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Politics & Policy

‘A matter of when, not if:’ City officials participate in drill for inevitable Bay Area earthquake

City officials ducked, covered and held on.

It was the “Great California ShakeOut” earthquake drill on Tuesday, and Mayor London Breed, San Francisco Sheriff Paul Miyamoto and Department of Emergency Management Executive Director Mary Ellen Carroll modeled how to drop to the ground when a major earthquake strikes.

According to a report from the U.S. Geological Survey, there is more than a 70% chance that a 6.7 magnitude or higher earthquake will hit the Bay Area in the next 30 years.

The drill, held at the San Francisco Main Library, instructs people experiencing an earthquake to drop on their hands and knees, cover their head and neck with one arm, crawl under a sturdy table or desk and hold on until the shaking stops.

Mayor London Breed at a press conference for earthquake preparedness on Oct. 21, 2021. | Photo by Sophie Bearman

Carroll emphasized preparation, reminding San Francisco residents to have an emergency bag at the ready, along with gallons of water and batteries, should a quake hit. She also drew parallels between the city’s response to the COVID-19 emergency.

“San Francisco saved San Francisco,” she said. “Every single person here did what they needed to do—they sacrificed. And the same will happen in an earthquake. “

The city is built on three seismic faults, making it especially vulnerable to earthquakes. 

“It is a matter of when, not if an earthquake happens,” said Carroll. 

In 1989, the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake struck, killing 63 people, injuring thousands and causing billions of dollars worth of damage. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake was even more deadly.

City librarian Michael Lambert said the Main Library is one of San Francisco’s safest buildings, able to withstand an 8.3 magnitude earthquake.

“The library is always the place to be, but particularly during the next big one,” he said.

Sophie Bearman can be reached at