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Preparing a population for an earthquake like Chi-Chi: The Great Southern California ShakeOut

January 1, 2009

The Great Southern California ShakeOut was a week of special events featuring the largest earthquake drill in United States history. On November 13, 2008, over 5 million southern Californians pretended that a magnitude-7.8 earthquake had occurred and practiced actions that could reduce its impact on their lives. The primary message of the ShakeOut is that what we do now, before a big earthquake, will determine what our lives will be like after. The drill was based on a scenario of the impacts and consequences of such an earthquake on the Southern San Andreas Fault, developed by over 300 experts led by the U.S. Geological Survey in partnership with the California Geological Survey, the Southern California Earthquake Center, Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, lifeline operators, emergency services and many other organizations. The ShakeOut campaign was designed and implemented by earthquake scientists, emergency managers, sociologists, art designers and community participants. The means of communication were developed using results from sociological research on what encouraged people to take action. This was structured around four objectives: 1) consistent messages – people are more inclined to believe something when they hear the same thing from multiple sources; 2) visual reinforcement – people are more inclined to do something they see other people doing; 3) encourage “milling” or discussing contemplated action – people need to discuss an action with others they care about before committing to undertaking it; and 4) focus on concrete actions – people are more likely to prepare for a set of concrete consequences of a particular hazard than for an abstract concept of risk. The goals of the ShakeOut were established in Spring 2008 and were: 1) to register 5 million people to participate in the drill; 2) to change the culture of earthquake preparedness in southern California; and 3) to reduce earthquake losses in southern California. All of these goals were met. The final registration at for the 2008 ShakeOut was 5.47 million people, or one-quarter of the population of the region. A survey conducted with the registered participants showed that the messages they took from the ShakeOut were the concepts intended, including the importance of “Drop, Cover, Hold On”, the interdependency of earthquake risk (“We are all in this together”) and the possibility of reducing losses through preparation and mitigation. Sales data from the Home Depot hardware stores in southern California showed a 260% increase in the sale of earthquake safety products during the month of the ShakeOut, November 2008.

Publication Year 2009
Title Preparing a population for an earthquake like Chi-Chi: The Great Southern California ShakeOut
Authors Lucile M. Jones
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70041666
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Earthquake Science Center