When the fake quake strikes at 10:18 a.m. Thursday, what will you do?
Emergency managers hope none of these is on your list:
• Hunker in a doorway.
• Hop in the bathtub.
• Hustle outside.
But worst of all, they say, would be to ignore the biggest earthquake drill in U.S. history.
Nationwide, more than 13 million people have signed up to participate in Thursday’s 2012 Great ShakeOut, either on their own or through schools, businesses and groups.
This year’s drill will mark the first time people along the entire West Coast of North America – from the tip of Alaska to the bottom of California – have simultaneously practiced diving for cover.
“It doesn’t have to be scary,” said John Schelling, of the Washington Emergency Management Division. “It’s a great opportunity to get into our muscle memory to immediately get underneath something and protect our heads and necks.”
In Washington, more than 600,000 people have registered to take part. More than 100,000 people in Pierce County plan to partake, most of them schoolchildren. Schelling is optimistic the total will climb by Thursday.
“Hopefully,” he said, “we’ll be able to get at least a million Washingtonians to raise their hands and say: ‘Yes, I want to practice earthquake safety.’”
At the appointed hour, schoolchildren, university students, workers and others across the region will follow the mantra that most know by heart: Duck, cover and hold on. This year, officials are asking participants to take at least one more step to better prepare themselves for the real thing.
It could be as simple as having a family discussion, or designating an emergency-contact family members can check in with if local phone connections are disrupted. Some businesses and schools plan full-scale evacuation drills. Homeowners might take advantage of the ShakeOut to finally store a few gallons of water in the basement or strap down the water heater.
“Start small,” Schelling said. “Just do one thing …then build on that.”
This year’s ShakeOut also will include sounding tsunami-warning sirens in coastal communities, where some groups will walk the route to high ground.
“There’s a growing awareness that we’ve kind of gotten off easy in the short, historical time Westerners have been in the Pacific Northwest,” said Bill Steele, of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network at the University of Washington.
With so little firsthand experience of earthquakes, folks in Washington might be a little rusty on what to do when the ground starts shaking. Some might also be confused by contradictory advice offered on the Internet, Steele said.
The greatest hazard here is getting hit by falling objects – from bookshelves to light fixtures and shattered glass. That’s the same reason emergency managers advise people to stay indoors when a quake hits.
“A common misconception a lot of folks have is that they should run outside,” Schelling said.
Another notion that’s proved hard to dispel is that doorways are the safest place to be. That might have been true decades ago for some types of buildings. But in most modern structures, door frames are no stronger than the rest of the building. People who take shelter there often get hurt as the doors swing during a quake.
If there’s no handy desk or table to dive under, experts recommend simply crouching down and covering your head with your arms. If you’re in bed when the quake hits, stay there – unless a heavy light fixture is hanging over your head.
Information about the Great ShakeOut is available at shakeout.org/washington.
Information on personal preparedness is available from the Structural Engineers Association of Washington at: seaw.org/documents/AIA-SEAWShakeOut.pdf.