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How to Drop, Cover, and Hold—Even When You Can’t

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With all the new ways the world has been challenging us, it can be easy to forget about our inherent, natural dangers. Thursday, October 15, will mark the 12th year of International ShakeOut Day, an annual event on the third Thursday of every October. This earthquake preparedness event began in California and soon spread both nationally and internationally. In homes, schools, and workplaces, over 12.4 million people worldwide will participate in locally based Great ShakeOut earthquake drills.

Great ShakeOut earthquake drills are a chance to learn and practice how to be safer during earthquakes. When an earthquake starts shaking, it is generally the things falling that are of the most danger to you. The safest course of action is to:

  • Drop to the floor or ground.
  • Cover your head and body by getting under something sturdy like a table, desk, or bench.
  • Hold on (to the legs of the table, for example) and stay there until the shaking stops.
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When possible, drop, take cover under a table, and hold on to a table leg.

But what do you do if dropping to the floor isn’t an option for you? You can still take steps to protect yourself.

You can use a cane to help get next to a table or other cover and lower yourself to the floor. Crawl or move yourself under cover—just hold on until the shaking stops. When it is safe and you can do so, use the cane to pull yourself up. If it is not safe, or you are unable to get to your feet safely, sit tight and wait for help.

A walker can be used like a cane, to help you down to the floor. If you use a walker with a seat—or a wheelchair—you should instead LOCK, cover, and hold. Sit in the walker’s seat or, if using a wheelchair, stay seated. Be sure to lock the brakes on both sides as tightly as you can to keep from rolling around.

If you are seated, chances are that you won’t be able to fit under a table. So how do you “cover?” The graphic at right shows holding something over your head, like a book, seat cushion, purse, or briefcase. Even holding your coat over your head—if that’s all you have—can offer some protection. Lock those wheels, lean forward if you can, and hold on to the arm of the seat until the shaking stops.

Also, very important is where you “cover.” If you can, move next to an interior wall with nothing hanging on the wall over your head. That is key! Things falling on you is your greatest danger. Look around—do not take cover next to a bookshelf with things on top shelves that could fall off. If you cannot get next to a wall, find a place away from shelving and other furniture that could fall or have things falling off. Stay away from glass windows and mirrors.

Many of us are spending a lot more time at home these days. Take some time now to look around your spaces and find the safest places to Drop, Cover, and Hold. You might see heavy things on high shelves that could fall and become a danger in an earthquake. Anchor them down or move them to lower shelves. Even better—anchor heavy furniture items to the wall so they don’t fall over. Hardware stores have simple, inexpensive kits with all the parts you need.

Finally, plan to practice your Drop, Cover and Hold in the Great Shakeout on October 15! Visit the Great Shakeout earthquake drills website for information. Ask your family, neighbors, and friends to join in—take a picture of yourself “under cover” and post it to social media or share it with your group!

Any way you do it, practicing Drop, Cover, and Hold builds muscle memory—in case you ever need to do it for real. Practice even when you can’t get down on the floor. Stay safe, everyone!


Contributor Deborah Witmer is the Vulnerable Populations Planning Coordinator on the Seattle Human Services Emergency Management Team.

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