NFPA’s head of international programs caught in Mexico City earthquake

Blog Post created by ocaledonia Employee on Sep 20, 2017

What started as a regular business day in Mexico City, enjoying breakfast with colleagues and gearing up for meetings, was soon followed (to my surprise) by an annual safety drill as the country remembered the devastating September 19, 1985 earthquake that killed approximately 9,500. 


I was fortunate to be part of yesterday's disaster preparedness evacuation drill at the Marriott Reforma, located along Paseo de la Reforma. This is one of the most important avenues in Mexico City, home to some of the tallest buildings and the country’s most historical monuments. The Marriott personnel took the drill very seriously. It was an impressive process. I witnessed professionalism, organization and collaboration all around me. They had a gathering place identified by different signage. Employees were assigned to ask guests who they were, and another staff member updated the crowd with a loudspeaker. Civil Protection representatives, firefighters and paramedics were on the premises.


After the drill, I headed to the World Trade Center to attend the International Fire Protection Forum organized by the Mexican Association of Automatic Sprinklers. As the meeting got underway, the safety maneuvers we learned just a few short hours before quickly became a necessity as the southern section of Mexico City was rocked by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake.


The “shake” was incredible. People started evacuating at a quick pace, but it’s important to note that everything was done in an orderly fashion.  Our group was located on the second floor of the convention center. We filed down two sets of stairs to the designated gathering spot in front of the building, and waited to learn how the city was affected and next steps.  Cell communications were down for at least 45 minutes.  You could see the anguish on the faces of people as they tried to locate their loved ones. Close by, there were gas leaks, road closures, and shattered glass from doors and windows. 


I have never been in an earthquake before. Admittedly, I

was shaken by the experience, but I can’t help but point out the work that Mexico City has done to educate the public in the aftermath of the 1985 quake. From what I experienced early in the day during the drill and what I witnessed during the real deal, Mexico’s commitment to educating citizens on how to respond in natural disasters is working. The ongoing efforts of the country to practice safety measures showed in the way that people calmly handled themselves and comforted each other.


Back at the hotel, I was safe but sad to see the many images being shown by media outlets. It was heartbreaking to learn that so many lost their lives and that the region experienced extensive damage to infrastructures and property. The city was so quiet last night, which is not typical at Paseo Reforma.  Sirens sounded, but it was as if the city and its people were mourning the loss from yesterday’s quake, as well as recalling heartbreaking memories from 1985.


As we so often do, NFPA will work with Mexican authorities to see what kind of resources and expertise we can offer as they rebuild this world-class city, once again.