Great Shakeout earthquake drill is Thursday morning


Be prepared for a bit of a necessary distraction early this Thursday.

Grays Harbor County will participate in The Great Shakeout Earthquake Exercise. It’s being billed as the largest earthquake exercise to be conducted worldwide and it will include the entire West Coast. It will be the second year of participation after successful involvement last year, said Chuck Wallace, the Deputy Director of Grays Harbor Emergency Management of Grays Harbor. He said it is the perfect time to practice a preparedness exercise locally — since the state is taking the reins.

“It’s always a good event to exercise, especially when the state is doing it. … They’re already doing the PR work, so it’s so much easier to tag along,’’ said Wallace, adding specific jurisdictions can do similar exercises at any time. “It’s about getting people familiar with what they’re supposed to do.”

The All Hazard Alert Broadcast Systems sirens will activate for a full three minutes at 10:17 a.m. on Thursday with a test message before and afterward. As part of the exercise, the county is asking all government buildings, schools, businesses and private citizens to participate in the earthquake and tsunami safety procedures.

The first part of the exercise is to practice what is known as the “Drop, Cover and Hold On.”

“Hunker down and wait until shaking stops completely,” said Wallace of events in a theoretical earthquake situation. It is recommended everyone practice finding a spot to take cover, such as under a desk, or instruct their employees to do so once the sirens sound on Thursday.

“We understand that adults seem to feel there’s no need to climb under a table, but the goal is they need to know what to do,”said Wallace. “When the lights start falling down around you, you’re gonna want to know where to go.”

Those in inundation zones, which includes any coastal community such as Hoquiam, Westport, Ocean Shores, or South Aberdeen are then asked to move to higher ground in order to practice for the possibility of a tsunami generated by the earthquake. Wallace said the proper procedure is to walk rather than drive, due to the likelihood of liquefaction making the ground unstable and other issues caused by the earthquake that would make driving unsafe.

Once evacuated, those in charge of a particular business or group should do an accountability roll call, and are asked to call whomever is not accounted for to make sure they are okay.

Before re-entering buildings, in the event of a real earthquake, Wallace said it should be practice to first look to someone who has the proper training in determining whether it is safe to enter.

He said the county is working at getting more people qualified for such assessments.

The Shakeout is important in figuring out what your best route and assembly area would be in case of a real event, according to Wallace.

“See what the issues are, so we can discuss them,” he said of what the public should do Thursday, adding the county’s goal is to help specific jurisdictions accomplish whatever they need to do in order to satisfy their safety needs.

In the event of an actual earthquake, he reminds that it’s necessary to stay on higher ground for quite a while.

“Just remember, if this is an earthquake where a tsunami occurs, it’s a 24-hour event,” he said. “It’s multiple waves and more often than not the largest tsunami wave is not the first wave.”

Another important part of preparing for an emergency is making sure there is a family plan in place, said Wallace.

“Because most likely you will not be together in an event like this,” he said, pointing out that it is necessary to know what a school’s evacuation plan is, as well what it is at the workplace and the home — even at the stores one frequently shops at. “Then we’re that far ahead of the game in case an event should happen.”

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio will also send out a test message at 10:17 a.m. Wallace said sometime next week he will also test the entire county’s emergency notification systems and wants people to look out to make sure they are receiving their notifications. He said about 6,500 people in the county have signed up for them.

For more information on the Shakeout this Thursday or questions about procedures in case of emergency call Wallace at 360.249-3911 or email GHCDEM@co.grays-harbor.wa.us.