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Speakers » Mark Benthien

  • Director for Communication, Education, and Outreach

  • Southern California Earthquake Center at USC

  • United States of America

Mark Benthien is Director for Communication, Education and Outreach (CEO) for the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC), headquartered at the University of Southern California (USC).  Mark received a Bachelor of Science degree in Geophysics from the University of California Los Angeles in 1995, and a Master of Public Policy degree from USC in 2003.

Mark communicates earthquake knowledge to end-users and the general public in order to increase earthquake awareness, reduce economic losses, and save lives.  To do this he 1) coordinates productive interactions among SCEC scientists and with partners in science, engineering, risk management, government, business, and education; 2) manages activities that increase earthquake knowledge and science literacy at all educational levels; 3) leads efforts to improve earthquake hazard and risk assessments; and 4) promotes earthquake preparedness, mitigation, and planning for response and recovery.

Many of these efforts are in coordination with members of the Earthquake Country Alliance, a private-public partnership of organizations that provide earthquake information and services, for which Mark serves as Executive Director and lead organizer of the annual Great California ShakeOut statewide earthquake drill (more than 10 million participants in 2014). Mark was recognized in 2012 by the White House as a “Champion of Change” for advancing the causes of earthquake and tsunami education and safety, in particular for his role in managing the California ShakeOut and supporting the many other states and counties who are now conducting ShakeOut drills.

Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills: Communicating Risk, Motivating Action

Co-presenter: Michele M. Wood, PhD
Associate Professor, CSU Fullerton Department of Health Science

2016 Presentation

Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills annually now engage more than 40 million participants worldwide in practicing self-protective actions (such as “Drop, Cover, and Hold On”) and other aspects of their emergency plans. However, ShakeOut is much more than a one-day drill and is designed to motivate preparedness individually, within organizations, and across society.


ShakeOut’s approach to communicating context, urgency, and appropriate action is grounded in social science research, as well as lessons learned during the past 8 years of the campaign’s expansion. ShakeOut’s communication strategy begins with strong partnerships among partners from the social and physical sciences, and traditional emergency management practitioners, and expands to include the whole community – encouraging participants to “create their own ShakeOut.” Unified messaging resources are key to ensuring that decentralized leadership shares messages vetted for accurate and appropriate content and communications approach. ShakeOut also facilitates social cues to encourage participation, by featuring registration totals, listing registrants by category and by region, and showcasing participants via email campaigns. ShakeOut’s social media encourages individuals to engage in milling or seeking additional information and confirmation, and recruits new participants within discussions of actual earthquakes. Results from ShakeOut surveys each year show that participants are improving their overall preparedness.


In coming years, as USGS and state partners implement earthquake early warning technology along the west coast of the US, ShakeOut will become a key component of the extensive and ongoing public education initiative needed to ensure the public can understand and react within seconds of a warning. Starting with California, the state with the US’ largest earthquake risk and largest ShakeOut drill participation, ShakeOut is ideally poised to support this effort due to its existing infrastructure and broad public recognition.