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ShakeOut Drills Expected to Top 9 Million Participants

By Carl Marziali
October 17, 2011

USC students drop, cover and hold on during a 2010 Great ShakeOut drill on the University Park campus. Photo by Shirley Shin.

USC students drop, cover and hold on during a 2010 Great ShakeOut drill on the University Park campus. Photo by Shirley Shin.

More people than ever will be crouching under desks at 10:20 a.m. on Oct. 20, as the 2011 Great California ShakeOut gains participants in California and across the country.

Registrations from California residents for the annual earthquake drill passed last year’s record of 7.9 million and are expected to reach 8.5 million by the upcoming drill date.

Other ShakeOut drills also will be held on Oct. 20 in Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, British Columbia and Guam, likely totaling another 800,000 participants. Eleven U.S. states held a Central United States ShakeOut with 3 million participants in April. Utah and Japan will hold their first drills next spring.

Here is the familiar procedure: “Drop, cover and hold on” for a minute at 10:20 a.m. as a hypothetical quake rocks your region.

Simple as it sounds, the drill needs to be practiced, not least because it pits safety against dignity.

Getting on one’s knees is rarely the automatic option. Untrained individuals often react by running for the exits or crowding in a doorway — neither a recommended choice in a shaking building with falling objects.

Many simply do nothing.

“The first reaction most people have is, ‘What’s going on?’ and they typically wait too long to act,” said Mark Benthien, lead communicator for the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC), housed in USC Dornsife, and executive director of the Earthquake Country Alliance (ECA), based at USC.

Founded in 2003 by Benthien, the ECA is a partnership of earthquake professionals, emergency responders, business leaders and community activists. It originally was based on the ShakeOut Earthquake Scenario, a comprehensive study of a potential 7.8-magnitude earthquake on the southern San Andreas Fault.

Benthien and his colleagues in other ECA organizations led the push for the first ShakeOut in 2008, which at that time was limited to Southern California. The next year saw the first Great California ShakeOut, as the rest of the state joined in. The movement has grown steadily since then.

The 2008 ShakeOut was conceived as an isolated drill, but it attracted more than 5 million participants and widespread media coverage. It also became the largest emergency response drill in U.S. history.

“For something that we thought would be a one-time thing, we are amazed at how quickly it’s been picked up and used as a model,” Benthien said.

A major quake in California is overdue, especially in the southern part of the state. The odds are two in three that the Los Angeles area will experience a tremor at least as strong as the 1994 Northridge quake within 30 years, according to a 2008 study by SCEC, the U.S. Geological Survey and the California Geological Survey.

For more information and resources on earthquake preparedness, visit shakeout.org or earthquakecountry.info.

How to Get Involved

Go to shakeout.org/register and pledge your family, school, business or organization's participation in the drill. Registered participants will receive information on how to plan their drill, connect with other participants and encourage a dialogue with others about earthquake preparedness.