SUNNYSLOPE — Drop, cover and hold were the words of the day at Sunnyslope Elementary School Thursday as students participated with thousands of others across the state in the Great Washington ShakeOut.
“Duck down and cover your head with your hands,” students were told by Sunnyslope Principal Cori Pflug. She spoke in a clear, calm voice over the school intercom at 10:23 a.m. “Do not go under your desk but right next to it and hold on to a leg of the desk or chair.”
Third-grade teacher Leslie Peterson told her students to think about what they were doing and make a good decision in behalf of their own safety.
“At times like this we all have to make our own decisions. There’s not always a teacher or a parent to tell you,” she said as she crawled around the room helping youngsters to keep low and quiet until advised two minutes later that all was safe.
More than 800,000 people signed up to participate in the mock earthquake drill statewide — millions worldwide — as a way to prepare for the unexpected. Several local schools staged earthquake drills Thursday as part of the event. Although serious quakes are relatively rare in Washington and most parts of the United States, they do demolish cities, kill thousands and cause billions of dollars of damage each year worldwide.
“At this time, the quaking has stopped. This was only a drill, but now you will have a better idea what to do if an earthquake really occurs,” Pflug said over the speaker system.
“The ceiling would be falling and the ground shaking,” Austin Brownlee, 8, said in describing what he thought might happen during an actual quake. He said he might have actually felt a mild quake once while his family was in Chelan. “I think I kinda was in one.”
April Valdez, 8, said her father told her he felt a tiny earthquake just recently.
“I didn’t feel it at all because I was reading a book and I was really interested in it,” she said. But she has seen earthquakes in movies break whole buildings into pieces and fall down. “That’s pretty scary.” Both students are third-graders in Peterson’s class.
Kindergarten teacher Jody Lund said she recalls being in a powerful earthquake that hit California’s San Fernando Valley when she was 10.
“It was Feb. 9, 1971. I remember looking out the window and seeing the other houses sway,” said Lund, who showed her students photos of the disaray and broken dishes the quake caused in her own house that day.
Pflug said she worried about her own first-grader when the 6.8 magnitude Nisqually quake hit the Puget Sound area. She was working at a school in Issaquah in 2001. That earthquake — centered on Anderson Island west of Olympia — was the most powerful to hit Washington since 1949. It was felt all over the Northwest and caused over $1 billion in damage and injured more than 200 people, according to news reports from the time. It was believed to be similar in magnitude to the historic Entiat earthquake that caused a landslide that temporarily blocked the Columbia River in 1872, according the U.S. Geological Service, a prime sponsor of the worldwide ShakeOut event.
The most recent quake locally, according to the USGS, was a barely perceptible 2.1 tremor near Wenatchee last Sunday morning.
Pflug said the earthquake drill was one of nine crisis drills the state requires schools to stage each year. Most are fire drills. Schools don’t want to scare young children, but they do want to prepare them, she said.
“The idea is to make a crisis routine enough so if it does happen, kids will remain calm,” she said.