- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Hundreds of thousands of New Englanders learned with a jolt Tuesday night the same lesson D.C. area residents realized during last August’s magnitude-5.8 earthquake: Quakes are not always destructive, but they are unpredictable, and it’s in everybody’s interest to learn the correct reaction to one.

More than 1 million people in the D.C. metro will participate in Thursday’s Great ShakeOut, a nationwide earthquake drill that organizers saywill teach children and adults the right way to respond to an earthquake, and the timing of Maine’s temblor could not have been more relevant.

The magnitude-4 earthquake that jostled residents from New York to Maine happened at about 7:12 p.m. Tuesday, with its epicenter about three miles from Hollis Center, Maine, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. No injuries or damage were reported immediately. The region has not seen a major earthquake since the 18th century.

“The earthquake in Maine is a great example of what we tell people: that an earthquake can happen anywhere, like we saw in the Washington metro area,” said Tim Manning, deputy administrator for protection and national preparedness for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “They happen everywhere and very much in the public eye. The 5.8 earthquake in Washington, nobody had any history or experience of that happening, and the people here in Washington responded in the wrong way.”

When the quake rocked the District in August 2011, thousands of office workers in and around the District fled from office buildings and ran into the streets, breaking the cardinal safety rule of remaining inside a structure until the ground stops shaking.

The Great ShakeOut provides the opportunity to practice the correct steps to take in the absence of a post-earthquake panic.

“When you’re in a building, most people are injured not from the building collapsing, but falling ceiling tiles, light fixtures,” Mr. Manning said. “Get under a table, find something that will shield you, and hold on until the shaking stops.”

The hurdle in the earthquake business, said Brian Blake, program coordinator for the Central U.S. Earthquake Consortium, is that people only talk about earthquakes when one has happened.

“It’s like using a fire extinguisher,” he explained. “The time to learn how to use it is not when your stove is on fire.”

Laura Southard, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, said that considering the region’s Great ShakeOut was just announced in July, “to have this type of response already is tremendous.” More than 925,000 Virginians will be participating.

Her hope for the drill is to prove to the fast-paced residents of the D.C. area that it only takes a few minutes to learn to be prepared.

“This is no playdate,” she said. “Take a minute out of the day, look at where you are at 10:18 a.m. and look at what you’d do. Don’t go running outside, don’t go running down stairs, don’t go to another room. While the earth is rumbling, you have to stay put.”

Already ahead of the curve are more than 300 students enrolled at the Odessa and Wilson Butler Global Campus of the Dorothy I. Height Community Academy Public Charter Schools.

Academy Leader William Thomas said he was a fifth-grade teacher last year when the earthquake struck and he remembers his students’ fear.

“It was a huge wake-up call for the students,” he said. “Some of the students were crying. They didn’t know how to process that.”

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