Students and faculty participate in county-wide earthquake drill

Students all over campus dropped beneath their desks and covered their heads at 10 a.m. on Nov. 13, along with millions of other Southern Californians, as part of the Great Southern California Shakeout. The Shakeout encouraged millions of people to simulate an earthquake situation at that time so people could practice the “Stop, Drop, and Hold On” method of reacting to a quake.

Science teacher Wendy Van Norden heard about the Shakeout from seismologist Ken Hudnut, President Thomas C. Hudnut’s nephew. She immediately registered Harvard-Westlake to participate.

Rather at the last minute, she said, she e-mailed faculty members information about earthquake safety procedures, as well as links to, so that teachers could give an informative lecture to students and initiate conversation during the drill.

“There will be an earthquake in the near future,” Van Norden said. “It’s not if, it’s when. It’s been so long, but we should not become complacent.”

Van Norden explained that there is almost a 50 percent chance that there will be an earthquake of magnitude 5 to 7 on the Richter scale in the next 50 years, and the U.S. Geological Survey predicts that there is over a 99 percent chance of a 6.7 or greater earthquake, along the lines of the Northridge quake, in the next 30 years.

This was the first earthquake drill the school has had in years.

“I think there are misconceptions about the likelihood of earthquakes,” Van Norden said. “The goal is to get people talking.”

Though not all teachers used class time to engage in discussions about what to do in the case of an earthquake, many seized the opportunity to tell students what to do if they are inside, outside, or in a car during an earthquake. Van Norden stood in the Quad with a bullhorn to encourage students to avoid standing near windows and furniture when indoors and get into the open, away from power lines, when outdoors.

“More teachers utilized the information I gave them than I would have thought,” Van Norden said. “At least it got people talking.”

Senior Prefect Joey Friedrich ’09 thinks that the drill was a great start but that if the school wants to truly be prepared, dean meeting discussions or a letter home to students should be employed to truly educate the student body about earthquake safety.

“I think the mentality of the student body would make us believe that an earthquake could never happen to us,” he said. “Living in Southern California, earthquakes can and will happen. It is our responsibility to be prepared.”