USC News

Menu Search

Great ShakeOut Drill’s Ties to USC

Great ShakeOut Drill’s Ties to USC
Last year's Great Southern California ShakeOut included volunteers taking part in a mass-casualty drill on the University Park campus.

Want to find out who’s responsible for making you squat under your desk at 10:15 a.m. on 10/15?

More than one person, of course. But much of the credit – or blame – for the first statewide earthquake preparedness drill goes to USC’s Mark Benthien, communication director for the Southern California Earthquake Center.

Benthien is the lead organizer of the 2009 Great California ShakeOut, as part of which all Californians will be asked to “drop, cover and hold on” the morning of Oct. 15 during a simulated massive earthquake.

Preparedness is worth a couple of uncomfortable minutes spent under a hard surface.

“You do need to practice, because you won’t do it if you don’t practice,” Benthien said. “Research shows more people are injured by falling objects in earthquakes than by building collapses, and if you drop, cover, and hold on, you will protect yourself.”

Benthien also was a key organizer of last year’s Great Southern California ShakeOut, which included a mass-casualty drill on the University Park campus. This year the big drill will take place at the Health Sciences campus – though all USC faculty, staff and students are still expected to take cover.

A simple fact motivates the fuss. A major quake in California is overdue, especially in the south. The odds are two in three that the Los Angeles area will experience a tremor at least as strong as the 1994 Northridge quake within 30 years, according to a 2008 study by Earthquake Center, the U.S. Geological Survey and the California Geologic Survey.

Always concerned about earthquake preparedness, or the lack thereof, Benthien saw an opportunity as the 10-year anniversary of Northridge approached. In 2003, he founded the Earthquake Country Alliance, a partnership of earthquake professionals, emergency responders, business leaders and community activists.

The alliance’s first act in time for the anniversary was the publication of the updated preparedness guide “Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country” (

A Spanish edition followed in 2006. Planning for the 2008 Southern California ShakeOut started soon after.

The ShakeOut was supposed to be a one-off. But it attracted more than five million participants and widespread media coverage. It also became the largest emergency response drill in U.S. history. At USC, the successful drill convinced administrators of the need for a university-owned fire truck.

Soon after the drill last November, Benthien started getting questions about the next one.

“It was not clear that we were going to do this annually,” he recalled. But, he added, “It’s such a great way for us to provide education and awareness information to people throughout the state.

“It’s a large part of my 18-hour day.”

And what’s two minutes compared to that?

For more information and resources on earthquake preparedness, visit and


Go to and pledge your family, school, business or organization’s participation in the drill. Registered participants will receive information on how to plan their drill, connect with other participants and encourage a dialogue with others about earthquake preparedness.

There are many ways to take part, but at the least participants should drop, cover and hold on at 10:15 a.m. on Oct. 15. It all begins with registering, which is free and open to everyone.

More stories about:

Great ShakeOut Drill’s Ties to USC

Top stories on USC News