Earthquake Drill

Southern California is overdue for the “Big One!” Scientists have learned that over the course of many centuries, a major earthquake has typially occurred on a major fault such as the San Andreas every 125  to 175 years. The last major (+7.5) earthquake on the southern end of the San Andreas took place in the 1600s – more than 300 years ago. Ouch!

Governor Schwarzenegger talks with a "patient" while David Barrett follows with his camera.
Governor Schwarzenegger talks with a patient, while David Barrett follows along with his camera.

Our team is developing an earthquake safety training program, and as a component of the production, we sent our crews to shoot a drill during the Great Southern California Shakeout, a statewide practice run developed by the USGS in collaboration with a host of partners. The event we covered related to an MCI (Multi-Casulty-Incident) at a school in the San Fernando Valley.

This is a great exercise for our team as well. It has all of the energy of a real emergency, but with the ability to take your time, take (mental) notes on camera settings, positions, lighting, etc. So, when a real event takes place and should we be rolling tape (or taping to memory stick or CF card!), we’ll be ready.

The exercise began at exactly 10:00AM, the time when the “drill earthquake” was to take place. Essentially, a 7.8 earthquake rocks southern California, beginning at the southern end of the quake. To quote the Great Shakeout scenario, “In an earthquake of this size, the shaking will last for nearly two minutes. The strongest shaking will occur near the fault (in the projected earthquake, the Coachella Valley, Inland Empire and Antelope Valley). Pockets of strong shaking will form away from the fault where sediments trap the waves (in the projected earthquake, it would occur in the San Gabriel Valley and in East Los Angeles).”

We had three cameras rolling during the two plus hours of the drill. The Los Angeles Fire Department provided tremendous resources, including helicopters, 23 companies of firefighters, scores of Rescue Ambulances, Command Staff, and others working in collaboration with the USGS and others.

Students began arriving, their faces and bodies showing visible signs of injury due to the excellent moulage efforts of LAFD Captain Gerlich and the artists she was supervising. A triage area was set up and patients were transported either to the nearby hospital or via air to other trauma centers.

I had the unusual task of being assigned to cover Governor Schwarzenegger as he toured the hospital, providing the tape to news outlets at the end of the day. It was interesting to be in such close proximity to the Govinator, as he took his “role” very seriously and was an inspiration to the crews and physicians, not to mention the students, participating in the drill.

For me, the most interesting component to shoot was in the ER. Not only were the physicians and nurses fantastic to watch (and tape) at work, but this drill included a robotic physician – essentially a robot with a mic and television screen that was managed by a surgeon at Children’s Hospital in downtown Los Angeles, 70 miles away. The robot can see everything in the room, can move on its own, including tilting up and down, and can participate in the evaluation and treatment of patients. It was truly remarkable.

Injured students await help following a 7.8 earthquake (drill) in Los Angeles.
Injured students await help following a 7.8 earthquake (drill) in Los Angeles.

As with most of the emergency drills we’ve been involved with, this one was extremely professional in terms of execution. The Command Post likely would be no different in staffing or operation in an actual emergency, and firefighters, EMTs, and Paramedics packaged and transported their patients with the same care and attention to detail you’d expect in a real emergency. The only weakness my crew and I could observe was the process of tracking patients – where were they going? When did they get to their destination? The tracking process is one of the most important tasks to get a handle on in this type of emergency, and there are still lessons to be learned.

For our team, we captured excellent footage for our training program. We gained additional experience working with the LAFD during a simulated emergency, and we worked as a crew, collaborating on getting the “story” – including all of the different types of images, both in the field and in the operating room as well.

You can learn more about our earthquake project by visiting: My Safe LA Dot Org.

Comments are closed.