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Millions duck and cover in California earthquake drills

October 20, 2011 |  6:58 pm


Millions of Californians took part in one of the largest-ever simultaneous earthquake drills Thursday, sending students, hospital workers and even Target shoppers dropping for cover at 10:20 a.m.

The annual drill, which attracted 8.6 million registrants in California, was intended to train the public on what to do the moment the shaking begins – dropping down, covering your head, and holding on, rather than panicking and running, increasing the chance of tripping and breaking a leg, or being struck in the head by a flying object.

In Northridge, shoppers at a Target took cover between store aisles, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa ducked underneath a red shopping cart. At Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, visitors in the cafeteria crouched underneath dining tables, and nursing staff in patient rooms were told to sit in a ball, their arms covering their head and neck.

Lucy Jones, seismologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, praised the Target event to get people to think about what they’ll do if they can’t easily get underneath a table.

“The first thing to do in an earthquake, anywhere, is to drop down to the ground,” Jones said, and resist the urge to run. “The shaking in a big earthquake will throw you to the ground, so get there before the earthquake will do it to you.”

If you’re in a store and can't get under a table, “if you’re in bread aisle, you can stay there. If you have a grocery cart, you can use that as some protection. But if you’re near heavy appliances or knives, you probably want to get moving somewhere else.”

Running outside is the worst possible idea, because the façade of buildings is often the first to collapse and can kill bystanders.

The Los Angeles Times also participated in the Shakeout, testing its emergency newsroom at its printing plant about two miles away from the main office. The printing plant was built to hospital-style earthquake specifications, and editors and reporters were publishing the website and the LatExtra section from the printing plant Thursday night.

“We successfully demonstrated that when The Big One hits, people – as they always do – can log-in to latimes.com for up-to-the-minute news and information, and can drop four quarters in the nearest newsstand to get the most comprehensive newspaper report available during a large-scale emergency,” said Times Editor Russ Stanton.
-Rong-Gong Lin II in Northridge

Photo: Times staffers in emergency newsroom. Credit: Kimi Yoshino/Los Angeles Times