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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.