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Residents prepare for 'Big One' in Great California Shakeout

October 21, 2010 |  9:12 am

Millions of Californians were set to participate Thursday in the Great California ShakeOut, an annual event billed as the largest earthquake emergency-preparedness drill in the nation, aimed at educating residents about what to do in the next shaker and how best to prepare for the "Big One."

More than 2.8 million Los Angeles County residents have registered for this year's event, scheduled to take place at 10.21 a.m., according to organizers. They include private citizens, schools, businesses, government institutions, nonprofit organizations and religious groups.

Participants will practice the "drop, cover and hold on" procedure, which involves quickly taking cover under a sturdy piece of furniture, such as a table, or dropping to the ground near an interior wall and using their arms to shield their head and neck, organizers said.

Staying indoors and keeping clear of windows and mirrors also is a good defensive tactic, according to emergency-management experts, who say such actions reduce the chances of injury and death during an earthquake.

Culver City is expected to host a citywide "drop, cover and hold on" drill for its residents Thursday. Following the practice shaker, community emergency-response teams and fire officials are expected to canvass neighborhoods to check their status, organizers said. Residents are being encouraged to go outside with their disaster kits and meet their neighbors.

The city of La Mirada was set to activate its emergency operations system, mount special response efforts for helping victims at Biola University and perform assessments and checks on city buildings and critical infrastructure.

The ShakeOut drill was launched three years ago and is based on scientists' predictions of what would occur during and after a magnitude-7.8 earthquake along the San Andreas Fault, considered one of the most dangerous in Southern California, partly due to its length.

Scientists predict a 7.8-magnitude earthquake could kill 1,800 people, injure about 50,000 and cause some $200 billion in damage.

Recent research showing that sections of the fault are long overdue for a major earthquake has some scientists saying the southern portion of the fault is capable of a magnitude 8.1 that could run 340 miles, from Monterey County to the Salton Sea.

Such a temblor would be much stronger and longer than the last major rupture along the southern San Andreas fault in 1857, scientists have said.

Organizers of the ShakeOut urged Californians not to delay in preparing for an earthquake, by stocking up on food, water, medicines and having some reserve cash. Residents also are encouraged to anchor heavy furniture to walls, learn first aid and devise a family action plan that would include a designated post-temblor meeting place.

-- By Ann M. Simmons and Rong-Gong Lin II