Last month’s devastating earthquake in Japan and recent earthquakes in New Zealand, Chile and Haiti — to say nothing of the severe weather and tornadoes that hit St. Louis over the weekend — remind us that a major disaster can strike at any time, without warning, and often with catastrophic results.
Knowing what to do in an earthquake, or any kind of disaster, can make all the difference. Every individual, family, business, school and community in our country — all of whom are a part of our nation’s emergency management team — should learn essential skills and protective measures for before, during and after a crisis.
Today, millions of Americans will participate in the Great Central Shakeout, the largest-ever, multi-state earthquake drill to be held in the United States. It will be the first major drill to take place along the New Madrid Seismic Zone, which spans 11 states across the Midwest and the South. This part of the country was the site of one of the worst series of earthquakes in U.S. history nearly 200 years ago and remains an area where experts believe a major earthquake will strike again.
Today, 40 million people live in the New Madrid Seismic Zone region. Another large-scale earthquake in this area could have a devastating impact, causing widespread damage, disruption and loss of life in the area and far-reaching consequences for our entire country.
The Great American Shakeout will provide Americans with simple skills and information in order to be prepared in the event of an earthquake, and to raise public awareness of the best method of protection — “Drop, Cover and Hold On.” It sounds simple, but these kinds of actions can make a real difference during and after an earthquake, both for the individuals involved and the first responders who will be better able to prioritize the most serious and challenging issues when responding to a crisis.
The exercise will engage hundreds of schools, colleges and universities across the New Madrid Seismic Zone, as students and educators are an important part of our nation’s emergency management team. As part of the Great Central Shakeout, we will be joining students in St. Louis for the drill and to discuss our larger efforts at the departments of Homeland Security and Education to improve schools’ preparedness for earthquakes and other disasters.
The Great Central Shakeout is not just for students: anyone can participate, whether at school, work or home. Registration is free, and we encourage as many Americans as possible to sign up. More information is available at www.shakeout.org/centralus, including instructions and resources to support educators, community groups and individuals.
Every one of us plays a critical role in helping our nation prepare for and respond to disasters. By understanding risks and knowing what to do if disaster strikes, not only can you improve your own personal preparedness, you can also help our nation become more resilient in the face of earthquakes, terrorist attacks and other disasters, so that we can recover faster and stronger than ever before.
Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education. Janet Napolitano is the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security.
This op-ed ran in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch.