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What is a Disaster Drill?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A disaster drill is an exercise in which people simulate the circumstances of a disaster so that they have an opportunity to practice their responses. Disaster drills can range from earthquake drills in schools to multi-day exercises which may span across entire communities, including detailed simulations and a chance to work with the same equipment which would be utilized in a disaster. Such drills are used to identify weak points in a disaster response plan, and to get people familiar with the steps they need to take so that their response in a disaster will be automatic.

Disasters are unpredictable by nature, and this can make them difficult when it comes to preparation. Sometimes communities get advance warning, as in the case of some disasters caused by severe weather, while in other cases, disaster can strike in an instant in the form of an earthquake or a severe fire. If people do not practice their responses, they will usually not be prepared when disaster does happen; while a disaster drill may not anticipate every potential scenario, it gives people an idea of how to behave during a disaster.

On a basic level, drills can include responses by individuals to protect themselves, such as learning how to shelter in place, understanding what to do in an evacuation, and organizing meetup points so that people can find each other after a disaster. For emergency services and other first responders, disaster drills handle topics like what to do when communications are cut off, how to deal with lack of access to equipment, tools, and even basic services like water and power, and how to handle evacuations. A disaster drill also provides a chance to practice for events such as mass casualties which can occur during a disaster.

Regular disaster drills are often required for public buildings like government offices and schools. During the disaster drill, people are expected to practice things like evacuating the building and assisting each other so that they will know what to do when a real alarm sounds. People may also organize disaster drills for their families so that household members will know what to do in an emergency.

Community-based disaster drills such as whole-city drills provide a chance to practice the full spectrum of disaster response. These drills can include actors and civilian volunteers who play roles of victims, looters, and other people who may be encountered during a disaster, and extensive planning may go into such drills. A disaster drill on this scale may be done once a year or once every few years.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a SmartCapitalMind researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By seag47 — On Apr 13, 2012

I work in a federal building, and I knew when I started this job that there would be some danger involved. Sometimes, disgruntled citizens decide to try and do harm to federal property to show their disgust, so we do have disaster drills from time to time.

Not long ago, we had a fire drill. This was mainly to show everyone what the fire alarm sounds like and what the quickest routes to the exits are.

We were also told that the fire alarm would also sound if we ever were to receive a bomb threat. Just two weeks ago, the fire alarm sounded with no mention of a drill, and we all rushed outside. We were then informed that someone had called in a bomb threat, and although no actual bomb was found, I was glad that we were evacuated.

By kylee07drg — On Apr 13, 2012

@Perdido – Many schools go through these drills but never actually have the misfortune of dealing with the real thing. My school did get hit by a tornado this year, and I can tell you that when you know it isn't a drill, it is a lot harder to react appropriately.

We could see the funnel cloud form outside the window in the distance. We heard the siren, and by that time, everyone knew it was real. People started screaming, and some kids just fell down on the ground and refused to move into the hall.

I ran into the hall, but I barely made it before the windows to my classroom shattered. There was a good bit of damage done to the building, but miraculously, no one was injured.

By Perdido — On Apr 12, 2012

I am a teacher at an elementary school, and we have tornado drills every semester. We live in an area that gets tornadoes rather frequently, so we know that we need to train our students how to react when a warning is given.

The first thing we did was teach them what the tornado siren at the school sounds like. We did a campus-wide testing of it to show them that it puts forth a long wail that is unmistakable.

When we were ready for the drill, someone set off the siren. We walked single file out of the classrooms and into the hall, where everyone got down on their knees and faced the wall. We ducked our heads and crossed our hands over them.

By orangey03 — On Apr 11, 2012

I remember when I was a child, scientists had predicted that our area would have a major earthquake. This was unusual, since we were not on top of a major fault line.

The entire state had a disaster drill planned for a certain day to make residents aware of the situation. It had been on the news for several days, and the news anchor had told everyone what they would need to do and what supplies they should have on hand.

At school, when the alarm went off, we knew to get under our desks and hold onto them. People at home were supposed to get in doorways, but obviously, hundreds of students could not fit in a doorway, so the desks were the next best thing.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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