Monday, January 26, 2009

Lessons Learned from the Great Southern California Shakeout

Many of you heard about the November 13, 2008 earthquake drill in Southern California. Five and half million of you participated in some way, including individuals, schools, emergency command and control organizations, and corporations.

This exercise resulted from a grass roots effort based on the research of Dr. Lucy Jones of USGS and Cal Tech. The purpose of the exercise and a personal passion of Dr. Jones is to develop a culture of preparedness. The exercise and its publicity accomplished a beginning, but there is much to be done, and learned.

The exercise included not only the drill of an earthquake response, but also used super computers to model results at a level of detail not possible before. As a result, we learned things we did not know before.

· This 7.8 magnitude quake was 5,000 times stronger than the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

· Economic damage was estimated at $213 Billion USD.

· Fires resulting from ruptured gas and power lines accounted for half of the damage.

· Some buildings previously thought safe in a large quake are now known not to be safe.

· The Tejon Pass rupture severed power transmission, gas, water, rail, and roadways, effectively isolating the region from outside relief.

· Water (not just drinking water) will not be available in some areas for up to six months after the quake.

· 22 million people in 8 counties were directly affected, including 1,800 deaths and over 50,000 injuries

· Many people died or were injured when they ran out of buildings during the quake instead of dropping, covering, and holding in place

Let me caution here that it would be easy to dismiss these numbers and what they project as worst case outcomes in a worst case scenario. That is not the case. The quake that was exercised is not the worst case. Locating the epicenter in a remote area mitigated against the kinds of losses that would result from a similar quake centered in a suburban area. The magnitude of the quake is large, but historically speaking a quake of this magnitude in this region is 150 years overdue.

When we ran our own drill where I work we learned a few things as well.

· No one knew how to use the satellite phone, and we were surprised to learn that it can only be used while stationary in a large open field.

· We needed more runners on hand to pass information to our teams throughout the facility.

· A key activity is recording all forms of information as it comes in, and logging action items, assignments, and decisions.

Those are just a few, there were many more. And, we had a few light moments as well (imagine your entire executive management team crawling underneath tables as aftershocks hit).

Among the biggest values of participating in the exercise is that we have to a small extent removed the fear of the unknown. Continued exercising will normalize the stress and reactions required to successfully survive such an incident. It will increase our confidence and lead to additional planning and corrective action. All good things.

The greatest danger we face is not the “Big One.” The greatest danger is complacency. Be informed and be prepared. Your quality of life and that of your loved ones will be determined by the quality of your preparation now.

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