or against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases or tall furniture.
  • Practice drop, cover and hold in each safe place. If you do not have sturdy furniture to hold onto, sit on the floor next to an interior wall and cover your head and neck with your arms.
  • Keep a flashlight and sturdy shoes by each person’s bed.
  • Keep and maintain an emergency supplies kit in an easy-to-access location.
  • Make sure your home is securely anchored to its foundation.
  • Bolt and brace water heaters and gas appliances to wall studs. Bolt bookcases, china cabinets and other tall pieces of furniture to wall studs. Brace overhead light fixtures.
  • Hang heavy items, such as pictures and mirrors, away from beds, couches and anywhere people sleep or sit.
  • Install strong latches or bolts on cabinets. Place large or heavy items in the cabinets closest to the floor.
  • Learn how to shut off the gas valves in your home, and keep a wrench handy for use.
  • Learn about your area’s seismic building standards and land-use codes before you start construction.

In the drill, city staffers also conduct evacuation and sweep procedures at municipal buildings to practice searching for employees beneath debris or stuck inside offices or restrooms during a real emergency.

Staffers also performed inspections on buildings as part of the drill.

Evacuees gathered outside buildings, and each department conducted a roll call and radioed the information to the municipal Emergency Operations Center.

Statewide, more than 700,000 Washington residents joined in the Great Washington ShakeOut. October is Disaster Preparedness Month in Washington, and planners scheduled the drill to coincide with the observance.

State officials hoped the exercise might involve more than 1 million participants in Washington, but organizers said the turnout reflected a strong interest in emergency preparedness.

The event was the first time Washington joined a national earthquake drill. Nationwide, more than 40 million people in 13 states participated in the exercise.

The exercise centered on a drop, cover and hold drill. Washington organizers said the event allowed residents and organizations, such as local governments and school districts, to practice safety responses to earthquakes.

State drill organizers also asked participants to do conduct at least one additional emergency preparedness step, such as stocking up on emergency supplies or joining in a neighborhood readiness program.

“We had a great response in Washington in our first year of Great ShakeOut participation,” said Washington Emergency Management Division Director Jim Mullen said in a statement. “We were especially pleased by the participation of more than 400,000 K-12 students, faculty and staff across the state.”

Issaquah emergency planners last participated in a detailed earthquake response exercise in June.

Officials in local, regional, state and federal government joined the 2012 Evergreen Quake Exercise Series to prepare for a devastating disaster in Issaquah and Western Washington. The scenario for the event imagined a magnitude-6.7 earthquake along the Seattle Fault.

The last major earthquake to occur in the Puget Sound region — the magnitude-6.8 Nisqually earthquake — occurred Feb. 28, 2001.

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