Giant earthquake drill set for Thursday

Biggest exercise in U.S. history includes entire West Coast

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Great Shakeout earthquake drill Thursday

When the fake quake strikes Thursday at 10:18 a.m., what will you do?

Emergency managers hope none of these are 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 today's 2012 Great ShakeOut, either on their own or through schools, businesses and community 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 already have registered to take part. Schelling is optimistic the total will climb by today. "Hopefully, 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 now 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."

Employees at 73 REI stores across the country, including Seattle's flagship location near downtown, will follow their earthquake drills with a huddle to discuss potential hazards and how to reduce them, said company spokeswoman Bethany Hawley. But shoppers won't be pressed to duck and cover. The drills will be held before the stores open.

This year's ShakeOut also will include sounding tsunami-warning sirens in coastal communities, where some groups will walk the route to high ground.

Japan's disastrous 2011 earthquake and tsunami raised awareness in the Northwest, which is subject to the same type of one-two punch. The region also is riddled with shallow faults, including one that runs under Puget Sound, through Seattle and into the Cascade foothills. Future quakes could be much more destructive than the 2001 Nisqually quake, which had a magnitude of 6.8, but was blunted by the fact that it originated 30 miles underground.

"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.