How USC Integrates the Great ShakeOut Into Its Emergency Management Plan

USC has been conducting ShakeOut earthquake drills since 2008. Here’s how it helps them improve their community’s emergency preparedness.

How USC Integrates the Great ShakeOut Into Its Emergency Management Plan

Each year, USC begins its earthquake preparedness education campaign a month prior to the October ShakeOut. (Photo courtesy of USC)

There are many advantages to incorporating the Great ShakeOut into a university emergency management program. The annual October event has become part of the University of Southern California’s (USC) culture, with staff, faculty and students expecting to participate in the drill every October.

Great ShakeOut Ambassadors Help Run the Drill

How do you facilitate such a large drill across your entire campus and in all classrooms, offices, labs and public spaces? The solution the USC Office of Fire Safety & Emergency Planning developed with was to create a team of ShakeOut Ambassadors.

Six months before the very first ShakeOut drill we recruited more than 200 staff and faculty to serve in the volunteer role. We provided them with training on how to conduct the Drop, Cover and Hold-On Drill within their schools and departments.

The training included in-depth information on earthquake preparedness and served as a train-the-trainer so ambassadors could train their staff.  Each ambassador received a USC ShakeOut T-Shirt to be worn on the day of the drill.

In addition to facilitating the drill in their work areas, ambassadors facilitated discussions about their school or department emergency plans during regularly scheduled department meetings.

Ten years later, the USC ShakeOut Ambassador program is still very active. Throughout the year, Fire Safety & Emergency Planning sends out emergency preparedness information to the ambassadors to distribute within their schools and departments. The information ranges from internal emergency procedures to general safety topics such as fire prevention. The group is a force multiplier and the concept is ideal for any university.

Campaign Educates Community About Earthquake Preparedness

One month prior to the ShakeOut each year, USC begins an earthquake preparedness education campaign. This includes sending out earthquake preparedness information emails, placing posters and flyers throughout the campus, and the promotion of a USC ShakeOut web page.

The webpage includes links to information on earthquake preparedness information for families, the office and specialized procedures for laboratories. There are also resources for people with disabilities, access and functional needs. Additionally, we ask our ShakeOut ambassadors to start promoting the drill in their staff and faculty meetings. Residential staff also begin to discuss earthquake safety during their residential floor meetings.

One week prior to the drill we send out an all-staff, all-faculty and an all-student email. The emails are written specifically for the target audience and briefly explains how to participate in the drill and how to prepare for emergencies.

In addition to the various materials developed for the ShakeOut, a media release is sent to all university media outlets such as the university newspaper, radio station and other internal media.  The goal is to give the media groups exclusive access to the drill so they will cover the drill and educate their readers on important preparedness information.

How the Drill Works at USC

Every year staff, faculty, and students participate in the Drop, Cover and Hold-on drill on the day of the ShakeOut. Faculty are provided with a three slide PowerPoint presentation that they can use to briefly educate students on earthquake procedures just prior to the drill. The slide deck is available on the ShakeOut.org website.

In addition to the annual Drop, Cover and Hold-on exercise, USC has conducted full-scale disaster drills on the day of the ShakeOut. The drills include the activation of the emergency operations center, Campus Emergency Response Teams (CERT), damage assessment, disaster medical teams, disaster mental health, crisis communications, amateur radio and numerous other components of the university’s all-hazard emergency response and business continuity plans.

ShakeOut Participation Encourages Preparedness

The ShakeOut has been an excellent tool for encouraging all departments and schools to prepare for emergencies and disasters. The date of the ShakeOut each year becomes a target. Each department knows the drill is coming so they work diligently to ensure their plans are updated, training takes place and they are ready for the big day. The lessons learned from the drills become the after-action items that guide the planning and training for the following year.

Whether you work for a small college, large university, K-12 school or district, or other institution, there plenty of resources available to help you make the best of the ShakeOut in your community. The ShakeOut.org website has many resources for education organizations, many developed at USC and available for your use.


Steve Goldfarb is USC’s emergency manager.

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