Who remembers Aug. 23, 2011 at 1:51 pm to be exact? That’s the time and date of the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the Piedmont area of Virginia and was felt for miles in every direction, including the District of Columbia, which suffered some not-so-insignificant damage to several buildings, large and small.

I happened to be asleep in bed at the time of the quake after having worked the night shift at FEMA headquarters as we were mobilizing to get ready for Hurricane Irene. When I first felt my bed shaking, I thought my youngest son Matiwos, like Bam-Bam, was jumping on the bed for the fun of it. Once I realized what was happening, I jumped out of bed, ran straight out the door, and rushed down four flights of stairs to the outside courtyard area.

Are you ready for the next disaster to hit the DC area?

Exiting the building after a quake is often the natural thing to do, but it’s not what we are actually advised to do. The best advice to protect oneself during a quake is actually to drop, cover, and hold on. Running outside during or seconds after the initial quake can be dangerous because of falling debris and/or blocked passageways. For more information on earthquake safety, check out www.dropcoverandholdon.org, one of many easy-to-read websites with emergency preparedness advice for earthquakes in particular – something we clearly need to pay more attention to in the District.

But there are other risks we face in the District too, including winter snow storms, fires, terrorist threats, floods, and other dangers. Please see http://hsema.dc.gov/ for specific Washington, DC emergency preparedness information. Also, it is well worth visiting www.ready.gov for a wide array of preparedness steps everyone should consider taking to protect themselves, their families, their pets, and their neighborhoods as a whole.

It took me a while, but ever since the Aug. 2011 earthquake I have been putting together an emergency kit with copies of my key financial papers, changes of clothes, a radio, batteries, flashlights, a bottle opener, canned food, bottled water, face masks, a first aid kit, and several other items (I even included a jar of Nutella). I also drew up a family communications plan and have conducted occasional no-notice drills with my family.

For more information about emergency preparedness there will be a talk on Thursday, Oct.16 at Westminster Presbyterian Church at 400 I St. SW from 5:30 – 6:30 pm. The speaker will be Ms. Peggy Keller, Director of Community Preparedness and Resilience Health, Emergency Preparedness and Response Administration, DC Department of Health. The topic will be “Resilience for Life ~ Older People & Disasters.” We are holding this event in commemoration of International Disaster Risk Reduction Day, which is sponsored by the United Nations in mid-October each year.

By: Ben Curran

Founder, SWNA Emergency Preparedness Task Force

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