Mason tests alert system through voluntary earthquake drill

The Environmental Health and Safety Office conducted two earthquake drills recently, preparing and educating students about the possible occurrence of the natural disaster as well testing George Mason University’s emergency management program, Mason Alert.

Aside from the primary reason of educating students about the event of an earthquake, the Environmental Health and Safety Office wanted to test the Mason Alert system, which sends out emergency notifications to users phones and emails.

“We want to make sure we have a legitimate reason for sending out an email and a drill is a good opportunity to do that,” said David Farris, director of Emergency Management and Fire Safety.

The message also invited students to download the “In Case of Crisis – Education” app as well as the “Mason Watch” app to their smartphones in an effort to promote public safety via multiple platforms.

In 2011, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake shook parts of central and northern Virginia, including D.C., which caused the Washington Monument to close for several years due to damage.

“No one in Virginia really knew how to respond to earthquakes and it became evident that we need to do a better job of educating people about them,” Farris said.

The tests were initiated both on Oct. 16 and 17, at 10:16 a.m. and 10:17 a.m., respectively. Students were alerted of the drill by a Mason Alert at 10:11 a.m. on both days and were informed of the steps that should be taken to remain safe in the event of an earthquake. These included dropping to the floor, covering your head, holding on to objects covering you and staying away from windows and appliances.

Some students believe that the optional drill had no effect, as many students admit to not participating.

“We received an email only a few minutes before the drill was supposed to happen and there was no incentive to actually participate,” said Caiti Hof, an undeclared freshman.

The earthquake drills were optional as they are not mandated by the state, unlike fire drills. They were completed in part with the Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills which is an organization which provides an opportunity each year for people to practice earthquake preparedness in homes, schools and other organizations.

“I don’t really think that they are very effective unless they’re overseen,” said Christian Coyne, a freshman studying government and international politics. “No one is going to do something like that if it’s voluntary.”

Earthquakes have a very low probability of occurring, though their impact may be catastrophic. Infrastructure can be greatly damaged and people can be killed. The Haitian Earthquake in 2010 killed approximately 31,600 people, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The largest earthquake to ever hit the U.S. was in 1964 which killed 131 people and caused a massive tsunami. The damage was equivalent to $311 million 2013 USD.

“These drills make sure that people have at least some idea of what to do in an emergency,” said Thomas Lippincott, a sophomore environmental science major. “I think that it’s good that our school focuses on safety and preparedness.”