LOS ANGELES — Millions of people from the Pacific island of Guam to southern Italy joined a practice drill Thursday to prepare for earthquakes. The annual event, called the Great ShakeOut, has a simple message that could save lives in a real earthquake.
The Southern California Earthquake Center at the University of Southern California was linked by Skype to a classroom in Guam, the first place where the shakeout happened.
The children dropped to the floor, scrambled under their desks, and held on.
At Los Angeles Union Station, the main rail hub for the city, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and local officials also followed the safety guidelines. They took cover under a table after instructions were broadcast throughout the station.
“Take cover under something sturdy to protect yourself from objects hurled across the room. Hold onto it until the shaking stops.”
The mayor says this annual drill began in California in 2008 and is spreading its message further.
“We need to do “drop, cover and hold,” the need to prepare. Everybody should have water and food for a period of time, at least seven days," said Mayor Villaraigosa.
He says everyone, including train commuters, needs to practice their emergency drills.
Metro Rail, a local rapid transit system, did a mock evacuation.
And reporters got a taste of a magnitude seven earthquake in a simulator.
A truck heaved to and fro as books inside flew off the shelves and the reporters dove for cover.
Brian Lowe is with the disaster supplies company Ready America.
“Get under the sturdiest desk or table you can find. If you can't do that, you lean up against an interior wall, cover your head at all times," said Lowe.
Keiko Tamura of Japan's Niigata University is visiting California to observe the Great ShakeOut. The massive earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan last year put that country on alert.
“And many local governments try to use the idea of a ShakeOut and many citizens participate in a ShakeOut right now," said Tamura.
She says a separate tsunami drill is planned for January for coastal Japan.
At Los Angeles Union Station, ham radio operators demonstrated how they provide emergency communications, and companies displayed disaster supplies.
Trains slowed as they would after getting an early warning. A prototype early warning system for Los Angeles may be ready next year, and will provide crucial time before seismic waves strike, says Lucy Jones of the U.S. Geological Survey.
“We can use out seismic networks to recognize that an earthquake has begun and send that information ahead of the waves, because the waves travel at the speed of sound and we can send the information at the speed of light, and potentially have seconds to tens of seconds of warning that the shaking's going to come," said Jones.
A similar system, already in place in Japan, stops high-speed trains when major earthquakes are detected.
In many parts of the world, earthquakes are common and can't be avoided, but Los Angeles officials say these ShakeOut drills can help people be ready.