Column: Risk Management

Lessons Learned from a Costa Rican Earthquake

By: | December 14, 2017

Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

This was my first earthquake. I was standing in my kitchen in Costa Rica on November 12 when it happened. The ground started to grumble. The dog barked.

The fridge began a hula dance. The house swayed back and forth intensely. My pool shot out plumes of water that travelled 20 feet.

I could not walk. I felt as though I was on a very tippy boat. I grabbed the counter and waited.

After the longest 30 seconds of my life, the house stopped swaying. For a grand finale, I heard the last gasps of power shutting down. It got pitch dark. No appliances. No TV. No internet. No cell service. No landline. I was in a blackout on all levels.

I could not see, and I did not know what was going to happen next. Would there be a tsunami? Would there be aftershocks? I decided to stay inside and wait.

When a neighbor heard I stayed inside, I was severely scolded and mocked. “You are a risk manager. You should know; you must get out of the house during the earthquake. Right?”

Within a half hour, things seemed to calm down. My dear neighbor drove up to the house — a beautiful sight, our beach community checking in on each other. We soon learned it was a 6.9-magnitude earthquake as measured at the Universidad Nacional Costa Rica. As it turned out our homes sat right atop the epicenter.


We gathered as neighbors to relive our individual experiences. When a neighbor heard I stayed inside, I was severely scolded and mocked. “You are a risk manager. You should know; you must get out of the house during the earthquake. Right?”

In truth, I was not completely sure. One hears so many versions of what one should do. I never realized how many renditions of escape plans exist. The confusion only compounded as I listened to my overly excited neighbors argue about who pushed who out of the way to get out of the house first.

This story ended well for our community. No damages. No injuries. No threat of a tsunami.

But as a curious risk manager, I decided to take stock and research this issue and finally settle the score. What to do during an earthquake? What is the appropriate risk mitigation for dealing with quakes?

According to the website of the Department of Homeland Security (, if you are inside, you are to drop down onto your hands and knees, cover your head and neck with your arms to protect yourself from falling debris and hold on to any sturdy covering until the shaking stops.

You are not to run outside or get in a doorway. In short you “Drop, Cover and Hold on.” Prepare the same way for aftershocks.

Practicing the drop, cover and hold on procedure is essential. Next is having an earthquake kit at your home or business. Make sure you have a fire extinguisher, a first aid kit, a battery-powered radio, a flashlight and extra batteries. I would add to this list a phone: An old fashioned analog phone that does not need a power connection.

So, when I look back at my instinct to stay put, it all makes sense now. Drop, cover, hold on. &

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]