The Great Southern California ShakeOut

The Great Southern California ShakeOut is a week of special events featuring the largest earthquake drill in U.S. history, organized to inspire Southern Californians to get ready for big earthquakes, and to prevent disasters from becoming catastrophes.

IGCR and Risk RED Observation of Schools during the ShakeOut

The Institute for Global and Community Resilience (IGCR) teamed up with Risk RED, a non-profit organization dedicated to disaster prevention and education, to look at school disaster preparedness during the November 13, 2008, Great Southern California ShakeOut.

Preparedness Survey

Together they created a school preparedness survey, helping schools assess what preparedness actions they had taken and what steps remained. The ShakeOut Drill School Earthquake Preparedness Survey was electronically conducted and were given to teachers, administrative, and staff of charter, homeschooled, public and private school in the Los Angeles area. This survey was targeted toward schools with grades K.

A total of 343 schools took the online survey. The Resilience Institute led the analysis effort. Some interesting findings are:

  • Wider participation is needed for successful school disaster prevention and response planning. This includes leadership from school board members and administrators as well as initiative from teachers and staff. It also can and should include students, parents, and community members much more frequently.
  • The principles underlying 'Drop, Cover, and Hold' (get down low, make yourself small, keep your head and neck covered) are not well-understood and therefore not well-practices in setting without desks of tables.
  • The reflection, discussion and planning that takes place after the drill may indeed be the most important part of the learning experience. Drill guidance materials need to emphasize that all drill participants can and should be part of this essential activity.
  • Drills require realism and variety in order to maximize their effectiveness. Scenarios should include elements of the unexpected and that require improvisation. Drilling with advanced notice, during a predictable period of the school day, seriously limits learning opportunities for all involved.
  • For students the learning experience can be significantly enriched through experiential learning, including school and community disaster prevention activities, and activities to coincide with and follow the drill itself.
  • Child-to-family transmission of disaster prevention lessons holds powerful and untapped potential.
  • Students with disabilities may have very specific needs in case of emergency that should be anticipated routinely as part of their Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). This is something that special education teachers and parent advocacy groups might initiate and promote.

A full report of the findings and a presentation of key findings can be found on the Resilience Institute's Publications page.

Drill Models and Templates

IGCR and Risk RED also created a tool to help schools design and implement school earthquake drills. This tool encouraged strategies for including all staff, students, and administration in acting out an earthquake, including acting out post-earthquake scenarios such as injured and missing students, building damage, search and rescue, medial triage, reunification with parents, and accounting for all students. You can find our School Drill Model and Templates at the ShakeOut website resources page.

School Observation

During the Great Southern California ShakeOut, IGCR associate Rebekah Green and IGCR Intern Jon Loewus-Dietch helped organize a global team of school safety experts and advocates from around the world. In groups of three international observers, the team worked with three local schools to observe how the schools participated in the ShakeOut drill on November 13, 2008. The team noted effective strategies the schools used to manage the “earthquake emergency” and areas where they and other schools could increase their preparedness plans.


Some of the observations the team made were:

  • Students are very familiar with DCH protective measures in an earthquake. However, often teachers and staff attempted to DCH only to find that files and personal belonging under their desk made DCH impossible. Teachers and staff that are not able to adequately protect themselves during a real earthquake may be injured and become a burden rather than an asset during the evacuation and emergency response.
  • Most classroom doors were closed at the time of the earthquake drill. During an actual earthquake some closed doors may become jammed due to building shifts and teachers may then be unable to open them during evacuation. If door stoppers are installed, administration may want to instruct teachers and staff (if safe) to immediately prop open their classroom door prior to ducking, covering, and holding on.
  • An important part of any school emergency plan is how to safely reunify students with their parents, guardians or approved emergency contacts. While schools observed had simple, effective, and organized systems for reunification record keeping, signage directing community members towards the request and reunification gates was poor. During the drill, no one placed signs around the school perimeter directing inquiring parents towards the request gate. Anxious parents may attempt to scale fences or break into the buildings before finding the appropriate area to request students.

The drill also brought to light areas where schools can continue to improve their emergency plans. Some unanswered concerns include:

  • How would the school deal with community members wanting to use the space for shelter, or wanting to congregate?
  • How would the school seek to encourage or discourage community members seeking to help during an emergency?
  • What plans are in place for students who are on school transportation vehicles during the time of an earthquake? How will this plan take into account blocked roads? Where will students wait for reunification with parents?


IGCR and Risk RED received funding from the ProVention Consortium and Southern California Earthquake Center organize an international team of school safety advocates and to enhance school participation and learning during the Great Southern California ShakeOut Earthquake Activity.

  • The Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) is a community of over 600 scientists, students, and others at over 60 institutions worldwide, headquartered at the University of Southern California. SCEC is funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey to develop a comprehensive understanding of earthquakes in Southern California and elsewhere, and to communicate useful knowledge for reducing earthquake risk.
  • The ProVention Consortium is a global coalition of international organizations, governments, the private sector, civil society organizations and academic institutions dedicated to increasing the safety of vulnerable communities and to reducing the impacts of disasters in developing countries. It provides a forum for multi-stakeholder dialogue on disaster risk reduction and a framework for collective action.

Related Links

RiskRED (Risk Reduction Education for Disasters) seeks to increase the effectiveness and impact of disaster risk reduction education. This is accomplished by bridging the gaps between idea and audience, local and non-local practitioner knowledge, content and design, and research and application.

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