Massive drill to prepare for 'The Big One'

MISSION HILLS, Calif. Emergency responders, scientists and more than 5 million citizens participated in "The Great Southern California ShakeOut" on Thursday at 10 a.m. It was the biggest earthquake drill in U.S. history lasted for two minutes.

Scientists say a 7.8 earthquake is on its way and will likely center on the San Andreas fault. An earthquake that big would produce shaking 50 times stronger than the 1994 Northridge earthquake and could cause 1,800 deaths and $200 billion in damages.

"We clearly understand, given the predictability and the magnitude of this earthquake, that public safety, the fire service, law enforcement, emergency medical services and government will be overwhelmed," said Chief Michael Freeman, L.A. County Fire Dept.

Southern California is reportedly 150 years overdue for a massive quake, and scientists said there's a 46 percent chance that Southern California will be hit by a magnitude 7.5 quake or larger in the next 30 years.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists have developed a video of the scenario. Red represents the most violent shaking, exaggerated 1,000 times.

Can you imagine what a 7.8 earthquake would feel like in your neighborhood? Check out what it would look like:

"Landslides would be starting when they are subjected to the strongest shaking," said Brad Aagaard, USGS research geophysicist, as he described the earthquake animation. "Now we can see the S-wave, which is very intense in this particular area as the rupture hits us. There's the S-wave. Now the rupture is coming through at approximately 64 seconds. There you can see the offset across the fault as one side moves relative to the other approximately 12 feet, offsetting I-15."

The epicenter may be 150 miles away, but shaking from a great earthquake would be severe throughout the region, as demonstrated in animations showing how the shock waves hit Ontario, Orange County and central Los Angeles.

"You'll notice that there's black areas; those correspond to areas that are undergoing very intense shaking, so even after areas reach a peak intensity in the red, the black areas continue to show what areas are subjected to strong shaking, even after reaching their peak intensity," Aagaard said.

Earthquake tips

  • Drop to the ground
  • Take cover by getting under a sturdy table or desk
  • Hold on until shaking stops
  • Cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner

The challenge for average citizens, say the experts, is not just to ride out a big earthquake, but to be prepared to survive without outside help for days, even weeks. That means having fire extinguishers handy in your home or office, and stocking up on food, medical supplies and lots of water.

Remember Hurricane Katrina? Officials say "The Big One" would topple 1,500 buildings, start fires and kill and injure thousands.

"Part of the analysis we were actually trying to understand: What makes a natural disaster become a catastrophe? And we end up with a question: Well, it's going to depend on how much our social system can hold together," said Dr. Lucy Jones, USGS.

The drill will go on for three days, a not-so-subtle reminder of what's in Southern California's future.

School ShakeOut

Thousands of local schoolchildren took part in the drill Thursday, practicing the "Drop -- Cover -- Hold On" course of action. Kids responded immediately and dove for cover under the desks as the drill commenced. Students practiced exiting the school in an orderly manner after the initial "shaking" was over.

Some schools conduct several drills every year, and Thursday's region-wide drill reinforced the students' lessons, so when the next one strikes, they'll have the safety steps ingrained. "When you know that it's real, you have to be prepared," said one student. Reuniting parents with students was also part of the school drills.
Watch Sid Garcia's report from Los Feliz

Inland Empire ShakeOut

Students visiting the San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands got a taste of what a massive earthquake would be like.

Earthquake projections show that Interstate 15 and railroad tracks would be impassable, and power lines in the area would be destroyed after a major Southern California earthquake.
Eyewitness News Reporter Rob McMillan reports from the Cajon Pass


More info: The Great Southern California ShakeOut

The Great Southern California ShakeOut is a week of special events featuring the largest earthquake drill in United States history, organized to inspire Southern Californians to get ready for big earthquakes, and to prevent disasters from becoming catastrophes. What we do now, before a big earthquake, will determine what our lives will be like after.

Eyewitness News reporter Gene Gleeson contributed to this report

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