Great Shakeout: California Prepares For Powerful Earthquakes

Most people create their own earthquake hazards.

When a quake hits, the first instinct for many is to run outdoors or huddle in a doorway. But as hundreds of YouTube videos prove, powerful earthquakes send furniture and glass flying and fracture buildings, raining down debris.

Instead, experts say the safest place during a big earthquake is under a desk or table, where you can drop, cover and hold on.

“If you think back to big earthquakes around the world, the people who survived were those who were underneath something that protected them from debris falling down on them,” said Steve Walter, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif. Tomorrow (Oct. 18) more than 9 million California residents plan to practice dropping and covering at 10:18 a.m. PDT, during the Great American Shakeout.

Golden State Shakeout

In all, more than 14 million people are expected to participate in the 60-second exercise, including along the Pacific coast of Alaska and British Columbia. This year marks the first time the Shakeout will be observed in parts of the eastern United States (where people also will drop and cover at 10:18 local time – a time of day picked to coincide with the date).

“This provides a once-a-year reminder that we live in areas that can be strongly shaken at any time,” Walter told OurAmazingPlanet.

The event aims to raise awareness among residents with little firsthand experience of powerful quakes, and to correct misperceptions about what to do when the ground trembles.

Leading up to the Shakeout, local, state and federal agencies will practice responding to a magnitude 7.6 shaker on the San Andreas Fault today, the anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, which killed dozens of people in the San Francisco area.

People underestimate the power of earthquakes, Shakeout organizers say. While earthquake intensity depends on myriad conditions, even a relatively small event of magnitude 6.3 can produce waves more powerful than the force of gravity. The waves can knock you off your feet and make it impossible to walk. The intense back-and-forth motions will cause the floor or the ground to jerk sideways out from under you, and every unsecured object could topple, fall or become airborne. [Video – What Does Earthquake ‘Magnitude’ Mean?]

Don’t underestimate quake’s power

But California’s stringent building codes mean offices and homes are unlikely to collapse during a quake, said Cindy Pridmore, an engineering geologist with the California Geological Survey in Sacramento. That’s why experts advise residents to stay in place and find cover there. Most quake-related injuries come from flying TVs, falling fridges, stepping in broken glass, and tripping and twisting or breaking bones, Pridmore told OurAmazingPlanet.

And contrary to what many have been told, those building codes also mean doorframes are no stronger than the rest of the building. In a doorframe, you’re more likely to be slammed by swinging doors.

“A doorframe has no structural integrity, and it could even be a weak spot,” said Pridmore, who remembers her mother yelling at her to get in a doorway during the 1971 Sylmar quake in Southern California.

“Protect your head and neck. It’s been proven statistically to be the best thing to do, and it’s the easiest,” Pridmore said. [Natural Disasters: Top 10 US Threats]


For more information, read the full article here.


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