USC students dropped to the floor and held on for cover Wednesday as the school began testing earthquake preparedness as part of the annual ShakeOut, the world’s largest earthquake drill.
The official ShakeOut day for California is Oct. 17, with schools, business, government offices and many other organizations across the Golden State taking part. However, with USC off for fall break, mock drills were held in the Annenberg Media Center on Wednesday instead.
The media center is particularly vulnerable, as dozens of TVs that hang from the ceiling pose a potential danger to students should an earthquake hit. Other extremely heavy and expensive equipment, as well as the huge panes of glass that fill the walls, also create possible risks.
“If a big enough earthquake hit, the glass might come down,” said Ray Barkley, the director of technical services and operations at USC and who helped coordinate the on-campus earthquake preparedness drills as part of ShakeOut.
“The nice thing about the glass here is it’s all got that frosted film inside so it’s not going to shatter into a thousand pieces,” Barkley continued. While the building and most others in Southern California are designed to be quake-resistant, Barkley warned, “anything is possible in a really big earthquake.”
There are earthquake kits in the Annenberg flagship building (ASC) containing food, water and first aid material designed to sustain 200 people for up to five days in the event of a serious catastrophe. In addition, the 35-person Building Emergency Response Team, also known as BERT, has members trained to help evacuate facilities in the event of an earthquake. Team members stationed at different locations sweep the floors for people who need assistance and coordinate with emergency services as those arrive.
The ShakeOut began in California in 2008 and now extends to 69 countries across the globe, from the Philippines to Colombia to Cameroon to Iran. The 2019 version is the biggest yet, with over 65 million participants worldwide and 20 million in the United States alone. The Southern California Earthquake Center, headquartered at USC, oversees global coordination between ShakeOut locations.
“It’s very important,” Barkley said of the annual ShakeOut drills. “I’d equate it to muscle memory. It’s something that people know and they practice so when it actually happens they can do it that much easier.”
Jamia Pugh, a graduate student from Philadelphia and entertainment editor for Annenberg Media, had never been in an earthquake drill before.
“They don’t have them back on the east coast,” Pugh said. “I now know what to do in the case of earthquake emergency.”
The ShakeOut drills exist to ensure everyone shares a level of comfort and understands earthquake protocol.
“The worst thing people can do in earthquakes is they run. That’s not what you’re supposed to do when the ground’s shaking. Everything might be falling on top of you,” Barkley said. “Practice is really important.”
Christina Bellantoni, director of the media center, sought to soothe fears during Wednesday’s drill.
“It’s designed to shake. That’s the good news,” Bellantoni said.
Southern California is particularly vulnerable to significant earthquakes. The famous 1994 Northridge earthquake killed 57 and caused upwards of $50 billion in damages, equivalent to roughly $85 billion today. A trio of quakes centered in Ridgecrest rocked much of California over the summer, killing a man and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. Drills like those organized by ShakeOut help ensure there are as few injuries as possible.