Millions participate in statewide quake drill

670K participate in San Diego

SAN DIEGO - Nearly 700,000 San Diego County residents took part in the fifth annual "Great ShakeOut" earthquake drill Thursday, practicing for "the big one" that could strike at any time.

People registered for the event were told to "drop, cover and hold on" at 10:18 a.m., when the faux-temblor struck.

County emergency services authorities focused on preparing residents who could be caught in unfamiliar areas during a major quake, like being outside, driving a car or riding a train.

Leslie Luke, a program manager with the county Office of Emergency Services, said the safest thing to do is to drop to the ground, get under a sturdy desk or table, cover your head with one arm and hold onto the furniture with the other. If there is no furniture, slide down against an interior wall away from windows, glass, and objects that could fall on you, he said.

"Outside, you'll want to sit down and cover your head in an open area away from utility lines, trees, bridges and buildings," Luke said. "If you're driving your car, we want you to pull over and wait for the shaking to stop -- but don't stop under any kind of bridges or overpasses."

He said situations are different and will depend on where people find themselves when a quake hits or the layout of the room.

"It's up to you to know the two main goals -- don't get knocked down and to avoid having items fall on top of you," Luke said.

Statewide, 9.3 million people registered, compared to 8.6 million last year, according to ShakeOut.org. The objective is to raise awareness about precautions to take during a magnitude-7.8 or larger quake along the southernmost area of the San Andreas fault.

Pat Abbott, a geologist and San Diego's longtime earthquake expert, said the Rose Canyon Fault, which roughly parallels Interstate 5 into downtown, once had a 6.4-magnitude temblor on its northern end. The southern end in San Diego hasn't ruptured to that extent in more than 200 years, he said.

"Are we going to have more earthquakes? Yes, we are," Abbott said. "Geologically, we're overdue for some of those large earthquakes."

Rick Hinrichs, director of disaster services for the San Diego and Imperial Counties Chapter of the American Red Cross, said advanced planning by families will help in the days following a major shaker.

"You probably are not going to have a home, it's going to get damaged and you're going to be out of it," Hinrichs said. "What will you need? Shelter, a place to live for a little while, while the emergency services respond."

He said first-responders might not have fuel, electricity and power to be able to assist residents impacted by quake damage.

"Our buildings and roads are going to have to be inspected before we can use them and open a shelter," Hinrichs said. "A lot of the resources you're accustomed to won't be available in that first three to five days."

Shelter could be provided by tents used for camping and water is available in water heaters, he said. Residents also need to make sure they have food in the house and propane in the tank in their grill.

Homeowners and renters should also know how to turn off the gas in their house or apartment if they smell leaks, according to Hinrichs, who said it's important to communicate with friends, family and neighbors and try to help them out when possible.

Ten of San Diego County's 18 municipalities participated in the drill, along with the county, the Port of San Diego, Amtrak, and most of the area's universities, colleges and public elementary, middle and high schools.

"Students need to remember that drills prepare you for the real thing -- so you practice how you play," Joe Ferro, a teacher at Lewis Middle School, told a local TV station during an event put together by the San Diego Unified School District.

The drill also helps teachers and staff work out any kinks that arise, before the real thing happens, Ferro said.

Under the quake scenario, a tectonic shift would produce waves of movement for hundreds of miles over four minutes. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, some 2,000 people would die, tens of thousands would be injured and more than $200 billion in damage would result from the catastrophe, which would have 50 times the intensity of the Jan. 17, 1994, Northridge earthquake.

Hundreds of aftershocks would follow, a few of them nearly as big as the original event, according to the USGS.

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