Minutes into Gloria Hurtado’s seventh-grade math class at Santa Rosa Middle School on Thursday, a rumbling noise erupted from the intercom.
It sounded like a major earthquake, and Hurtado’s 35 students immediately knew what to do: drop, seek cover and hold on.
“Duck and cover! Duck and cover!” Hurtado said as she moved toward the classroom’s doorway.
The students crouched beneath desks that were bunched together in small groups. Some giggled amid the unusual mid-morning scene. Then the rumbling noise abruptly stopped.
Part one of the earthquake safety drill was over. Hurtado led her students out to the school’s grass field, where classes lined up as teachers made sure everyone was safe, and checked attendance — just as they would do if an actual temblor hit.
Ten minutes later, back in the classroom, Hurtado and her students reviewed the drill, part of a statewide earthquake safety event called the Great California Shakeout. One of the many lessons learned in the simulation: The assigned desks couldn’t provide cover for everyone, though empty desks across the room provided ample cover.
“You guys gave me some good feedback. I’m going to bring this up to the other teachers,” Hurtado said toward the end of the period. “We’ll continue this conversation.”
Santa Rosa Middle School students were among thousands of people in Sonoma County who took part in the annual earthquake safety event. At schools, the drill prompted a practice round of “drop, cover and hold on,” but it also allowed instructors to hold classroom discussions about what to do if “the Big One” happened.
“It’s always good to remind students and teachers that we do live in an earthquake area — that it can hit anywhere,” said Tom Fierro, principal of Santa Rosa Middle School. “Also, it’s an opportunity to look around the classroom and have the teachers ask: What is in the classroom that could fall? Do I need to move shelves? Do I need to remove them?”
Schools accounted for most of the estimated 109,000 ShakeOut participants in Sonoma County this year, according to ShakeOut.org. Statewide, 10.6 million residents participated, according to the website. At Santa Rosa’s Helen Lehman Elementary School, Principal Alisa Haley said the exercise was an important reminder of the need for disaster preparedness.
“If you don’t practice, kids are not going to know what to do,” Haley said. “We give them the opportunity to practice in a calm situation. ... Then, if something truly does happen, at least they have something to reflect on.”
At Sonoma State University, officials used ShakeOut to test their emergency notification system, which sent campuswide emails, text messages and phone calls about the exercise and encouraged everyone to participate, according to Missy Brunetta, SSU’s director for emergency services. Faculty were asked to incorporate earthquake preparedness and emergency response into their curricula, even if their instruction schedule barred them from being able to participate in the physical exercise, Brunetta said.
That is key because some students might never have experienced an earthquake before or grown up in an area where preparing for one was uncommon, Brunetta.
“We want to make sure they’re given the exposure and they understand the procedure,” she said.