Tuesday morning at 11:15, denizens of Catholic in Northeast Washington put down what they were doing, scuttled under desks and held on tight. It was a test of earthquake etiquette that nearly everyone in Washington failed last August, when the city was visited by an actual earthquake.
Catholic was the only school in the Mid-Atlantic to participate in an international event called ShakeOut, held annually since 2008 to raise awareness of earthquakes. Participation has spread from California to earthquake-ignorant regions of the Midwest and, now, to the nation’s tectonically illiterate capital.
Probably no one in the DMV had thought of gauging their institutional earthquake preparedness prior to the August quake, which sent Washington into violent convulsions and reverberated all the way to New York.
Why, as I write this, I am glancing at a sheet of paper that someone posted on this cubicle last summer under the heading, What to Do During an Earthquake. It is a scenario none of us had ever seriously considered.
Any good Californian knows the drill: “DROP to the ground; take COVER by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and HOLD ON until the shaking stops.” Cowering beneath office furniture isn’t particularly heroic, but it can protect you from falling ceiling tiles.
But few at The Washington Post thought to do that on quake day. Some made for the elevators. A few sprinted aimlessly, like startled cats. Most of us sat at our desks, gawking at each other.
Apparently, our counterparts at Catholic performed no better.
“I was in McMahon Hall, and I was heading downstairs with [colleague] Katie Lee to go to a meeting at the Basilica,” said Victor Nakas, university spokesman. “And we felt something, and I thought I was just having a senior moment. . . We just headed on to the meeting, and we went outside. And I think that was the reaction of a lot of people, they headed outside, which is exactly what you’re not supposed to do.”
The idea of joining the ShakeOut came from Catholic’s director of energy and utilities management.
“He had become aware of this, and we just thought it was a good idea to do it,” Nakas said, “because when the earthquake happened, we were all clueless.”
The drill was comparatively straightforward: At the appointed time, students and employees were to get under something and hold on.
But the exercise exposed a glitch in the all-campus alert system, which failed to broadcast the duck-and-cover message at the appointed time. Much of the Catholic population remembered to duck, but not all of it.
Is this the first earthquake drill ever staged in a D.C. school? If you know better, chime in with a comment.