‘ShakeOut’ drill prepares students, schools for major earthquake

‘ShakeOut’ drill prepares students, schools for major earthquake


Students in teacher Jessica Zafran’s fifth-grade class learn how to protect themselves during the Great California Shakeout at Dearborn Elementary Charter Academy

The mantra of “drop, cover and hold on” was recited Thursday at schools across Los Angeles Unified, as students, faculty and first-responders practiced how to respond to a catastrophic earthquake – a drill designed to trigger an automatic reaction when the next strong temblor hits.

Millions of people statewide participated in the Great California Shakeout, joining a worldwide movement to provide education on how to prepare for, survive and recover from a major quake.

“It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when,” said Tina Curry, deputy director of the state Office of Emergency Services. “You can make a difference to reduce injury, death and property damage. ‘Drop, cover and hold on’ is the best defense in case of an earthquake.”

Curry spoke during a news conference at Dearborn Elementary Charter Academy in Northridge, where the District, the Los Angeles Fire Department and other agencies participated in a full-scale drill. They presumed a rupture along the San Andreas Fault, causing a 7.2 magnitude quake that toppled buildings, closed freeways and left people to fend for themselves. An earthquake simulator was set up for media to demonstrate the damage a strong temblor can cause in just a few seconds.

Fifth-grader Hannah Sinnema is "treated" by a Los Angeles firefighter during a first-responder drill.

Fifth-grader Hannah Sinnema is “treated” by a Los Angeles firefighter during a first-responder drill.

The 540 students at Dearborn hit the floor and huddled under their desks at 10:20 a.m., when an announcement that the quake had hit came over the public-address system. Most of the kids quietly evacuated to their designated location on the school blacktop, although 20 realistically made up as casualties remained behind to be found and triaged by first-responders. Their radios chattering with reports of damage from across the city, firefighters also had to deal with a fire in a classroom and a hazardous materials cleanup in the school’s science lab.

The exercise was filmed by MySafe: LA, the education arm of the Fire Department, and will be shown to schools and first-responders during training exercises. The full-scale drill also spotlighted what procedures could be improved – where more personnel were needed, for example, and how communication could be better.

Principal Kim Estrada, right, works with her Dearborn office staff to track students during a practice evacuation.

Principal Kim Estrada, right, and her Dearborn office staff to track students during a practice evacuation.

“We want to show our kids not to be afraid, but to educate them,” Dearborn Principal Kim Estrada said, adding that lessons on seismic activity are included in the school’s math and science curriculum.

School Board Member Scott Schmerelson encouraged parents to update their child’s emergency contact forms with relatives, friends and neighbors who could pick up a student at school if the parents are unable to get there.

“The school will not release a child to anyone who isn’t listed on the contact card or who cannot show ID when they arrive to pick up the student,” Schmerelson cautioned.

Students learn how to erect seismically sound structures in teacher Danny Chavez-Perez' science class.

Students erect seismically sound structures in teacher Danny Chavez-Perez’ s class.

Officials used the Shakeout to urge the public to prepare for a natural disaster. Chris Nance from the California Earthquake Authority talked about the importance of getting earthquake insurance and of retrofitting homes.

David Barrett, executive officer of MySafe: LA, encouraged families to create an emergency plan and to organize a supply of water, nonperishable food and other necessities in convenient locations – just in case. (Each L.A. Unified school has an emergency bin stocked with water, food and first-aid and sanitation supplies.)

“If you are going to prepare, you are going to survive,” he said. “And if you are going to survive, you are going to recover.”


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