Community members across Fort Lee are expected to participate in the “Great Shakeout” Earthquake Drill Oct. 19 at approximately 10:20 a.m.
The start of the exercise will be announced via the ATHOC emergency warning system and official email channels. Regardless of whether individuals receive the announcements, however, they should take steps to review and rehearse crisis response procedures.
“The annual shakeout drill is meant to emphasize the importance of planning and practice to reduce the possibility of injuries or deaths,” noted Thomas Loden, installation emergency manager with the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. “Earthquakes in particular are among the most destructive phenomenon in nature, and the fact they don’t happen often works against us because people become apathetic about preparedness.”
More than 160 earthquakes have occurred in Virginia since 1977. Most were negligible; however, in 2011 much of the state experienced a 5.8 magnitude tremor emanating from an epicenter in the Louisa County area approximately 72 miles northwest of Fort Lee. It was not the first major earthquake to affect the commonwealth. The third-largest earth tremor in the eastern United States was recorded here in 1897 and was felt in 12 states.
“That pretty much eliminates the ‘if’ question,” Loden noted, “and leaves us with when … as in, when it happens, what actions will afford the best chance of survival?”
The shakeout drill is the right time to reflect on that question. If homes, offices, organizations, etc., are without a plan; people should take steps to begin putting one together. Assess the potential hazards. Practice the following immediate response procedures:
• DROP to the ground,
• COVER head and neck with arms and seek shelter by getting under a sturdy desk or table if nearby; and
• HOLD ON to the shelter and be prepared to move with it until the shaking stops.
Many injuries in earthquakes are caused by nonstructural objects – lighting fixtures, windows, ceiling tiles, etc. – falling from buildings, as well as toppling furniture and hanging objects coming loose and dropping to the floor. That’s why national safety experts recommend taking shelter under a solid object until the shaking stops. If outdoors, don’t run into a building. Find a safe spot well away from structures that can crumble or fall over, and get low to the ground to ride out the tremors. If operating a vehicle, find a safe pull-over spot away from power lines and poles.
It’s important to consider also what actions would be taken after the earthquake. Accountability is the foremost goal, followed by assessment of the damage to determine if evacuation is necessary. A well-thought-out response plan also would include emergency contact information for police, the fire department, public works, your child’s school if applicable, and so on. Ask the question, what supplies would you need if the quake destroys power or water lines, or makes roads impassable? Take steps to prepare for that possibly by assembling or checking the contents of an emergency response kit.
There are multiple information resources on the internet to help individuals construct a thorough response plan and educate themselves on the dangers associated with earthquakes, Loden noted. Recommended sites include https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/earthquakes and www.ready.gov/earthquakes.
“Research is a proactive step. Ensuring employees are enrolled in ATHOC is one also,” said Loden. “Every positive action puts this command closer to protecting life and property during a natural or manmade disaster. There’s no question earthquakes can happen here, as stated earlier. The shakeout drill is the ideal opportunity to ask ourselves what steps can be taken to mitigate the effects of this potentially deadly hazard.”
Most computer workstations connected to the Fort Lee-area network have a direct link to the ATHOC registration portal. Click the small triangle on right side of the taskbar and then select the purple globe icon (contact your system administrator if it’s not visible). While registering in ATHOC, ensure work phone number, official email, place-of-duty address and after-hours contact information is provided at a minimum. For questions, contact Diego Reynoso at (804) 734-7903.
“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to take this seriously,” Loden concluded. “Don’t assume it will never happen or that you can just deal with it when it does. Learn from history. Get into the mindset that we need to protect ourselves and those we care about and love by being aware and being prepared.”