Shaking It Up at Scripps Oceanography


Duck. Cover. Hold on. The "big one" just hit Southern California.

That's what nearly 2,000 employees, students, volunteers, and visitors at Scripps Institution of Oceanography were asked to envision and respond to during an otherwise calm and sunny spring morning this week. As the sound of alarms and bullhorns rang through the buildings across the Scripps campus, people dove under desks, covered their heads, and held on for dear life as if the earth was shaking violently and things were falling all around them. Birch Aquarium at Scripps was evacuated.

But this was only a drill.

The flurry of activity was part of a UC San Diego campus-wide emergency planning exercise, a serious and well-planned test of emergency preparedness across the oceanfront campus. In a simulation of a major earthquake affecting the San Diego region, employees were instructed to duck under a table or other heavy object, cover their heads, and hold on to the leg or side of the desk or table for a minute or longer. Then, crawling out from under cramped desk cubbyholes and lab tables and taking only essential items such as keys, wallets, and emergency kits, employees left their buildings to meet at designated assembly areas, where head counts were taken to ensure everyone was accounted for.

Visitors to Birch Aquarium at Scripps - including a few hundred school children attending onsite classes - also participated in the emergency drill.

About 25 minutes after the first alarm sounded, building safety contacts announced the drill as complete, and employees wandered back into the safety of their unscathed laboratories and offices to resume the day's business. The aquarium resumed operations. Had this been an actual major earthquake, the range of possible emergency scenarios and extent of destruction would be difficult to calculate.  With aftershocks likely, it would have been several days, if not weeks, before damaged buildings could be inspected and safely re-entered.   

A key objective of the exercise was to encourage all university employees to consider and evaluate their own readiness for an event such as a major earthquake. Employees were asked to familiarize themselves with earthquake and emergency preparedness and to learn where to find critical information resources available online, such as:

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