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Drop, Cover and Hold on: Are You Really Ready for the Next Earthquake?

Many areas of the globe are prone to earthquakes. But no matter where you are, they usually occur without warning, causing fires, tsunamis, landslides, avalanches, damage to infrastructure and more. If the ground started to rapidly shake right now, would you be prepared to survive and recover quickly?

In emergency management and disaster response, this year marks 30 years for two significant events. First, the Hazard Mitigation Assistance Grant Program was initiated to help communities and states rebuild after a disaster to be resilient for future disasters. Then, within a few months of this program being implemented, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake along the San Andreas fault struck Northern California. Also referred to as the “World Series Earthquake,” this was the largest earthquake to occur in more than 80 years and rebuilding the area would address seismic hazards and mitigation efforts. The shock resulted in 63 lives lost and more than 27,000 structural damages, including the collapse of the top deck of the Bay Bridge.

Since then, FEMA has placed a big emphasis on mitigation strategies. We have provided more than $940 million to fund over 6,000 seismic retrofit projects through its Hazard Mitigation and Pre-Disaster Mitigation programs, as well as invested millions of dollars to train and equip urban search-and-rescue task forces across the country. It is estimated that a major earthquake in a highly populated area of the United States could cause as much as $200 billion in losses. Studies have found that mitigation projects on average save four dollars for every dollar invested; FEMA’s mitigation work in the past 30 years has resulted in billions of dollars saved. Additional work on building codes, standards and related earthquake projects has resulted in further losses avoided.

On Oct, 17, during the annual Great Shakeout, millions of people at home and in schools, businesses, government agencies and organizations participated in the world’s largest earthquake drill. Great ShakeOut earthquake drills are an opportunity to practice how to be safer during earthquakes. If an earthquake does happen, being prepared with an emergency kit is a great start. Remember to act quickly: “Drop, Cover and Hold On!” First, drop to your hands and knees. Second, cover your head and neck with your arms. Then, crawl under a sturdy table or desk, if nearby. Lastly, hold on to any sturdy furniture with one arm, while the other is still covering your neck, until the shaking stops.

While all 50 states and U.S. territories are at risk for an earthquake, higher risk areas in the United States include California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Mississippi Valley. However, in 2011, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck Mineral, Va., catching many residents by surprise. In 2002, an earthquake in upstate New York prompted a major disaster declaration from President George W. Bush. Almost 1,460 applicants received more than $2 million in state and federal assistance. It is important to be ready every day no matter where you are and the level of risk that you face.

We also encourage everyone to consider obtaining an earthquake insurance policy because a standard homeowner’s insurance policy does not cover earthquake damage. Take time today to download FEMA’s Earthquake Safety Checklist and prepare for all hazardous risks that accompany earthquakes.

ShakeAlert: From the Destructive Loma Prieta Earthquake to an Early Warning System

David Maurstad
David Maurstad is a veteran emergency manager with forty years’ experience in disaster resilience and insurance. As the head of FEMA’s Insurance and Mitigation Administration, he guides efforts to communicate risk, increase flood insurance coverage and incentivize natural hazard mitigation. As senior executive of the NFIP, he leads the world’s largest single-peril insurance operation providing over $1.3 trillion in flood coverage to over 5 million U.S. policyholders. At FEMA, David has held leadership positions for Hurricane Katrina, tropical storm Harvey and hundreds of disaster operations. David’s expertise in disaster recovery and strategic risk management stems from extensive leadership experience in local and state government as a former Nebraska mayor, state Senator and Lt. Governor.

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