We had an earthquake drill at work. It wasn’t the first one. Our office building is required by law to do them every so often, because we live in an area where an earthquake is a possibility, and they want to be sure that we rehearse crawling under our desks regularly, so we don’t forget this critical and highly specialized skill.
In the event you’ve never taken part in one (I hadn’t until
a couple of years ago), the process is fairly simple. They come over the PA
system, and read a script that describes what would be happening in an
earthquake. You’re instructed to climb under your desk, protecting your head
and neck, and stay away from windows.
Because the script was written by a government agency, it has
all the charm and linguistic finesse of an airline boarding pass. It never
varies from one drill to the next, and every time we hear it, it is a source of
mirth and amusement. It begins by notifying you that the earthquake is
starting. It describes the shaking causing items to fall, the lights
flickering and the air filling with dust. You are instructed to stay away from
the windows, crawl beneath your desk and wait. Once the fictitious quake ends,
you’re told that you should move toward the “core” of the building, near the
elevators, as this is the most stable location. (I find it interesting that six
30 story empty shafts through which the elevators travel is the most solid part
of the building. I get why, but you have to admit, it’s still a little odd.) You’re
told that once the quake was over, you’d be notified of further emergency
procedures to follow. Then they thank you for participating, and you ostensibly
climb out from under your desk and get back to work.
I think that speech was written in about 1985 and hasn’t
been updated since. When they talk about the falling items, they talk about “binders.”
Who uses binders anymore? I mean my kids do at school, but in my office the
only binders you can find are in the supply room. It appears that at one point
they held training materials (they all have various company names on them), but
the training documentation has all been removed and the binders abandoned,
unloved and unneeded. Seriously, binders?
The announcement about further emergency procedures seems a
bit strange. I hope they have a readily accessible supply of poster board and
huge markers, because that PA system is going to be completely out of commission
after an earthquake. If the power’s out, the PA’s going to be out too. The only
way they’re going to get information to us is by handing out post it notes, or by
This was the first drill we’ve had since we hired a few new
contractors. Quite frankly if we really do have an earthquake, we’re going to
lose a huge percentage of our contractors, because they sit right in front of
the windows. They’re pretty much doomed.
Once the drill was over, I heard one of our contractors
talking to another one.
“I took notes,” she said.
Wait, sorry, what? You did what? You took…notes? On what,
exactly? I can only assume she was so moved by the dramatic narrative during
the drill that she wanted to record her feelings in the moment. Because seriously,
what is there to take notes on about “crawl under your desk”? I’m also
wondering what’s going to happen if we really do have an earthquake. How long is
it going to take her to locate those notes to figure out what it is she’s
supposed to do? It’s worth pointing out that this woman is the same one who
spent four straight days humming, “Let’s
Go Fly a Kite” under her breath.
A friend of mine was telling me about his experience in a
quake that happened before I moved here. He was at work, and they heard the noise.
Because they worked near a train yard, he said their first thought was the train cars were slamming together, as they apparently sometimes did.
When the noise continued, everyone in the office looked around at each other,
and they all promptly dived under their desks, just as the (non safety) glass
in the windows above their heads began buckling. They recognized the circumstances,
they remembered the correct procedure, and executed flawlessly. I’m confident
in a similar position I too will be able to do as well, even if I don’t practice
constantly. Call me arrogant, but I think I’m a natural.