Madison County practices how to drop, cover and hold in first statewide earthquake drill

On the coast, people prepare with tsunami evacuation plans. In Kansas and Oklahoma, students retreat to basements in preparation for tornadoes. In the seismically active state of Montana, knowing what to do during an earthquake is a real concern.

On Oct. 23, at 10:23 a.m., Montana residents participated in the Rocky Mountain Shakeout, practicing how to drop, cover and hold on in case of an earthquake.

The Rocky Mountain ShakeOut is the world’s largest annual earthquake drill that happens every October in accordance with Earthquake Preparedness Month. Montana’s participation this year marks the first statewide earthquake drill. During the imitation, participants were instructed to treat the drill like a real earthquake, moving to a safe spot outside after waiting for the ground to stop “shaking.” According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), most earthquake-related injuries result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects as a result of the ground shaking, or people trying to move more than a few feet during the shaking.

Multiple Madison County residents participated and 93,524 people in Montana registered for the event. Employees at the Thompson-Hickman County Library, Madison County Courthouse and the county’s Broadway Annex simulated getting under a sturdy structure, holding on and then gathering with department heads to exit buildings and meet at a designated rally point away from overhead power lines—the parking lot outside the Virginia City Community Center.

The Madison Valley Medical Center and multiple schools in the county also participated in the drill.

At the medical center, where emergency procedures are incredibly pertinent, patients and personnel were expected to do the same thing as any institution—duck and cover—to be protected during the actual event, said Madison Valley Medical Center Director of Operations, Rob Brandt.

The next part of the medical center’s disaster preparedness plan involves an Instant Command System (ICS) where employees report to designated leaders throughout the building, said Brandt.

According to Brandt, patient populations are down with summer residents on their escape to flee the snow this time of the year.

Even with fewer people to account for, coordinating all the patients and the center’s employee base can be a challenge, especially on a multi-floor building, Brandt said.

The Madison Valley Medical Center has identified an earthquake as a top five hazard. “It’s something with a real possibility of happening,” said Brant. “To my knowledge the drill went off without a hitch.”

Kim Harding, superintendent of the Sheridan schools, took the opportunity offered by the ShakeOut to practice two emergency drills—starting with the earthquake drill and then pulling the fire alarm so students also got practice exiting the building in case of a fire.

“We are definitely in a high activity area for earthquakes,” Harding said, explaining why the drill was so important.

Harding passed around literature about how to prepare for an earthquake to all the teachers and talked with staff members before the day of the drill. Then the teachers in each classroom made a plan to help alleviate the fears of younger students, Harding said.

“The drill went really, really well,” she said. “It was especially good because we were able to practice two drills at the same time and then we were able to reflect on the process and talk about it.”

Earthquake preparedness is especially important in southwest Montana. In September of this year, the United States Geological Survey recorded a magnitude 3.1 earthquake in the northwest corner of Madison County. The county lies along the infamous Madison Fault. The active fault caused the 1959 Hebgen Lake Earthquake that triggered landslides that killed 28 people and blocked the Madison River, creating the aptly named Earthquake Lake.

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