Time to Shake Up the Great American Shakeout?  

By Jim Mullen
Emergency Management, Once Removed

Let there be no mistake: the Great American Shakeout is an excellent effort to raise awareness of the earthquake risk and the damage it could create. It is essential to raise awareness about the damages that could occur, not just for the West Coast of the United States (widely acknowledged as “earthquake country”) but elsewhere as well – for example, the Central US. An unsuspecting population might find itself shocked at the likely impacts of an earthquake of even lesser magnitude than what West Coasters might reasonably expect.

This year’s Shakeout will occur on October 21, 2021, at 10:21 AM: throughout the country, there will be an acknowledgment of the risk posed by an earthquake in a particular region. Tips on preparing at home, school, work, or en route to wherever one might be going will accompany credible models of potential damage and disruption.

Even well-executed campaigns like Shakeout are limited in preparing the community. Campaigns” inevitably end. The media, and the community, soon will focus on other more immediate concerns: no harm, some good, accomplished. But, once again, an opportunity to create a vehicle for a sustained community preparedness program will have come and gone.

With all that is occurring around us, a pandemic, other natural disasters, a growing threat of insurrection, and the collateral damage the above have caused to our economy, not to mention our national psyche; it seems appropriate to elevate community preparedness from a “campaign” to a program.

Emergency managers assigned to educate and prepare the public merit a little more “cowbell” from the rest of us in support of their efforts. For years I have argued that we must dive further into the subject of community preparedness. The creator of the acclaimed Seattle Disaster Aid and Response Teams (SDART) and the internationally recognized Map Your Neighborhood (MYN) program, Dr. Luan Johnson, persuasively argued that preparedness must become as essential as paying one’s bills or mowing one’s lawn. Devastating consequences await those who defer such critical tasks.

Technology offers a path forward. An online, general population-centric series of exercises could help document the extent to which people are prepared for their community’s most likely disruptive events while educating them on how best to fill any gaps in their readiness the scenario uncovers. An initial strategy could pose a limited, manageable disruption, like a temporary loss of power during severe weather. Subsequent scenarios could introduce escalated circumstances. This is a low-cost, high-yield proposal. Someone should do it!

When I became Seattle’s Emergency Management Director, the head of my parent department questioned my contention that community preparedness was my top priority. Besides the apparent retort that we work for the public, I added that the response is more manageable if the community is prepared and the recovery is less daunting. That remains true today.

I have made this case before, achieving “critical success,” which is my wry way of saying it seems a great idea for “someone else” to undertake.

There. I just tried again. How did I do?