Earthquake Drill

I’m at my place of work, just headed out the door in the spacious airy stairwell with cement walls and high ceilings, when the loud blast of an some kind of warning siren pierced my ears. I struggled to wrap my coat around my head as it repeated itself a few times at very close distance and sensed a sudden surge of adrenalin, a rush of fear, and then anger that I didn’t get out the door a minute sooner before this thing went off.

I stumbled down the stairs and at the foot of the stairs was my coworker with a set of industrial earmuffs and an airhorn. Blocking the door (which was where I wanted to go) he smiled at me and said “Get in the door.”

“WHAT??” I said, confused, my ears still ringing.

“Get in the doorway!” he said a little louder.

I obeyed.

He said he would warn me before he did it a second time. I clutched my ears tightly and pressed myself into the niche next to the hall entrance.

“What are we doing here?! ” I wondered. The earthquake drill, I remember. This is supposed to prepare us, keep us safe in case of emergencies. Right. Now they’ll send around an email survey to all staff and ask what they did when the siren went off. Did you get under your desk? Did you stand in a doorway? Would you have been safe had this been an actual earthquake?

No I didn’t stand in the doorway. I nearly tripped down the stairs. I felt scared, angry and confused. Why would someone I trust do something to hurt me? If there were a real earthquake, I would have felt it with my body, my sense of balance, my eyes, and perhaps my ears, but I don’t think it would have sounded like an airhorn.

I thought of all the times that we teach people not to trust their own senses, but rather to rely on schedules, hierarchies, expectations, rules, protocols as to how to behave, even for the most basic instinct of survival. Eat your peas, drink your water, put on your coat or you will freeze. Do we really have to do this? Don’t we remember, and can’t we trust that we are equipped to do that, to survive?

Have we forgotten how skilled we really are? People can weave baskets, climb skyscrapers, “Say thank you. Say your sorry.” What ever happened to “Empathy. The Natural Apology.”?

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