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Secretary Kempthorne and Mark Myers Share Thoughts on ShakeOut

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Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and USGS Director Mark Myers reflect on the successes of The Great Southern California ShakeOut—the largest earthquake preparedness drill in U.S. history.




Public Domain.



[Starting Theme Music]

Brian Campbell: My name is Brian Campbell and I am here with the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, and the Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, Dr. Mark Myers. We are going to be discussing The Great Southern California Shakeout. Sec. Kempthorne, Dr. Myers, thanks for being here.

Today, over 5.2 million residents in Southern California participated in The Great Southern California Shakeout, the largest disaster preparedness drill in U.S. history. What does it mean to you that you were able to be a part of this landmark event? Secretary Kempthorne?

Sec. Kempthorne: Brian, the fact that you had 5.2 million people that did participate demonstrates the understanding, the realization by the citizens that, in partnership with their government at the federal, state, local level, with the first responders -- the firefighters, police officers, EMTs -- that by working together, we all have a role to play. They took it seriously today.


The fact that you had thousands upon thousands of people that got under their desk, got under some sort of structure to protect themselves, and the year-and-a-half that it took to get ready for this event, I believe that today, lives will be saved because of it.

When we went out to Burbank Elementary School to see those beautiful children, when that bell went off, they immediately knew where to go: under their desks. You could talk to them about it. They knew what this was, what this earthquake was. The realization, the coverage by the media was tremendous, so I don't think anybody is under some notion that earthquakes don't happen. They do happen. It is predicted by the scientists that it will happen here, and because of the preparedness and the partnership of five million people, we're better off today.


Brian Campbell: All right. Dr. Myers?

Dr. Myers: It was exciting to see the level of participation, as Secretary Kempthorne said, five million people involved -- all the way from top policy makers like Secretary Kempthorne, Gov. Schwarzenneger, all the way down to kids in the elementary school. It was folks coming together to work a common issue and working it before the real crisis occurs.

It was the implementation all the way from the idea - the concept that we need to do this, to the full implementation and delivery of the products, delivery of the science, but also delivery of the emergency responders working together, coming together to solve common problems. It was a recognition we don't have all the answers, but that we're working on getting those answers. It was the investment of time that people made from their regular day jobs to really engage - not just the professionals, but all the volunteers that were here. It was the general enthusiasm in which people attacked the problems that really excited me.


Brian Campbell: All right. Gentlemen, today you had the opportunity to visit a number of sites to see how Southern Californians are preparing and practicing for the next big earthquake. What was the most moving or inspiring thing that you witnessed today?

Sec. Kempthorne: I'm going to pick up on the term "most moving."

Brian Campbell: Okay.

Sec. Kempthorne: And that is, I think people need to realize -- this is what I told these children. When you get under the desk, you need to realize that desk will be moving. In fact, that desk in an earthquake the size that was predicted is going to be slamming from one wall to the other. So you need to hang on to that desk so that you always have that protection over you.


The concept that you're practicing for an earthquake, but really nothing is shaking -- in an earthquake, it's horrifying. And so that's the thing is that we need to realize as we practice this, the shaking. The fact that they call this the Shakeout is the reality that we're in for a rumble. The more that we realize that, the better off we're going to be.

Brian Campbell: All right. Dr. Myers, the most moving or most inspiring moment today?

Dr. Myers: I think it was watching all the folks from government. You know, we think that our government is being impersonal. We think of it as being bureaucratic. But we saw people. We saw a firefighter on the roof with a chainsaw working through getting into a simulated disaster in a building. We saw school teachers taking care of their kids. We saw the dedication all the way up again to the most senior officials down to the folks that are working in very localized government really caring. We saw them taking it seriously. We saw them working together.


So, instead of this image of government being this distant thing, we saw it being very personalized. We saw the public volunteers and the kids understanding that people really cared about them.

Brian Campbell: All right. The U.S. Geological Survey was responsible for providing the science that formed the backbone of The Great Southern California Shakeout. What are your thoughts on how science can be used to make our community safer, particularly those communities that face the threat of natural disasters? Dr. Myers, you want to start?

Dr. Myers: Well, we've based our tenure plan, our science strategy on doing science that's relevant to society and benefits society. This is one of the classic areas. Folks went out on a limb that created a multi-hazards approach. They took the science and they said, "Our science needs to be relevant. Our science really needs to serve society." This is a living, breathing example of that vision being carried out by folks on the ground.


Much of what we saw here today with the USGS involvement became this individual scientist within the organization really pushed to move that went beyond the call of duty to make this happen. They not only became scientists but became ambassadors for the concepts. They became communicators. They spent their nights and weekends working outside their typical scientific jobs in order to provide the information so that public officials and individuals could understand the significance of the science and the importance of that.

They developed scenarios that were really accurate -- as far as we can tell, the best available science. They went through and did extensive period use, so it was a lot of confidence in the public. And the scenarios were real. They weren't training for something that was unrealistic, but this really could happen. They developed computer simulations and graphics that really displayed to a general lay person the significance of what they were seeing in three dimensions and actually in the fourth dimension of time. So it was just really exciting to see, again, the science strategy come alive and to see five million people respond to them.


Sec. Kempthorne: Brian, let me broaden this as an example when you talk about science and its application. In the last months here in California, we've seen major devastating fires. We've seen them in the Malibu Hills, for example. It has wiped out so much of the vegetation that we have serious concerns now about major mudslides when rains come. So, the U.S. Geological Survey developed -- actually, designed monitoring systems that didn't exist before that are now placed in strategic areas all up into the hillsides in major gulches, so that when the rains do begin to come, these monitors identify the flow. How much volume of water is coming down there, and are you starting to get accumulation of debris within that water? In other words, is mud building?


By doing that, they can notify local officials that we now predict these certain gulches are probably going to come loose. You need to evacuate your citizens now. They didn't have this before. This is leading edge.

Mark Myers and I went to South Africa about a year ago, December. We were very privileged to represent the United States at what was called The Global Earth Observation Summit. It was 73 nations that gathered. Utilizing all of these different sciences, the fact that we've just finished the Indian Ocean, the tsunami buoys that have been put in place, we're now working on the Pacific Ocean taking this monitoring such as earthquakes, monitoring with regard to hurricanes, floods, and in essence, it's an amber alert for Earth and USGS, the Department of the Interior. We're right at the epicenter of this. And by using a science, once again it's going to save lives.


When you had these tremendous tsunamis that hit regions of the world, it's interesting to note that animals somehow sensed to take higher ground. If we can develop the science that helps us with technology to develop that other sense through computers and science and encourage people when appropriate to get to the higher ground, we're all going to be better off.

Brian Campbell: All right. Gentlemen, thank you. Do either of you have any final thoughts or would you like to give a final message perhaps regarding the Shakeout or the application of science to making safer communities?

Sec. Kempthorne: Brian, I would just say, this was an excellent example of a partnership between citizens and their government and the private sector.


The fact that you did have 5.2 million people that participated, they took it serious. They knew they had their role to play in this partnership, and the amount of effort that went into this, a year-and-a-half to get ready for this. But tonight we had a celebration. We had a celebration because we all did our job. We're better off for it. And I truly believe that because of this effort today, somebody's life will be saved tomorrow.

Dr. Myers: Well, I think we've seen here a real example of leadership. Folks like Lucy Jones, David Applegate, and lots of other folks that stood up that it created a concept of multi-hazards. They worked through it. The fruition has been a greater awareness and ultimately a saving of lives, so to me it's been just a true honor just to work with such folks and to see the dedication, and then to see the final results of the drill knowing that in the future, when the real quake comes, lives will be saved because of what people have done here.


Brian Campbell: All right. Sec. Kempthorne, Dr. Myers, thank you for your time and thank you for everything you do in the service of our country.

[Ending Theme Music]

Music Credit

Dane Klima

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