California prepares for the 'big one' with earthquake drill

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Millions of Californians were due on Thursday to simultaneously drop to the floor, clamber under tables and cover their heads for a minute or two of imagined seismic turmoil during the latest annual "Great ShakeOut" earthquake drill.

The event, first held nine years ago in the Los Angeles area, was organized by scientists and emergency officials as part of a campaign to prepare the region's inhabitants for a catastrophic quake that experts say is inevitable and long overdue.

The exercise has since expanded to encompass all of California and most other states, as well as some other countries, including Canada and Japan. In many places, entire school districts, colleges, workplaces and municipalities have registered to take part.

In keeping with the drill's quake-survival message, participants are urged to "drop, cover and hold" - meaning get down on hands and knees, cover their heads and necks under a sturdy piece of furniture and hang on until the hypothetical shaking stops.

RELATED: Deadliest earthquakes in US history

17 PHOTOS
The deadliest earthquakes in US history
See Gallery
The deadliest earthquakes in US history
Damaged Kaiser Medical Building in the Northridge Reseda area of Los Angeles after 1994 earthquake (Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)
A car at a Mazda dealership crushed in the Los Angeles earthquake of January 17, 1994 (Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)

1886 Charleston Earthquake 

(Photo: hdes.copeland/Flickr)

1886 Charleston Earthquake 

(Photo: hdes.copeland/Flickr)

1886 Charleston Earthquake 

(Photo: hdes.copeland/Flickr)

April 1960: Valdivia, Chile

(Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

picture taken in April 1960 in Valdivia of people looking at an enormous crack on a street due to the earthquake that struck the area on May 22, 1960. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STF/AFP/Getty Images)

October 18, 1989: San Francisco, California

(Photo by Rich Pilling/Getty Images)

August 24, 2014: Napa, California

(Photo credit Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

March 10, 1933: Long Beach, California

(Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

Damaged building exterior, damage caused by the 1933 earthquake, Long Beach, California, March 12, 1933. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
Part of a long line of homeless earthquake victims as they wait for food rations at a relief tent set up after a series of devastating quakes, Long Beach, California, March 13, 1933. The powerful quakes began March 11 and killed 115 people and did $75,000,000 in damage. Signs on the tent read 'Free Food' and 'Food Administer.' (Photo by FPG/Getty Images)

April 6, 1946: Aleutian Islands

(Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

April 9, 1946: Hilo, Hawaii 

Homeless people are taken to emergency accommodation on US Army trucks, 9th April 1946, after a Pacific-wide tsunami hit Hilo, Hawaii. The tidal wave, on 1st April, was caused by an earthquake near the Aleutian Islands. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

1906: Full-length view of pedestrians examining frame houses, which lean to one side on the verge of collapse after the Great Earthquake in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
1906: View of a cobblestone street, which was split down the middle after the Great Earthquake in San Francisco, California. A wooden cart has fallen into the crack. (Photo by American Stock/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

To help participants get into the mood, organizers have even prepared audio recordings of quake-rumbling sounds that can be downloaded, with or without narration, and played during the drill.

Such rehearsals are especially important in regions such as Southern California, where "it's not a matter of if but when that catastrophic earthquake will strike," said Ken Kondo, spokesman for Los Angeles County's emergency management office.

One of the larger gatherings planned is to be held at the Natural History Museum in Exposition Park near downtown Los Angeles.

Following the drill, the city fire department, American Red Cross, police and other agencies will stage a full-scale earthquake-response exercise, setting up a medical triage area, emergency shelters and mass-feeding operation, Kondo said.

That drill is based on the premise of a magnitude 7.8 quake striking the southern end of the San Andreas Fault, a subterranean chasm between two massive plates of the Earth's crust that extends hundreds of miles across California.

The scenario was devised by geophysicists and engineers who envisioned a calamity that would leave 1,800 people dead, 50,000 injured and 250,000 homeless while severing highways, power lines, pipelines, railroads, communications networks and aqueducts, and toppling some 1,500 buildings.

As of late Wednesday, nearly 53 million participants were registered for ShakeOut drills worldwide, including more than 10.2 million in California, organizers said.

The exercise is set to begin at 10:19 a.m. local time, corresponding with the date of the event.

A rupture of the San Andreas Fault in northern California caused the massive quake that laid waste to San Francisco in 1906. The last "big one" to strike south of the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles was 300 years ago. The average interval between such quakes in that region is just 150 years, experts say.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.